Veteran catcher Tucker Barnhart is drawing interest from teams in need of catching depth, per Ari Alexander of KPRC-2. Alexander adds that the Astros and Diamondbacks are among the teams with interest in Barnhart’s services.
Barnhart, 33 in January, was selected in the tenth round of the 2009 draft by the Reds and made his big league debut with the club back in 2014. A veteran of ten major league seasons, Barnhart has fashioned a lengthy major league career as a glove-first option behind the plate. Though he has never posted a wRC+ higher than 90 in his career and sports a career slash line of just .217/.289/.312, Barnhart emerged as one of the better defensive catchers in the league over his time in the majors. His +8 Fielding Run Value (per Statcast) in 2021 was tied for the third-best figure among all catchers that season, behind only Sean Murphy and Buster Posey. Combined with an 81 wRC+ in 2021 that was roughly average for a catcher that season, Barnhart had the look of a decent regular behind the plate when he was swapped from the Reds to the Tigers that offseason.
Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse for the veteran from there. Barnhart’s 2022 season was the worst offensive campaign he had delivered since his 21-game cup of coffee in the majors during the 2014 season. That said, Barnhart’s reputation as a quality defender behind the plate earned the veteran a two-year deal with the Cubs in free agency following the 2022 campaign despite his weak .221/.287/.267 slash line in 94 games with the Tigers.
That two-year pact proved to be a blunder on Chicago’s part, as Barnhart’s offense collapsed even further with a wRC+ of just 53 in 2023. Among players with at least as many major league plate appearances as Barnhart (123) in 2023, just 23 hitters posted a worse offensive season by that metric. Barnhart’s struggles and the emergence of youngster Miguel Amaya behind the plate in Chicago led the Cubs to designate Barnhart for assignment in mid-August. He caught on with the Dodgers on a minor league deal shortly thereafter but did not crack the club’s 40-man roster down the stretch, leaving him to return to free agency this winter.
While Barnhart appears to be a fringe option for even a backup role at this stage of his career, his decade of experience at the major league level and solid defensive reputation behind the plate could make him a worthwhile depth option for a club short on big league caliber catchers. Both Arizona and Houston fit that description, as each club has just two catchers on their 40-man roster with minimal depth in the upper minors. Barnhart is still owed $3.25MM from the Cubs in 2024 thanks to his aforementioned two-year pact with the club. That means that he could be a particularly valuable depth option for clubs as he would only need to be paid the pro-rated big league minimum for any time spent on the 40-man roster next year, allowing a payroll-conscious organization to cover for an injury to their primary catching tandem on the cheap.