Steven A. Cohen and his wife, Alex, spent part of their Saturday outside Citi Field, in the chill and the drizzle, greeting Mets season-ticket holders who stopped by for a bobblehead promotion. By the end of the day, the fans had more than trinkets.
The Mets added two important pieces to the team Cohen bought for a record $2.475 billion last month, filling pressing vacancies on and off the field. The Mets decided on a new general manager, Jared Porter, an assistant with the Arizona Diamondbacks who has helped build four championship teams. They also filled their catching void with James McCann, a free agent from the Chicago White Sox who agreed to a four-year deal worth a bit more than $40 million.
The additions were confirmed by multiple people within baseball with direct knowledge of the moves, neither of which has been announced by the Mets. McCann must first pass a physical examination before his deal can become official, and Porter and the Mets were said to be finalizing contract details.
Cohen had initially sought to hire a president of baseball operations and a general manager, but several teams declined permission for their executives to interview. Sandy Alderson, 73, the former general manager and new Mets president, agreed to assume more baseball-related duties and focus strictly on hiring a general manager.
In Porter, he found a deeply respected and experienced evaluator who is only 41 years old. Porter — a former baseball and hockey captain at Bowdoin College — worked for the Boston Red Sox from 2004 through 2015, when the team won three titles, and was pro scouting director for the Chicago Cubs when they won the World Series in 2016.
Porter then joined the Diamondbacks as assistant general manager for Mike Hazen, a former Red Sox colleague, overseeing pro personnel and player development and impressing colleagues with his listening skills, personal connections and passion for scouting.
In reaching a deal with McCann, the Mets found another highly regarded person to handle a critical role. One of the pitchers McCann will catch, the right-hander Marcus Stroman, did not wait to welcome him to the team.
“Beyond excited to work with @JamesMcCann34,” Stroman wrote on Twitter. “I’ve heard nothing but unbelievable things about him as a player and person. Guy rakes at the dish and is always locked in behind the plate!”
McCann, 30, flourished with the White Sox after five ordinary seasons with the Detroit Tigers, who did not tender him a contract after he hit .220 with eight homers in 2018. He made the American League All-Star team in 2019 and continued his improvement last season, when he split time at catcher with Yasmani Grandal.
In 149 games for the White Sox, McCann hit .276 with 25 homers and 75 runs batted in. His .334 on-base percentage and .474 slugging percentage combined for an .808 O.P.S., trailing only Willson Contreras, Grandal and J.T. Realmuto among catchers with at least 500 plate appearances over the last two seasons.
Realmuto, a two-time All-Star who has spent the last two years with the Philadelphia Phillies, is a headliner on the free-agent market and perhaps baseball’s best catcher. The Mets had seemed to be a natural fit for Realmuto, but the deal with McCann could indicate that they are saving their biggest expenditures for other free agents, like center fielder George Springer of the Houston Astros, starter Trevor Bauer of the Cincinnati Reds, or both.
Cohen, the richest owner in the majors, energized the fans with a pledge to spend more aggressively than his predecessor, Fred Wilpon. McCann is the second free agent to agree to a multiyear deal with the team, after reliever Trevor May, who got a two-year, $15.5 million deal to leave the Minnesota Twins.
McCann, a right-handed hitter, has batted .320 against lefties over the last two seasons, and .259 against righties. He started at catcher for 27 of the White Sox’ 60 games last season and two of their three playoff games, while greatly improving his pitch-framing statistics.
According to Statcast, McCann ranked 56th among 64 qualified catchers in strike rate on borderline pitches in 2019. Last season, he rose to 8th out of 62 and forged a strong bond with ace Lucas Giolito, whose earned run average with McCann in eight starts (including a no-hitter) was 2.61, three runs better than it was in four starts with Grandal.
As a Tiger, McCann also worked well with Justin Verlander, whose 3.07 E.R.A. with McCann was the best E.R.A. among the seven catchers who caught Verlander for at least 70 innings with Detroit.
“He’s unreal back there,” Giolito told the Chicago Sun-Times in August. “Every single game, every single pitch, he’s into it 100 percent.”
Now the Mets will get the benefit of that intensity, as Cohen and Alderson bring along Porter to continue their pursuit of stars.