James McCann is officially an Oriole and scrambling to get settled with his new team. The immediacy in doing so wasn't feasible.
The trade with the Mets happened so quickly, and with midnight approaching on the night of Dec. 21. The holidays put much of his baseball activity on hold. His family is moving this week. He’s spoken only to a few members of the organization and is waiting to make his first contact with catcher Adley Rutschman, the player that he’s going to back up.
“The timing of it was a little crazy, just with the holiday season and everything,” McCann said during a video call with members of the media this afternoon, “but at the end of the day I’m excited to be part of a young, up and coming team, the opportunity to kind of be a veteran leader and just mentor some of the young players and lead Baltimore back to the playoffs and beyond.”
The Orioles acquired McCann, 32, for a player to be named later. He’s under team control for the next two seasons and is costing the Orioles only $5 million of the $24 million remaining on his contract.
A backup catcher was one of the club’s priorities with Robinson Chirinos entering free agency. McCann is a nine-year veteran who made the All-Star team with the White Sox in 2019 and appeared in 105 or more games every full season from 2015-21.
“Adley’s obviously a very talented player,” McCann said. “He came up last year and had a heck of a season. I’m looking forward to working with him, looking forward to offering any sort of veteran experience to help him in his learning curve, and understanding calling a game and managing a game at the big league level.
“I can’t control how many games I play and how many games I don’t play. All I can control is the kind of teammate I am and what I do when my name does get called. I’ll be prepared for whatever comes my way, and again, I’m looking forward to meeting Adley and hopefully helping him continue to develop.”
First base is an option for McCann and a quality that attracted the Orioles. He made six starts with the Mets over the past two seasons, and also can serve as an occasional designated hitter.
Rutschman has played first in college and the minors, and the Orioles could give him some starts there this season to reduce the beating he takes as a catcher.
“When I talked (to the Orioles) the night of the trade, talked about both Adley and I getting time behind the plate, first base, DH,” McCann said.
“Whatever I can do to help the team, I’ll be ready to do it.”
The two seasons with the Mets produced a sharp decline in McCann’s offensive numbers. He batted .220/.282/.328 in 182 games and appeared in only 61 last summer due to injuries, including a fractured hamate bone and oblique strain.
“I spent more time on the injured list in ’22 than I have in my entire career combined, so ’22 I definitely think is an outlier,” he said. “Actually, if you look at ’22, the expected numbers and hard hit and all that, everything was good except for the actual results. Things really just didn’t bounce my way in ’22, whether it was injuries or hitting balls right at people. There’s a lot that I learned from it.
“I think there’s a lot that went into ’21. A new league, facing pitchers I hadn’t faced really my whole career, hitting at times throughout the season with a pitcher hitting behind me and without having a DH in ’21. And there’s some habits that I created in ’21 that I actually fixed in ’22. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t show that.
“I think that ’19 and ’20 weren’t necessarily outliers being in Chicago. I think that I can get back to playing at that level.”
McCann didn’t get a chance to see the Orioles last year beyond some highlights, but he’s heard the positive reviews and appreciates how they’re a team on the upswing.
“Since I’ve been traded, guys around the league have reached out to me that saw them, especially down the stretch (last) year, and talked about how talented of a roster the Orioles have and that we’re going to be a good team. … I think there’s a lot of things to be excited about in Baltimore.
“I’ve had numerous guys reach out to me and talk to me about how talented the guys are, hearing about the bullpen that Baltimore’s put together, hearing about the youth and just the unbelievable talent. Guys telling me how much they hated having to face the Orioles’ pitching staff.”
McCann offers experience and leadership that the Orioles sought to replace Chirinos, and he grades more favorably behind the plate.
“I’ve caught quite a few pitchers in my career,” he said. “I’ve seen Cy Young winners, I’ve helped guys get to where they are. … One thing that you just can’t replace is experience. You can’t take a guy that’s only played for one or two years and expect him to have the experience and the knowledge that somebody who’s played for an extended period of time at this level has.
“I think part of my role, whether it’s in Baltimore or whether it was in New York or wherever, is sharing that expertise, sharing what I’ve learned in my career. I’m a firm believer that that’s the job of a veteran player; is to share with young players a little bit of information just to help them in their development."
Shortly after McCann’s video call, the Orioles announced that they acquired Ryan O’Hearn from the Royals for cash considerations and designated pitcher Chris Vallimont for assignment. O’Hearn was designated for assignment after Kansas City signed veteran pitcher Jordan Lyles.
O’Hearn, 29, could fill the need for a left-handed hitting backup first baseman, and he also plays the corner outfield. He’s a career .219/.293/.390 hitter in 342 games over parts of five seasons with the Royals, with a career-high 14 home runs in 370 plate appearances in 2019.
The former eighth-round draft pick led the majors with 11 pinch-hits last season, and has one minor league option remaining.
The Royals signed O’Hearn to a $1.4 million contract following the 2022 season to avoid arbitration.
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