In the most difficult of all positions to play in baseball, the Detroit Tigers have James McCann crouched behind the plate. McCann’s career is becoming quite interesting. When he first came up with the Tigers, he was the backup for Alex Avila in the tail end of 2014, and for all of 2015. In that 2015 season, over the course of 114 games, he had 18 doubles, 41 RBIs, and 7 home runs. He seemed like he could be a spark at the catching position for the Detroit Tigers. In 2016, he finally had the spotlight all to himself, as Alex Avila was a free agent who then signed within the division with the Chicago White Sox.
Within having that opportunity to be the main man behind the plate, an ankle injury sidelined McCann for three weeks. As a result, 2016 became a very mixed-up season for James McCann. He played in 105 games, 9 fewer than he did in the season before. In 2016, McCann also saw his average drop from .264 (in 2015) to .221; his OBP was .272 after reaching .297 the year before as well. Finally, his slugging dipped from .387 to .358.
In terms of WAR (for the people who love SABR metrics), he actually saw an improvement overall from 0.9 to 1.1. In 2015 he was ranked 27th overall in terms of WAR, whereas he was an improved 21st overall for WAR in 2016.
Coming into his third season as the primary catcher, McCann is now hoping to improve on some of those numbers that he has seen decline last season. The Tigers have brought back Alex Avila, who will serve as the backup for James McCann behind the plate. Avila proves little threat to McCann’s playing time, as Avila has struggled to stay healthy, as well as his inability to consistently find success at the plate. The thinking behind bringing Avila back is that he would be a veteran catcher who comes at a low cost to the Tigers.
The Tigers are in a weird limbo in which they have to decide what their plan really is. A team that had once hoped to sell off its parts has now changed its tune and instead appears ready to try contending again, even if by default. There’s no doubt that the decline of the White Sox and Royals, coupled with the Minnesota Twins’ lack of activity, has pushed the Tigers to feel that they are still contenders for 2017. What they need to do is decide if James McCann is going to be the catcher to take them to the next level.
Being in his third year, it is not inconceivable to see the Tigers using this as a key determining factor for what the future will hold for McCann. In terms of price, he makes the most sense. While Matt Wieters is still out there, it does not make sense for the Tigers to try and spend big at the catcher position. Even if Wieters were to sign with the Nationals, it also would not make sense for the Tigers to spend the prospects to bring in a Derek Norris via trade. If the Tigers really do plan on going into the season with many of the same players as last year (which they have recently stated), then James McCann is going to be the man in the mask for 2017. He will not become a free agent until 2021, and he has not even reached arbitration eligibility yet. Health will be the biggest key, though. The Tigers will need to be able to count on him behind the plate, as well as in the batter’s box, to secure the bottom third of the lineup. If he is able to reach a batting average somewhere around .250, slug around .375, and get an OPS somewhere around .670, then James McCann is perfectly suitable to continue growing at the catcher’s position for the Detroit Tigers in 2017 and beyond.