3:50pm: The Astros also have interest in Barnhart, reports Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle. They missed out on their top catching target when Willson Contreras agreed to terms on a five-year deal with the Cardinals this afternoon. It seems they’re still looking for a veteran to pair with incumbent Martín Maldonado, even if Barnhart’s a significantly less imposing offensive threat than Contreras would have been. According to Rome, the longtime Red backstop is looking for a multi-year contract.
Barnhart, 32 in January, has spent the vast majority of his career across the division in the Reds’ organization, having been drafted by them back in 2009. He made it to the big leagues in 2014 and stayed with the team through the end of the 2021 campaign. The club had a $7.75MM club option to keep him around for 2022 but flipped him to the Tigers instead, the lone season he’s spent in a different organization so far.
Barnhart’s never been a huge threat at the plate, having put up a career batting line of .245/.320/.360. That’s 20% below league average production, as indicated by his 80 wRC+, but it’s not disastrous for a catcher since they typically produce less than other hitters, on average. Barnhart generally is graded well on defense, however, posting 14 Defensive Runs Saved in his career. FanGraphs’ framing metric didn’t like his work earlier in his career but has given him a positive mark in three of the last four seasons.
For the Pirates, they planned on Roberto Pérez being their primary backstop in 2022 but he required season-ending hamstring surgery in May. From that point on, they cycled through various options behind the plate, with most of them having already been jettisoned from the roster. As of this moment, the only catcher on the 40-man is prospect Endy Rodriguez, who only has 37 games played above High-A.
The Bucs are rebuilding but have nonetheless been active this winter, grabbing veterans to supplement their young core. They traded for Ji-Man Choi and signed Carlos Santana to help out at first base and designated hitter, then signed Vince Velasquez to help in the rotation and Jarlín García for the bullpen. Those players are stopgaps, with all four slated for free agency at the end of the upcoming season. Since the Pirates have Rodriguez coming up and catching prospect Henry Davis behind him, it’s likely they’ll find another one-year deal for a veteran catcher. Barnhart makes plenty of sense for that job, but it’s also possible they bring back Pérez.