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After offseason soul-searching, White Sox catcher James McCann emerges as All-Star

Non-tendered by the Tigers, McCann has emerged as an offensive force while helping Lucas Giolito become an ace.

White Sox catcher James McCann, left, celebrates with starting pitcher Lucas Giolito after a game in Houston.
AP Photos

When catcher James McCann agreed to a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the White Sox last December, his career was at a crossroads.

As a member of the Tigers in 2018, he hit .220 with just a .267 on-base percentage, and his OPS+ was just 57 compared to an American League average of 100. Despite throwing out 36.5 percent of attempted basestealers, he accounted for negative-0.5 wins above replacement, per Baseball-Reference.com, and the Tigers non-tendered him.

“This offseason, there was a lot of soul searching, a lot of ‘Who am I as a player? Who am I as a hitter?’ ” McCann said. “Just staying within myself, figuring out who James McCann is and being content with that. And honestly, that’s what’s led to the success thus far.”

McCann is in the All-Star Game for the first time, as a backup. His 3.0 WAR in half a season with the Sox already eclipses the 2.8 he posted in 452 games with the Tigers. He’s on pace to cruise past his career highs in all major offensive categories — not that he has any specific statistical goals.

That said, he didn’t seem too surprised that his game has taken the leap it has.

“I felt like I hadn’t reached my potential,” he said. “I felt like there was more in there. Whatever the ceiling is, I just work daily to keep getting better, and one day when I’m done with my career, I’ll be able to look back and tell you what that ceiling was.”

Of course, McCann’s contributions haven’t been limited to offense. He has been lauded for his defense, too, and his handling of the pitching staff.

Perhaps no one has benefitted more from McCann than Lucas Giolito, who has thrown every pitch this season with McCann behind the plate. Giolito, who’s in contention to start the All-Star Game in Cleveland next Tuesday, is quick to credit McCann for his 11-2 record and 2.72 ERA.

“I’ve always believed in pitcher-catcher relationships — I think it’s hugely important,” Giolito said. “He keeps me in line. If I’m wavering, whether it be on the field or off the field, he’s always there to have my back and get me to pick it up and keep going. Amazing guy and amazing part of our team. I’m excited to be headed out to Cleveland with him.”

Would Giolito be succeeding to this degree if not for McCann?

“If I wasn’t throwing to him, I don’t think that my numbers would be nearly as good as they are right now,” Giolito said. “His pitch-calling back there, we’re going on a long time. . . . I don’t remember the last time I shook off a pitch. The game-planning — everything he brings to this team is amazing.”

While McCann says it means a lot to hear such praise, he credits Giolito for the pitching and the work he has done to improve mechanically and mentally.

“I couldn’t be happier for him and his story of perseverance and grit and determination,” McCann said. “[Being selected] is a special day for him.”

July 9 will be a special day for McCann.

“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “You dream as a little boy to play in the big leagues. It’s a dream on another level to be in an All-Star Game. To be able to have that kind of reality, it’s a special feeling.”