Joey Bart has been a speculative trade candidate for at least a year. The Giants selected him with the #2 overall pick in the 2018 draft. A few months later, they changed front offices, tabbing Farhan Zaidi to lead baseball operations. Two seasons thereafter, the front office drafted another catcher in the top 15.
That player, Patrick Bailey, now seems the organization’s long-term answer. He reached the big leagues last year and impressed defensively. Bailey rated as a high-end framer and cut down an excellent 28.4% of basestealers. His bat faded after a hot start, but he was impressive enough behind the dish to secure a seventh-place finish in NL Rookie of the Year balloting.
Bart, on the other hand, has not performed at the level expected of such a high draft choice. He has rated as a below-average defender by most public metrics. In 503 MLB plate appearances spread over the last four seasons, he’s hitting .219/.288/.335. Bart has hit 11 home runs but has punched out in over 35% of his trips to the plate.
As a result, he hasn’t secured a lasting spot on the MLB roster. He spent most of last year’s second half on optional assignment to Triple-A Sacramento. Bart’s .248/.357/.393 showing in 244 plate appearances at the top minor league level was below-average. Having turned 27 last month, he’s running out of opportunities to establish himself.
With Bailey having clearly surpassed Bart on the depth chart, the latter was floated as a trade candidate last winter and in advance of the ’23 deadline. San Francisco never found an offer to their liking and held him as minor league depth. That’s no longer possible. Last season was Bart’s final option year. The Giants can’t send him back to Triple-A without first exposing him to waivers.
They have three possibilities: carry him on the MLB roster, waive him, or trade him. It’s unlikely they’ll choose the first course of action. The Giants added Tom Murphy on a two-year, $8.25MM free agent deal to serve as Bailey’s backup. Last year’s Rule 5 selection Blake Sabol is still on the 40-man roster, although he can now be optioned to the minors (which isn’t possible for a Rule 5 pick in their rookie season). Bart is arguably fourth on the organizational hierarchy. Unless San Francisco plans to carry three catchers, he’s not going to make the team barring a spring injury to Bailey or Murphy.
While there’s some chance that his stock has fallen to the point that San Francisco could simply run him through waivers, they’d surely prefer to recoup something in trade rather than risk losing him for nothing. While this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list, we’ll highlight a few teams that might consider Bart an upgrade over their current backup catcher.
- Brewers: Milwaukee lost Víctor Caratini to the Astros in free agency. They already have their franchise catcher in William Contreras but could consider a depth addition. Milwaukee signed Eric Haase to a big league free agent deal. He’s currently penciled in for the job, but he signed for just $1MM and is coming off a dismal .201/.247/.281 showing in 89 games between the Tigers and Guardians. Haase is already 31 and not a highly-regarded defensive catcher, so the Brewers probably aren’t firmly committed to him holding the backup job. Bart’s mediocre framing metrics might not be a huge concern for a team that has done an excellent job developing the receiving skills of Omar Narváez and Contreras in recent years.
- Diamondbacks: Arizona is going into camp with a competition for the backup job behind Gabriel Moreno. The Snakes have added Tucker Barnhart and former highly-regarded prospect Ronaldo Hernández on minor league deals. They’re trying to push José Herrera, who is on the 40-man roster but only carries a .198/.272/.231 slash line at the MLB level. Herrera has one more option year.
- Marlins: New president of baseball operations Peter Bendix has made one addition behind the plate, acquiring Christian Bethancourt in a cash trade with the Guardians. He joins Nick Fortes, who hit just .204/.263/.299 last season, as the only catchers on the 40-man roster. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald wrote last week the Fish would be content with a Bethancourt-Fortes tandem, but they could jump on an opportunity to add Bart for a minimal cost. Fortes still has two options remaining.
- Pirates: Pittsburgh lost presumptive starter Endy Rodríguez for the season thanks to an elbow injury suffered in winter ball. Former first overall pick Henry Davis should get the majority of the playing time behind the dish. Pittsburgh’s backup options are Ali Sánchez (who is out of options but signed a major league deal in December) and Jason Delay. The Bucs would probably have to waive Sánchez if they add Bart. The question is whether they prefer the former’s defensive stability over the latter’s potentially higher ceiling.
- Rays: Tampa Bay is going to do something at catcher. Waiving Bethancourt left them with defensive specialist René Pinto as the only backstop on their 40-man roster. Rob Brantly and Alex Jackson are in the organization as non-roster players. The Rays typically emphasize defense behind the dish, so perhaps they’re not enamored with Bart, but no one has a clearer ability to carry him on the MLB team.