It’s not Mark Canha’s fault that his signing wasn’t the most hyped of the Mets’ star-studded offseason.
Canha doesn’t have the name recognition of Max Scherzer, the blazing speed of Starling Marte or the 35-homer track record of Eduardo Escobar. Each of those three have also spent time in the National League, making them much more accessible to the Mets faithful than Canha, whose entire career has been in the faraway American League West.
But despite those players’ ten combined All-Star appearances to Canha’s zero, the former Oakland Athletic is the type of player who will make the Mets much more annoying for their opponents. Even in a down 2021 — Canha hit .231 with a .387 slugging percentage, both noticeably lower than they’ve been in any of his seasons as an MLB regular — the multifaceted 31-year-old made an undeniably positive impact.
While the bat wilted in some areas, Canha still tied a personal best with 22 doubles and found new ways to wreak havoc on AL pitching. When he did reach base, Canha was an adept runner. His 12 stolen bases set a new high and while it may not be a repeatable skill, Canha found a way to get hit by 27 pitches, tied for the most in the majors.
“The way I load when I hit, sometimes I tend to dive in toward home plate, and that makes it difficult for me to get out of the way a lot of times,” Canha told NBC Sports Bay Area. “I think that it’s just the way that I hit. Sometimes I’m going in that direction. So when I see it’s coming in tight, I tend to just brace and it’s become kind of habitual. I’m not trying to get out of the way, and I think that’s a good skill if anything.”
The name of the game is not making outs, and whether it’s a painful fastball to the ribs or a wayward breaking ball that grazes his shoe tops, Canha’s hit by pitches are a method of not getting out. His .366 on-base percentage from the last four seasons would put him only behind Brandon Nimmo among qualified Mets hitters from the same time frame.
Canha has also punched the clock for at least 700 innings at four different positions. During his seven-year career, Canha’s cleats have patrolled left and center field most frequently, but he’s also proficient in right field and at first base. This flexibility makes it much easier to get Canha’s bat in the lineup every day, something that took a while for Oakland to do.
Canha is a late bloomer. The Marlins drafted him in 2010 and left him unprotected in the 2014 Rule 5 draft, when he went to the Rockies. Colorado traded him to Oakland on the same day of the draft, and he played his first game in green and gold the next year, a 26-year-old rookie with over 2,000 minor league plate appearances in his rearview mirror. But in 2018 Canha started raking and never stopped. Never a high-average hitter, his right-handed bat has a propensity for extra base hits, and he keeps a watchful eye over the plate.
The former California Golden Bear ran a double-digit walk percentage in each of the last three seasons while swinging at 25% or less of the total pitches he gets outside the zone. As a team last year, the Mets hacked at 33.6% of pitches that missed the strike zone, second-most of any NL outfit. By most advanced metrics, Canha is a gem. You can take or leave his glove, but he’s likely headed for left field anyway, a less-than-premium spot on the defensive side of the ball.
Beginning in 2018, the first year of his unceasing legitimacy, Canha has been superior to Marte and Escobar in a few areas. He outpaces both in walk rate, on-base percentage and wRC+ while edging out Marte in total home runs and Escobar in OPS. The modest two-year, $26.5 million he received was more of a response to the drastic dip in slugging he experienced last year than it is an indictment of his overall skills. Had his contract year looked more like 2019, when he slammed 26 home runs and slugged a cool .517, Canha likely would have gotten an average annual value closer to Marte’s $19.5 million than his own $13.25 million.
Nevertheless, the Mets have an intriguing piece for new manager Buck Showalter to work with. Unlike James McCann, who the Mets signed to a lucrative free agent deal last winter, Canha comes with more than just two years of potency. This is both a largely unsexy move and one that probably nets the Mets two or three more wins in 2022.
If Canha was the only catch from the team’s exploration of the free agent sea, they’d be in rough shape. But with Marte and Escobar in tow, and some moves that will patch up the starting rotation and manager’s office, the Mets are sitting pretty.
This is a quiet, secondary maneuver that could potentially play very loud and make Canha the sneaky jewel of Steve Cohen’s offseason.