Thinning market for catchers leaves Nats with few options

The Nationals need another catcher. The number of appealing catchers available on the free agent market this winter was minimal all along. And now one of the few who might’ve fit that description is off the board after signing a surprisingly lucrative deal with a division rival.

James McCann, widely regarded as the second-best available catcher behind star J.T. Realmuto, reportedly agreed Saturday to a four-year, $40 million deal with the Mets.

That’s hardly a minor investment for New York, which just a significant commitment both in dollars and length to a player who is far from a household name.

But new owner Steve Cohen seems determined to make a big splash this winter, and there are probably bigger acquisitions still to come in Flushing. And when his talent evaluators, led by the recently re-hired Sandy Alderson, said they wanted McCann, Cohen stepped in and offered as much financial assistance as necessary.

Few projected McCann to command that kind of contract. The 30-year-old owns a career .249/.300/.394 offensive slash line and a well-below-average OPS+ of 86. He’s solid behind the plate and throws out 36 percent of would-be basestealers, but he’s totaled 7.2 WAR in seven big league seasons.

The Mets are banking on McCann’s last two years with the White Sox, when he stepped up offensively to make a name for himself after five pretty nondescript years with the Tigers. Time will tell if he lives up to the contract.

Nationals-Park-Closed-Gates-Sidebar.jpgWe don’t know just how interested the Nationals were in McCann, but here’s the problem now: If he was worth four years and $40 million, how much more is Realmuto going to wind up getting in his eventual contract? Answer: a lot more.

As much as Nats general manager Mike Rizzo has coveted Realmuto for several years now, is he about to commit five or six years and nine figures to a soon-to-be 30-year-old catcher? If he does, Rizzo’s either going to have very little left to spend on his team’s other positions of need, or the Lerner family is going to have a bigger payroll in 2021 than most have been expecting.

If not Realmuto, though, where do the Nats turn? The catching market, as stated earlier, is awfully lean this winter.

The most notable names after Realmuto and McCann are Yadier Molina (who would have to be convinced to leave St. Louis after 17 seasons), Jason Castro (who hit .188 this season in Anaheim and San Diego), Mike Zunino (who hit .147 for Tampa Bay, but did launch four homers in the postseason and impress behind the plate) and Kurt Suzuki (whose time in D.C. seemed to come to an end in September).

After that, it’s Alex Avila, Curt Casalli, Robinson Chirinos and Tyler Flowers. Not exactly overflowing with star power.

Just about everyone from that group would wind up the No. 2 catcher to Yan Gomes, who may be up to that task, but is far from a sure thing as a four-days-a-week starter.

So where does all of this leave the Nationals? They weren’t going to spend $40 million on McCann, so they’re either going to have to spend well north of $100 million on Realmuto or hope one of the remaining lesser options is good enough to pair with Gomes and get the job done in 2021.

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