The Cincinnati Reds only have one catcher on their 40-man roster as things sit right now. And while Tyler Stephenson is a good catcher he’s not going to be the only catcher on the roster and Cincinnati is going to have to add at least one more catcher to the roster. One of those options could be former Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart.

Mark Sheldon of reported that the two sides have been in touch, but that for now Barnhart is looking for a team that he could be a starter for. Barnhart, a 2-time Gold Glove winner – both with the Reds – has always been known more for his defensive abilities than his bat, but he had always done enough with the bat to warrant starting given his defense.

After being traded to the Detroit Tigers in November of 2021 for prospect Nick Quintana, Barnhart struggled to get much going at the plate in 2022 as he moved to the American League. The 31-year-old hit .221/.287/.267 with one home run in 94 games with the Tigers this past season. His 64 OPS+ and .554 OPS were both easily the worst of his career in a season where he got 100 plate appearances.

Detroit’s ballpark isn’t quite as hitter friendly as Great American Ball Park. For a player like Barnhart, who has limited over-the-wall power, a ballpark could make a bigger difference than it would for someone with a little more power.

For Barnhart it makes sense to explore options a while longer to see if he can find a team where he would – in theory at least – get more playing time than he would be expected to get in Cincinnati. He understands that with the Reds he would be the backup option, and while in today’s game that doesn’t mean being on the bench 135 times in a season since hardly any catcher plays that often – and now that there is the designated hitter option in the National League teams can utilize that to get a little more rest for the #1 catcher if his bat plays well – seeking a place where he could be on the field more when it’s still November is the right move.

Whether a team is out there that’s willing to give that opportunity to Barnhart is another question. He’s coming off of his worst year as a professional and he’s five seasons past his best year at the plate. Barnhart hit .258/.339/.330 from August 1st through the end of the season. That’s in line with where he has been for much of his career, so perhaps he and his agent can sell that to teams that may be interested in his services.

66 Responses

  1. west larry

    i would like the reds to sign Barnhart to a two-year deal, with a player opt out after the first year. I don’t know the cost. maybe 7 million a year?

    • Colorado Red

      I am thinking more like 2. 7 for a backup, who have never hit well, is way too much.

      • RedBB

        Probably somewhere in the middle like $4-5M a year. Barnhart could easily get 80+ starts at C with Tyler playing some 1B and DH.

    • Tar Heel Red

      No way Tucker will make $7M/year again in his career. The most he could get at this point in his career would be a 2-yr $4-5M

    • Michael E

      No more than $2 million a year..TOPS. Who are we competing with to get a horrible hitting catcher on the downside of his career?

      7 million? Good lord, that is too much for half the starting catchers in MLB, much less Barnhart, a shell of his old slightly below average self.

    • Bob Purkey

      You can’t be serious. . .$7M a year for a backup catcher. He is nothing but a defense first player. He will be lucky to get $1.5/2.0M a year if he is lucky.

      No offense, but I am glad that you are not minding the financials for Bob & Phil. You didn’t pay Farmer a projected $5.8M, what makes you think that they would pay a backup C $7M

      • west larry

        okay, two million a year. I’d love to see that,

      • MK

        I agree 7 million is too much but being a backup catcher is more like a 30% starter. A back up at other positions might start once every two weeks the catcher is likely to go twice a week.

      • Votto4life

        Truly what’s the difference? The Reds have saved a ton of money the past two seasons
        and they clearly are not going to spend it otherwise. I would rather see it in Tucker’s wallet, than in Bob’s.

      • Votto4life

        Tucker is not going to get $7 Million dollars. Perhaps $4.5 million. Don’t worry the Reds will still have enough money available to sign Judge.

      • JayTheRed

        I feel like it’s going to be around 4 million a year. Someone above mentioned about how Stephenson will probably DH and play some 1B to cover Votto needing days off.

