The Reds and catcher Tucker Barnhart have discussed the possibility of him returning to Cincinnati, according to Mark Sheldon of MLB.com.
Barnhart, of course, has spent the vast majority of his career 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.
Sheldon notes that Barnhart, who turns 32 in January, is still looking for a job as a primary catcher, which would likely mean that returning to the Reds would only happen if he fails to find that full-time job he’s looking for. The Reds have Tyler Stephenson atop their depth chart, although he only played 50 games in 2022 due to various injuries, including a concussion, a broken thumb and a broken clavicle. The depth options that the club used in Stephenson’s absence have all since been jettisoned from the roster, meaning they will have to find a backup and some depth, either from their own system or via external additions. That makes their interest in Barnhart fairly sensible.
However, from Barnhart’s point of view, it makes sense that he would look for a starting job before settling for a backup role. His numbers mostly went in the wrong direction in 2022, but he has a long track record that combines quality glovework with a bat just a bit below league average. His career batting line of .221/.287/.267 amounts to a wRC+ of 80. That means he’s been 20% below league average overall but catchers generally hit at a lower level than the rest of the league. The combined batting line for all catchers in 2022 was .226/.295/.367 for a wRC+ of 89. On the other side of his game, Defensive Runs Saved has given Barnhart a 14 in his career. FanGraphs’ framing metric has given him a negative number overall but thinks he’s improved and has been much kinder over the past four seasons.
The free agent market contains a few names above Barnhart, such as Wilson Contreras and Christian Vázquez. But then there’s a tier of flawed but passable options, including Omar Narvaez, Gary Sanchez, Austin Hedges, Barnhart and others. The trade market could feature Sean Murphy as well as the Toronto trio of Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Gabriel Moreno.
There are various teams who are either known to be looking for catching help or are sensible fits for it, including the Cardinals, Astros, Giants, Tigers, Cubs, Brewers, Twins, Diamondbacks, Guardians and more. Barnhart and his representatives will likely be reaching out to those clubs and assessing their interest first, but it seems like he could circle back to the Reds as a fallback option if that search doesn’t pan out.