When Major League Baseball’s free agent season started about six weeks ago, few would have guessed that James McCann would cash in on a four-year contract around $ 40 million. (While waiting for a successful physical exam).

Even fewer would have guessed two years ago when he was not tendered by the Tigers.

McCann’s resurgence over the past two years – and his unexpected valuation among the game’s top five receivers – is a tribute to his tenacity and how he has rejuvenated his career over the past two seasons at Chicago. But it also shows how much the teams covet good receivers.

So why the Tigers let McCann go for nothing after 2018 season?

Obviously, if GM Al Avila could take a mulligan on this one, he probably would.

But it is worth remembering that at the time hardly anyone opposed the decision. McCann had just had a terrible season and the Tigers were not going anywhere fast.

And if you want to blame the Tigers for a miss, maybe the 28 teams that could have picked it up for next to nothing deserve the same assessment.

McCann was drafted by the Tigers in the second round from the University of Arkansas in 2011. He made his debut in 2014 and resumed the role of No. 1 receiver a year later. In 452 games with the Tigers, he hit 0.240 / 0.288 / 0.366 with 40 homers, 58 doubles and eight triples.

“McCannon” was known for his arm behind the plate, throwing out 37% of the base thieves during his career in Detroit. But his defensive ability was considered less advanced when it came to framing the pitch, that is, getting the referees to call for strikes on boundary fields.

McCann would have had to pay around $ 3.5 million in arbitration if the Tigers had kept him around; after being let go, he ended up signing with the Chicago White Sox for $ 2.5 million to be the club’s replacement.

McCann had the best attacking season of his career in 2019 and followed it with a strong short season in 2020. To show how the White Sox have respected his defense, decision-making and improved framing behind the plate , McCann has started almost as many catcher games as the Sox starter Yasmani Grandal, widely regarded as one of the best in the game.

So maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise that McCann is doing more than expected when he hits the free agent market this winter. A consensual expectation – 2 years, $ 18 million – seemed generous. Then McCann blew that prediction, agreeing to a four-year deal with the New York Mets worth just over $ 40 million.

Time will tell if the Mets come to regret the deal. But given the shortage of receivers in the market this year, the Mets were willing to pay – and maybe even overpay – to get who they wanted.

Teams that aspire to the playoffs don’t take risks in an important position as wide receiver. But teams like the Tigers, with no aspirations to fight in 2019 when they let go of McCann, were ready to roll the dice.

It did not work. Grayson Greiner, John Hicks, Jake Rogers and Bobby Wilson combined to hit 0.176 with 203 strikeouts in 607 home plate appearances in 2019. Even if the squad had played solid defense – they didn’t – it would be a tough attacking hole to dig.

In 2020, the Tigers signed longtime Yankees replacement Austin Romine. After a hot start, his bat cooled down. Defensive reviews were mixed, although most measures were skeptical of his value behind the plate. Greiner and Eric Haase also started the games on receiver., but Rogers stayed in Toledo the whole summer.

If the Tigers sign a wide receiver this winter, it certainly won’t be someone with McCann’s award. He’ll likely be a low-cost one-year veteran or maybe even a minor league member. Getting a meaningful upgrade through a free agency at the post is no easy task.

“If you really want an upgrade (at catcher) you have to develop yours,” Avila said last month.

This is exactly what the Tigers did. Then they let him go. Now he’s a very rich man.


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