        I would be ok with this pickup. I think he plays better in GABP too. He might get an offer to play fulltime though for a smaller market team still since he is only 31.

    • Bdh

      Would love this reunion. Tucker’s offense dropped off last year but was trending the right direction at the end. From the start of August through the end of the season he hit .258 which was a lot more than the backups last year provided. Then you get the gold glove defense on top of that from a player who’s familiar with the organization + a fan favorite. Would allow Stephenson to DH some too

      Get this massive hole in the roster taken care of then go after a veteran pitcher (Cueto) and a corner outfielder that can slot in the top to middle of the lineup

      • JayTheRed

        I’m with you I want Cueto back too. I can’t imagine he is going to cost a ton either maybe 10 million. He has not been as big of a pitcher as he used to be. but he did perform decently, in limited time last season.

    • Votto4life

      Exactly. It’s hilarious to see so many people worried that the Red’s will overpay Tucker. The Reds have done nothing but slash salaries for the past two years. I swear people here worry more about Bob Castellini’s bank account than he does.

      • Michael E

        Well, if you cutting payroll, then cut it. Hopefully with a plan to increase it later when prospects and low payroll lineup to be a player in FA. I can get on board with that.

        I cannot get on board cutting salary only to overpay a useless player. That is stuck in no-plan land and thinking signing some old Red might placate a few fans.

        Keep cutting for 2023, this was the year to get downsized in sync with Votto/Moose contracts running out. Don’t spend 5 or 10 million just to spend, thats dumb.

        As I said before, if they get a minute payroll next November and still aren’t extending a good player or two and signing a couple of top 15 FAs, then yeah, its time to dump being a Reds fan for a few years.

        I just hope 2023 is the lowest attendance in REds history. Need to at least embarrass the Castellini’s even if they obviously don’t care if there legacy is that of worst owners in Reds history.

  2. Joe

    They could had Tucker last year for 7.5 mil. They didn’t what to pay that for a back up..

  3. Alex Reds

    I would love to have Barnhart back for anything less than $2M a year. That’s a really bad year last year (.221/.287/.267). It’s hard to think Barnhart has options to be a starter. It would have to be a very bad team with no catchers to want to start him based on last year. Reds aren’t winning much in 2023, so it’s a good fit for about one year at a low cost as a backup defensive catcher and fan favorite. To be honest, the replacement level catchers from last year were better than Barnhart last year, so it’s only really a fit due to being a fan favorite and having just traded away a fan favorite in Farmer.

    • Tom Diesman

      The catchers not named Stephenson last year were definitely not better than Barnhart last season.

      Reds Catchers: .210/.258/.322/.580 – 561 PA

      Stephenson as a Catcher: .313/.371/.480/.851- 167 PA
      All other Reds Catchers: .168/.209/.257/.466 – 394 PA

      Barnhart: .221/.287/.267/.554 – 308 PA

      Also remember that the next time Stephenson has 100 GS at C in a season will be his first as a professional. So when choosing your backup catcher, assume he will most likely be getting a minimum of 280 PA.

      • Tom Diesman

        Stephenson at C and Barnhart combined 2022: .253/.316/.341/.657 – 475 PA

        2022 AVG MLB Catcher: .228/.295/.368/.663 – 620 PA

  4. Old-school

    Krall has said repeatedly he wants a catcher that mentors the young pitchers as much as hits.

    Reds arent winning in 2023
    I was never a big fan of Tuckers pitch calling but on a 1 year deal that gives Bell an excuse to play Stephenson at 1b and DH some and gives The Marketer Phil C a home town favorite to take credit for….., This sounds like a reunion done-deal come mid winter.

    • Votto4life

      Wasn’t you recently Kevin Newman for finishing third in the golden glove? Tucker actually won the award twice.

    • Chris Holbert

      Does anyone fear that DB will play him way too much because he’s a good guy?

