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James McCann is headed to the free agent market under much different circumstances than last time around. Non-tendered by the Tigers after a rough 2018 showing, McCann latched on with the White Sox and went on to give the South Siders a pair of very strong seasons — including an All-Star campaign in 2019. While he served as a backup to Yasmani Grandal in 2020, McCann still worked into the mix at DH in addition to his time behind the plate.

In an appearance on NBC Sports Chicago’s White Sox Talk podcast late last week (audio link), McCann discussed his return to the open market. Asked by host Chuck Garfien about how important it is for him to secure a starting role, McCann replied:

It’s something that I feel like I’ve earned in my career. I definitely think there is a lot that goes into that — being the guy and being able to run the staff. I do feel like that’s something that I’ve earned. But like I’ve said all along, I’m not burning any bridges, and we’ll see what the next few months hold.

McCann declined to delve into specifics when asked about potential clubs that might be fits or may have even already contacted him, instead just emphasizing the point that every team needs experienced catching.

While neither McCann or the White Sox is formally closing the door on their relationship, it seems hard to imagine a return scenario with Grandal signed for three more years. J.T. Realmuto is the top name on the open market, but McCann very arguably is the next-best alternative. He’s made huge strides both offensively and defensively since signing in Chicago, hitting a combined .276/.334/.474 with 25 homers in 587 plate appearances. He’s dramatically improved his exit velocity, hard-hit rate and barrel rate with the South Siders. After an offseason focused on improving his framing last winter, McCann posted career-best numbers in that department in 2020 en route to a Gold Glove nomination.

The White Sox obviously aren’t in the market for a starting catcher, but any of the Mets, Phillies, Angels, Rockies, Yankees, Nationals or Marlins could be expected to pursue upgrades over incumbent options. McCann declined to discuss contractual specifics, sidestepping a question about the possibility of taking a one-year deal in hopes of finding a stronger free-agent market next winter. “I think my play the last few years has put a value on me, and that’s where we are,” said McCann.

We at MLBTR ranked McCann as this offseason’s No. 16 free agent on our Top 50 rankings, with the team a two-year, $20MM contract prediction. It’s certainly possible that McCann could take home a three-year arrangement. He’ll be of particular interest for clubs that want an upgrade behind the plate but aren’t given ownership approval to pursue a mega-deal with Realmuto and/or may not want to try to lure a 38-year-old Yadier Molina away from St. Louis.

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