Column: Now James McCann must adjust to a backup role — 'it is what it is — with the White Sox after his breakout All-St
In a breakthrough season that saw him make the American League All-Star team only months after McCann was let go by the Tigers, the catcher also played a huge role in Lucas Giolito’s evolution from struggling starter to White Sox ace.
So it probably wasn’t easy for McCann to hear the news in November that the Sox had signed free agent Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million deal, the most expensive in team history, to become the new starting catcher.
That was apparent Wednesday on the first day of Sox camp when McCann was asked for his reaction to the Grandal signing.
“It is what it is,” McCann said, repeating the cliche used by modern athletes. “There’s things about the business that you can’t control. All you can control is how you handle your own self and how you handle your own preparations, and that was my main focus throughout the offseason and that will continue to be my main focus: how to make myself better and how to help the team win.”
Does he expect to move around more to get some at-bats?
“I’m just here doing my job,” he replied. “Whatever they ask me to do, I’ll be willing to do.”
Kudos to McCann for refusing to pretend he’s OK with being demoted to backup catcher following the best year of his career. He did everything asked of him in 2019 and this was his reward?
That’s about as cutthroat as it gets.
Still, the Sox don’t have to apologize for trying to make the team better, even in an area that didn’t really need an upgrade. Grandal is one of the best in the game, and the signing helped them lure Dallas Keuchel a month later.
Sure, they probably should’ve tried to deal McCann in the offseason for his own sake. But since they didn’t, it’s now up to McCann to suck it up and play the cards he’s been dealt.
General manager Rick Hahn said his discussions with McCann have been positive and that McCann wants to be part of “something special” on the South Side. The Sox pitchers are ecstatic they have two All-Star catchers.
“Anyone in the league would probably be jealous with what we have to offer as far as the guys behind the dish,” starter Michael Kopech said. “Whether that’s Mac or Yas, they’re both going to be great additions for us.”
How much playing time the 30-year-old McCann will get in 2020 is yet to be determined.
Manager Rick Renteria said McCann “brought us through a rough patch last year” when starter Welington Castillo was injured, and McCann eventually ended up in the All-Star Game. He predicted McCann would play a “pivotal” role for the Sox in what’s expected to be their turnaround year.
“Part of my job is to manage all the different scenarios that occur now, having the talents that we have on the club,” Renteria said. “If that’s the hardest thing I have to do, I’m OK with it.”
Most speculated after the Grandal signing that McCann would get some more at-bats at designated hitter. But then Hahn signed free agent Edwin Encarnacion to a one-year, $12 million deal to fill that role. McCann started 11 games at DH last year.
“For me, James wasn’t a prototypical DH,” Renteria said. “He was just someone we knew could give us some at-bats. I wouldn’t want to force him to do that. I think James will, I’m sure, inevitably catch his share of games and contribute in that regard.
"As the season progresses things happen, and we’ll figure out how to use them to keep them both able to ready to perform to the best of their ability.”
In other words, Encarnacion is the DH, and McCann is the backup catcher.
At the very least McCann should get a lot of starts when Giolito on the mound.
“For me, I’ve never really thought about that, having a personal catcher,” Giolito said. “Obviously me and James work very well together. I’m sure we’re going to continue to work together a lot. But we have Yas here now and he brings a wealth of experience now and a lot of knowledge about the game, and he’s also really good behind the dish.
"So I also look forward to working with him as well, and we’ll see how it all works out.”
Grandal also is looking forward to working with McCann and wants to “see how I can get in his head” and learn more about the Sox pitchers.
“The guy likes to work, and I’m all for it,” Grandal said. “If you’re willing to put the work in, that’s probably the best quality you can possibly have.”
McCann is a professional. He isn’t going to whine or complain about his reduced role, even though it will likely cost him next year when he’s eligible for free agency.
“I guess you can say in this business there’s nothing that should surprise you,” McCann said. “There’s things you can control and things you can’t control, and the business side of things you can’t control. All you do is prepare to take care of yourself as far as offseason preparations go, being ready for spring training, then spring training and getting ready for the season. And everything else is what it is.”