      • Melvin

        If Barnhart is holding out to see if he can get a starter’s job he should consider that there may not be another manager in the majors who will give him more PT than David Bell simply for the fact he bats as a lefty and is a good guy as you said, Chris.

      • MBS

        If they bring in a solid guy like Narvaez or even Barnhart, I think they should get between 40% to 45% of the starts. That way we can keep Stephenson fresh with his non catching games at DH. If we get another Garcia type , then hopefully they only get 20% to 25% of the starts.

        I’d check in with Toronto and see what it would take to get one of their 3 quality C’s. Moreno will cost a fortune in prospects, Kirk will be expensive, and Jansen should be pretty affordable. I’d go the middle route if it’s not a silly ask, we got the prospect capital.

  5. eddiek957

    I’d prefer they get a right handed hitting catcher. Play Stephenson instead of Joey against lefties But Tucker would be an upgrade over what they paraded out there last year

  6. Michael B. Green

    No offense to anyone or everyone, but why are people always talking about moving Stephenson off of catcher? He has caught 959 innings at the major league level in 3 seasons. That is not even a full season collectively. He did not play any other position in the minors.

    Additionally, it is not a given that his production at the plate will fit at 1B. His metrics look fine, but I don’t think his offensive projection is anywhere near that of a Votto, Freeman, Abreu, et al. I’d love for him to prove me wrong.

    He’s had a few fluke injuries, but he is a catcher. His value is as a catcher. Can CIN spell his body by playing him occasionally at 1B like SF did with Posey? Sure. Posey caught almost 9,300 innings in his career though.

    I think it is very important for Stephenson to mature behind the dish with our young SP’s. Here are the ERA’s of our core SP’s with Stephenson as catcher:

    Greene 5.09
    Ashcraft 1.50
    Lodolo 9.00
    Cessa 5.82

    Also of note, Castillo’s ERA was 3.06 with Stephenson behind the dish.

    Our young SP’s pitched much better with Romine behind the plate for the most part. That makes sense as he has years of experience.

    With 2023 serving as a year of growth – not competition. CIN should catch Stephenson a lot and see how he handles the staff.

    CIN then needs to decide if they are bringing in a catcher than is a #2 or a #1B. It is important for the growth of our SP core. More importantly, the contract needs a team option for 2024.

    If both Stephenson and/or the signing don’t show growth at the end of 2023, CIN needs to decide to either rinse and repeat for 2024 or move to trying to contend and sign a veteran catcher that can handle a contending pitching staff.

    Barnhart could fit the bill here. I’d rather have Hedges, but he will certainly cost more.

    Whomever catches needs to fight tooth and nail with any personnel that likes nibbling on the edges and walking people is not big thing. Nothing worse than watching an 0-2 walk.

    • RedBB

      He’s extremely prone to concussions now and could be one concussion away from never playing C again. Some guys just are…some aren’t. I remember watching Aramis Garcia take a wicked fouldball off his helmet and he didn’t even looked fazed for a split second.

      • Bill

        Did he have a lot of concussions in the minors? He only had one in 22, so I am not sure how you determine is is “extremely prone” now

      • Tar Heel Red

        Stephenson has had three concussions as a pro (minors/majors). Once a person has had even one concussion they are considered high risk to get another. Plus who know how many he had in high school, where the medical staffs are not as learned as professionals.. RedBB is exactly right when he said the next concussion could end his career…it has happened before. Of another one could shorten his career just like what happened to Buster Posey. Moving Stephenson to 1B/DH would greatly diminish the possibility of such a concussion happening.

      • Bill

        I just did a little research, according to Stephenson he has had three. One in HS, one in A, and the one last year. So while he does have an increased risk, especially at catcher; none of his previous concussions were from catching. One a collision running to first, one while taking batting practice, and the last one a collision coming into home. He could just as easily get his fourth playing 1B. I’m all for protecting him, but I think this has been blown way out of proportion. In the end it is his decision and he seems to prefer C, which being a premium position will make him far more valuable. Obviously if he starts having more serious problems the doctors will need to have that talk with him.

