The Tigers are interested in working out a contract extension with recently-acquired catcher Tucker Barnhart, reports Robert Murray of FanSided. While no deal is believed to be close, Murray relays that Detroit has at least met with the backstop’s representatives at the Ballengee Group.
Barnhart hasn’t yet been in the organization for two weeks, but the front office no doubt values his on-field production and ability to work with a young pitching staff. The Tigers struck to acquire Barnhart from the Reds just hours into the offseason, clearly identifying him as a prime trade target. He’ll play next season on a $7.75MM salary after Detroit exercised a club option, but he’s currently on track to hit free agency after the 2022 campaign.
The lefty-hitting Barnhart offers stable production on both sides of the ball. He’s coming off a .247/.317/.368 showing in 388 plate appearances with Cincinnati, numbers that align with his career work at the dish. That’s a bit below the league average offensive output at the position, but Barnhart makes up for that with strong defense. Statcast has rated him as an above-average pitch framer three years running after he struggled in that facet of the game early in his career. He’s also been average or better at throwing out attempted base-stealers, and the two-time Gold Glove award winner is generally well-regarded for the non-quantifiable aspects (handling a pitching staff, game calling, etc.) of the position.
Barnhart turns 31 years old in January, so any extension that pushes the Tigers’ window of control beyond next season would begin with his age-32 campaign. That’s a year younger than Travis d’Arnaud, who signed a two-year, $16MM extension (with a 2024 club option) with the Braves in August. Barnhart and d’Arnaud are coming off fairly similar 2021 showings, but the latter flashed far more offensive potential by hitting .321/.386/.533 in 2020.
That’s also true to a lesser extent of Jason Castro, who signed for one year and $6.85MM with the Angels over the 2019-20 offseason. That came on the heels of a fine .232/.332/.435 showing, but Castro was also one year older at the time than Barnhart will be in 2023. Speculatively speaking, a two-year deal around that AAV — which would guarantee Barnhart $13.7MM between 2023-24 — could make for a mutually agreeable framework.
Whether the parties will line up remains to be seen, but it seems there’s at least some interest on both sides in getting a longer term deal done. Either way, Barnhart will head into 2022 as the Tigers’ regular backstop, with Grayson Greiner and Eric Haase on hand as the likeliest backup options.