The most important offseason in recent memory for these Cincinnati Reds is about to begin. There are a few areas that need prioritized, whether to be upgraded through free agency or trade, one of which is the catcher position.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Tucker. Dude is cool as a cucumber and an awesome person to root for (did you know he likes to cook?). Part of the criteria for a championship team makes no mention of the player’s likability, however, so I am leaving these evaluations strictly on the field.
Most would agree that Tucker has had a down year. The Reds catcher has seen his offensive explosion from 2017 disappear as he will finish 2019 with an OPS+ somewhere around 80 (it currently sits at 18). What’s disconcerting, though, is his on-base plus slugging is right about where his career number is. Currently, his OPS is .687 which is just .008 less than his career average. He gets on base roughly 32% of the time (right on his career average) and actually has a batting average .023 points less than his career average.
Per Fangraphs, Barnhart has a 0.6 WAR which puts him 28th among catchers with at least 250 plate appearances. What stings a bit is the fact that former-future Red, JT Realmuto, is at the top of the list with 5.6 WAR. Tucker’s 77 WRC+ ranks second to last. Defensively he’s pretty much middle of the pack.
He hasn’t been much more impressive than Tucker. Baseball Reference has him at a 1.1 WAR and Fangraphs has him at a 0.8. He gets on-base a tad more than Tucker (almost 33%) and slugs a bit more (.415). His OPS is much closer to league average, but still below it at 91. All that being said, he’s done it in just 195 at-bats. Maybe he gets better with more exposure, or maybe he gets exposed.
The problem with that line of thought is the Reds do not have the luxury of giving regular playing time to a guy who is still figuring it out in 2020. The idea is to go all in as this window of competition appears to be opening. Even if it isn’t (as some opine) then now is the time to force it open. This rebuild has looked more like a merry-go-round than anything resembling a well-oiled machine. The time is now to build a winner and it sure seems like the opening day catcher for 2020 should be Mr. Outside Hire. There’s one option that jumps out.
It would be a reunion, of sorts, for the Reds and the second-highest fWAR catcher of 2019. He has had a phenomenal year working on a “prove it” contract for Milwaukee. WAR can be a tricky to use as a main method of measuring a player’s worth (baseball reference has him at almost three wins less) but the rest of his numbers are impressive. He’s amassed 27 dingers and an OPS+ of 120. He gets on base almost 39% of the time and has the best isolated power of any catcher at .221.
The interesting thing will be how Milwaukee handles him. Grandal has a mutual option for 2020. If the two sides do not agree that he should remain a Brewer, he will most likely be looking for a pay raise and multi-year deal. Frankly, if he’s a free agent the Reds should hand him a blank check (so to speak) and bring him back into the fold.
Really, if we’re being honest, the rest of the field isn’t all that exciting. They could look at Tyler Flowers, if the Braves do not pick up his option, or Jason Castro. Neither are more than slight upgrades over Barnhart, though. Wellington Castillo could be available, as well. He has had a rough season and could be a bounce back candidate. The one issue with him, though, is he lacks plate discipline, which is not something the Reds need to be ignoring in their quest to remodel the lineup. If Grandal is not available, the Reds may have to look at a trade if they want to upgrade at catcher.
Next week I’ll take a look at a position that all of can agree needs a lot of TLC, second base.