      • Old-school

        The argument to move Stephenson off catcher centers on the fact hes the Reds best hitter and catching related injuries have kept him from being in the lineup. The best ability is availability and Reds need Stephenson’s bat in the lineup 155 games.

        He had the Vogt forearm shiver collision at home blocking the plate for a concussion. He took a foul ball of his hand catching and broke it and he took a foulball off his collar bone, fracturing it and requiring season-ending surgery. He also took a foul ball under the mask at Philly which nearly fractured his jaw.

        As a hitter, he gives you plate discipline, avg, contact, on base skills and some power. I believe if he played 155 games- cant do as a catcher anymore- he could develop into a Paul Goldschmidt type first baseman. I like the potential of Encarnacion-Stroud and McGarry as a first base/DH combo from both sides of the plate but more data on their MLB hitting potential is needed.

        We shall see in 2023.

      • Bill

        Old-school, I understand to logic from moving him from catcher to prevent injury. My point is he could be injured anywhere. His concussions haven’t even been from playing catcher. Senzel and India are constantly injured and neither plays catcher. My point is he wants to be a catcher, and his bat is elite there. If there was another catcher on the roster and a hole at 1B it would make sense. With the current roster it is really irrelevant.

        You really have to trust the staff, doctors and Stephenson to make the right decision at this point. If you can’t trust them there isn’t much hope anyhow

    • Harry Stoner

      Stephenson was catching the Young Turks earlier in the season before his injuries shut him down.

      Greene and Lodolo started out slower in 2022 and then clearly improved while the season progressed and TS was on the DL.

      Ashcraft got off to a very hot start then faded.

      Castillo was Castillo. He got off to a good start this season and of course he was traded for “prospects!”.

      Hard to comp these with Stephenson’s growth as pitch caller but sure, the job takes time to learn.

      Anecdotal stories of Barnhart and Stephenson talking shop were a solid part of 2021 season.

      The Reds’ needs for 2023 are pretty clear, and the available options equally clear.

      I think we’ll see a couple more ‘safe’ moves from Krall and a lot of fingers being crossed.

      And probably a 70-92 season.

  7. Votto4life

    This would be a positive development. Hope it happens.

  8. Mark Moore

    If it happens, it happens. And it won’t be for a large dollar contract. Tucker is a great guy and would make a solid #2. But we moved on from him for a reason (or something like 7 million reasons).

    But, hey, this is what we do in the offseason, right? We toss this stuff around and armchair GM the living daylights out of our beloved Reds. I’m all in for that.

    • Harry Stoner

      Reds need a catcher. Not a lot of options out there amongst the 500M + population of baseball land.

      Talking to Barnhart is a no brainer.

      Who else you gonna talk to?

      If the Reds are playing $2M for a Newman, they can offer $3M for Tucker.

      It’s in his best interest to wait things out, though, all the way in ST if need be.

      He might not get a starting job offer in November, but after someone goes down in March his phone might really start ringing.

      For a franchise with such a history of strength behind the plate, last year was rugged.

      You could do a lot worse than another dose of Stephenson-Barnhart.

      Last year we saw what happened when the Reds had neither.

  9. Steven Ross

    If I’m in Tucker’s shoes, I tell my agent: anyplace but Cincinnati. I can’t stand the losing anymore. Cincy then Detroit and now back to the Reds? Please Lord, no.

    • Harry Stoner

      Agent tells Tucker: “You hit .221 last year on a $7M contract. I’ll do the best I can.”

      Agent gets a cut of it, too.

  10. Hotto4Votto

    The Reds could do a lot worse than bringing Tucker back. Would like to see it if he doesn’t have better opportunities elsewhere.

  11. DX

    If we can sign Barnhart we might set a MLB record for most players on a team that should hit 9th in the order.

    • Votto4life

      And how would that be any different than the way it is right now?

