We’ve been writing about former Reds and Tigers catcher Tucker Barnhart as an option for the Cubs since early October, so it’s no surprise to see his name mentioned elsewhere lately. You’ve probably seen us pushing the idea here, here, or on social media more recently, and now our colleagues are joining the party.
There’s been a little pushback to this idea from fans, which is understandable given Barnhart’s lack of obvious statistical selling points. He’s got two Gold Gloves from his time in Cincy, but many will argue that advanced metrics aren’t nearly as kind as the hardware. Then there’s the below-average bat, which is a big talking point mainly because the Cubs just parted ways with one of the best offensive catchers in the game.
What I think a lot of the online commentary is lacking, however, is the deeper context of the position as it relates to this team in particular. And by that, I don’t just mean the roster Jed Hoyer is working to put together. I’m talking about a coaching staff and front office that value the unquantifiable skills a catcher brings to the table.
Mock me all you want for leaning too old school, but you can’t dismiss that David Ross and game strategy coach Craig Driver are catchers. Barnhart was at Reds spring training with third base coach Willie Harris and both love their Jordans, so that’s a plus. What’s more, assistant hitting coach Johnny Washington was Barnhart’s hitting coach with Arizona Fall League’s Glendale Desert Dogs back in 2013.
That squad featured some big names, several of whom figured prominently in each of the last two offseasons.
There’s also the familiarity with the NL Central, which probably doesn’t factor all that much given the degree of turnover the Cubs have had over the last two seasons. Still, it can’t hurt as the Cubs weigh the merits of Barnhart, Curt Casali, and Roberto Pérez per Patrick Mooney’s comment that they “are looking for a defense-first catcher.”
When you get right down to it, one of the most important factors for the Cubs might simply be trust. Given how little incremental difference you’re really going to see in the performance of a player who figures to be half of a timeshare behind the plate, little things matter. There’s also the idea that Barnhart prefers the Cubs because signing with them would keep him near his home in Central Indiana. It’s just a really good fit, metrics be damned.
As for the career-worst offensive output in Detroit, I wouldn’t worry too much about that. Though he’s probably never going to be an above-average run producer, Barnhart should per perfectly fine in a situational split. The Tigers’ hitting philosophy screwed up a lot of their hitters last year and Barnhart actually surged at the plate after he realized he wasn’t being traded.
This is one of those times when I think it’s appropriate to buy into the change of scenery concept, even if that again flies in the face of quantifiable data. I’ve made no secret about this possibility being something I have a personal interest in seeing come to pass, but I really do believe Barnhart is a really good fit for this Cubs team. We should find out soon enough whether he’ll have a chance to prove it.