Mets continue talks with free agent catcher James McCann

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The Mets’ search for a starting catcher was pointing toward James McCann on Wednesday, as team officials continued dialogue with the free-agent backstop’s camp.

But amid reports a deal was close, an industry source cautioned it was “premature” to assume McCann was headed to Queens.

The 30-year-old McCann is regarded as the second-best catcher on the free-agent market, behind only J.T. Realmuto. The Athletic reported that any deal between McCann and the Mets would likely be for four years.

McCann slashed .289/.360/.536 with seven homers and 15 RBIs in 31 games last season for the White Sox, where he shared playing time with Yasmani Grandal. A year earlier McCann was selected to the American League All-Star team.

Realmuto, 29, owns a better track record from his years with the Marlins and Phillies, but will also likely command a deal longer in length than McCann, in the ballpark of nine figures or above. And there is always a level of concern in allocating huge resources on a catcher, given the grind of the position. Projections in the industry are that McCann will garner a deal that pays him in the neighborhood of $10 million to $12 million annually.

McCann’s attributes include a strong defensive presence — he was plus-5 in runs saved last season, which tied for fourth in the major leagues. He also possesses a strong throwing arm and has become well-regarded for pitch framing, after developing under catching instructor Jerry Narron last season.

The need for a catcher comes after the Mets declined the 2021 options on Wilson Ramos and Robinson Chirinos, leaving Tomas Nido as the only catcher on the 40-man roster with significant experience.

Choosing McCann over Realmuto would presumably leave Mets president Sandy Alderson with the financial flexibility to add multiple big pieces (perhaps George Springer and Trevor Bauer) to a team that has glaring needs other than catcher.

The Mets are seen as the favorites throughout the industry to sign Springer, the top outfielder on the market. Springer would provide the team with a defensive upgrade in center field to Brandon Nimmo and also add a much-needed righty bat to the lineup.

Bauer, who won the National League Cy Young Award with the Reds, would complement Jacob deGrom to give the Mets a dynamic 1-2 punch atop their rotation.

Alderson last week addressed the bullpen, adding right-hander Trevor May on a two-year deal worth $15.5 million.

The Mets extended invitations to four teams as part of the new minor league alignment that will begin in 2021. Syracuse (Triple-A), Binghamton (Double-A), Brooklyn (High-A) and St. Lucie (Low-A) have all been selected by the Mets.

Eliminated were affiliations with Columbia, Kingsport and the Gulf Coast League Mets, in addition to teams in the Dominican Republic.

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