    • Michael E

      LOL, that was good. Sadly true, but funny.

      The Phillies showed the importance of having a couple of hitters at top of lineup that make a pitcher work to get them out. We have been on the all-or-nothing hitting approach ever since Adam Dunn and Billy Hamilton. Dunn could at least walk, so he wasn’t just a 10xK per every 1 HR guy. It seems like Reds F.O. cannot identify hitters than can make a pitcher work.

      Hey, if nothing else, look at analytics and find some of the top 100 hitters with most pitches/PA. We need a couple of those in the lineup, guys that don’t swing at breaking balls in the dirt and fastballs chin high.

      Most World Series winners have a couple of those in the top 5 of the order. I want to see the days of having more than one 160+ K hitter in the rear view mirror. I’d rather have a team leading the league in doubles and near top of OBP than leading the league in HRs and near bottom of OBP.

  12. MBS

    Tucker would be fine, I’d want Narváez more.

  13. Jim Walker

    Barnhart had an OPS+ of 64 in 2022. His career OPS+ is 82. The last season it was at or above 82 was 2018. The last season his composite WAR, offensive WAR (oWAR), or defensive WAR (dWAR) was 1 or greater was 2018.

    I’ll give him credit for talking big in saying he is looking to be a “primary catcher” because he hasn’t done anything since 2018 to indicate he is capble of performing at that role on anything but tanking team.

    His numbers more indicate a guy who should be in camp on a MiLB deal trying to earn an MLB spot.

    • Jim Walker

      And at this juncture, I am not sure the Reds even qualify as a tanking team because at least in the typical sense, a tanking team losing now with hopes to underwrite a big winning run in the near future.

      However, the Reds PoBO is on the record that their goal is to “avoid peaks and valleys”. To me that sounds like he would settle for a lot of seasons like 2021 when the team was often exciting but did not have the umph to get over the hump.

      • Greenfield Red

        I haven’t seen any talk of avoiding peaks and valleys. If that is so, it is self defeating. There will be no World Series victories in that scenario.

      • Votto4life

        Yes it was a direct quote from Nick Krall, (see link below)

        This is one of the reasons I have been skeptical that this is a actually a rebuild. Yes, they tore it down, but they have given no indication they will invest the money to build it back up. In fact, list the opposite.

        I think the Castellinis have decided that they will not pursue expensive free agents or offer multi-year contracts any longer.

        I think the front office’s philosophy is if the young players come through and we win fine,
        But they will not be supplementing the young talent with high or even medium price free agents.

        This is not a re-build. It’s the new normal.

    • Redsvol

      Agree whole heartedly Jim. I want it to be clear that TS is the teams catcher. I think it would be better to bring in someone else to be his backup.

      I’d be ok with Tucker if other options fall thru to bring him back at a low per annual salary.

  14. AMDG

    Over the past 4 seasons he is slashing 231 / 310 / 346 with an OPS+ of 75

    I’m not sure many teams want to make a 32 year old who can’t hit well as their starter.

    If he is looking for playing time, Cincy would be a fine spot to land, because Stephenson tends to get hurt.

    • west larry

      I know he wants to catch, but Stevenson is probably one concussion away from being forced not to catch, I think Bernhard would be a fine substitute until we find a better, younger catcher-if he will elect to come here. I can’t see a younger, better catcher, coming here with the clubs projected season record, What, 70 wins? What else are you going to do? Barnhart may not want to come back to the reds with this hot mess of a team, at any price,

      • Melvin

        I think Barnhart would jump at the chance to come back to Cincinnati. He lives in Brownsburg, Indiana just a couple of hours away. He’s a big family guy.

  15. Broseph

    Tough spot for the Reds. You have to hope Stephenson can handle duties as catcher, with DH to keep him fresh.

    I think he’s at best, a spot start for 1B. He is not defensively or even offensively a good first baseman, so I don’t understand the clamoring to replace a Votto with Stephenson, it’s a downgrade in two positions.

