Tucker Barnhart will spend the next week awaiting a phone call (unless he’s already gotten it, of course). On the other end will be someone in the Cincinnati Reds front office and they will have some rather important news for him. The Reds hold a $7,500,000 option on Barnhart that they can pick up for the 2022 season. If they choose not to pick it up then Barnhart will get a $500,000 buyout and he will become a free agent.
There are reasons to keep Tucker Barnhart around. The 2-time Gold Glove winner knows the pitching staff well and it seems that the pitching staff absolutely loves throwing to him. In the current state of baseball, you also need two quality catchers. The days of having one catcher go out there and get behind the plate 125+ times a year are over except in the absolute of rarest occasions. Every team in baseball would love to have Barnhart as one of their two catchers.
There’s not exactly a good free agent class of catcher out there. Manny Piña is the top catcher on the market according to Fangraphs version of WAR. He’s a strong defender, but he hit .189/.293/.439 last season in 75 games. Yan Gomes is the only other free agent catcher who posted a WAR over 0.1 in the 2021 season. Letting Barnhart test the free agent waters in a market where he may be the best catcher available could lead to a situation where Cincinnati is left with what is essentially a AAAA player on the every day roster all season long.
The side of the argument that would lead to the Reds not picking up Barnhart’s option could be two fold. First would be money. Plain and simple, the team may be looking to cut costs and with Tyler Stephenson established in the big leagues they may believe handing him the “majority catcher” job and bringing in someone on a lower salary to be his back up would save them money to spend elsewhere. While $7,000,000 doesn’t go nearly as far as it used to, depending on how things play out that could wind up being all of the money the team has to spend in free agency.
If the team believes Tyler Stephenson is the future at the position then it may just be time to put his name in the lineup 4-5 times a week behind the plate and let it ride. With an established 2-time Gold Glove winner who the pitching staff likes throwing to on the team could make that a bit more difficult.
Money. Tyler Stephenson. No one ready in the farm system to step in. Shallow free agent catching class. There’s a lot of things going on that the organization needs to consider when it comes to the option for Tucker Barnhart. Picking it up allows them to see where things stand next winter. Perhaps the farm system will be better suited to have someone step in for 2023 than they are right now. Maybe the free agent class will look a little bit better next winter than the one does this offseason. Or maybe the team simply is ready to move in another direction.