    As for Barnhart, meh. That OPS+ and his defensive metrics don’t warrant what he brings, and I’m not so confident in him being the Johnny Bench of pitcher mentoring either, he had some questionable pitching calls in his last few years with the team

    • Votto4life

      A healthy Stephenson behind the plate is among the top 5 catchers in baseball. Tyler Stephenson at first base, is in the lower half, perhaps the lowest third in baseball.

      Stephenson just does not have the same value at first base. The Reds would be better off trading Tyler Stephenson, rather than moving him permanently to first.

      • Old-school

        Tyler Stephenson playing 155 games at first base as the Reds best hitter is value. Playing 50 games at catcher isnt.

        I love the argument that diminishes Stephenson…the reds best hitter…as worthless at first base…yet no one offers who actually plays for the Reds at first base that DOES delivers that value. Who exactly plays first base for the Reds that delivers that same offensive value as Paul Goldschmidt or Freddie Freeman or Matt Olson or Vlad Guerrero Jr or Pete Alonso. Who exactly on the reds 40 man provides that superior value at first base since Stephenson is so unqualified?

      • Votto4life

        Old School, please point out to me where I said that Stephenson was “worthless” at first base. What I did say he has more value as a catcher, than he does at first base.

        Which is harder to find on the market, an offensive first baseman or an offensive catcher? I would argue it’s the latter.

  16. LDS

    The Reds dumped Barnhart rather unceremoniously. Why would he want to come back to the Reds as a backup, for less money than he was making when he left, and on a team destined to spend more years in the basement? He’s better than the guys the Reds had last year. But I think Narvaez has more upside. That is, he has a couple of seasons with an OPS+ above 100. Barnhart does not.

    • Doug Gray

      A few reasons why: It’s close to home. He’s going to make less money no matter where he goes, so that probably isn’t a factor (and that money is going to go a lot further in Cincinnati than many other places he’ll sign), and while he’s looking for more of a chunk of playing time he may not find it, and so if he doesn’t then why not Cincinnati?

      • LDS

        It will be interesting to see. At least we know he can start regularly if/when Stephenson goes down again.

  17. TR

    It’s still a couple months for the Red’s 2023 issues to be resolved, especially backup catcher. Tucker is from Indiana and a good part of the Hoosier state is considered Red’s Country. Barnhart will probably be back for a couple years at less money.

    • Votto4life

      I think that is less true now than it has been in the past. The western part of Indiana is more Cardinals Country, while the Northern part follow the Cubs. The Reds still have a following in Southeastern Indiana, but I think even that following is weakening.

      The Reds used to be a regional team, but to maintain support regionally, you have to win occasionally. The Big Red Machine days are long gone.

      I was reading the live chat on MLB trade rumors yesterday and someone asked if they expected the Reds would spend money after the big contracts come of the books next year. The response was not likely.

      I really worry Cincinnati may lose the Reds, at some point, if we don’t get new ownership which is dedicated to putting a competitive team on the field.

      Personally, I think the Castellini isn’t putting much money into the team, because they are planning to sell in the near future. My only concern with that is they do irreparable harm to this franchise in the meantime.

      • BK

        There is no doubt that the consistent losing during the Castellini period of ownership has cost the Reds fans across the region. I don’t agree that the damage is irreparable–winning will win back the fans over time. The New Orleans Saints didn’t have a winning season in their first 25 years of existence. I will challenge you to find a more rabid fan base today. Sustainable success should be the goal.

  18. MattM

    Chuckie Robinson getting some love from Fangraphs. He was a nice defensive catcher. Moved around nicely and called a good game. Can’t hit a lick for some reason.

    I’d rather have him than Barnhardt. Tucker is old, calls a lousy game, pitchers would rather throw to someone else, was clutch at the plate about 2 games a year. Chuckie has more upside than Tucker and can help get higher draft choices with his bat.