We’ve been saying for several weeks now that former Reds and Tigers catcher Tucker Barnhart was someone the Cubs liked, and now it appears that is coming to fruition. After several days of back-and-forth, Sahadev Sharma tweeted Thursday that the two sides are “closing in on a deal” to set Barnhart up in a timeshare of sorts with Yan Gomes. Mark Feinsand confirmed that a deal has been reached.
Tucker Barnhart has agreed to a deal with the Cubs, per source. @sahadevsharma first reported they were close.
— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) December 22, 2022
The deal is for $6.5 million, divided equally between a guaranteed 2023 salary and a player option for ’24. There are also various incentives that can add up to $3 million more. That option for a second year is big because it ensures Barnhart will reach 10 years of service time and be fully vested in the league’s retirement program. Even for players making huge sums, hitting that 10-year mark is a big deal. Barnhart won’t complete his physical until after the holidays, which provides the team a few more days to decide what to do with the roster.
The Cubs have opted for a defense-first approach behind the plate since deciding to let Willson Contreras leave in free agency, and Barnhart brings two Gold Gloves to Chicago. Though his publicly-available defensive metrics don’t look great depending on what you look at, there can be a little noise in the numbers. With a catching-heavy coaching staff and access to a lot more data than what you and I can see, the Cubs obviously felt good about what Barnhart brings to the team.
That may even include a little more confidence in his offense than what the stats say, particularly now that he’s out of Detroit. Almost every Tigers hitter experienced issues last season stemming from an organizational hitting philosophy that reduced vertical bat angle, and Barnhart, who bought in as a new member of the team, posted a career-worst 63 wRC+ on the year.
Viewed as a dark-horse contender in the NL Central to open the season, the Tigers fell apart early and never recovered. That led to speculation that Barnhart and others would be traded, but, just like the Cubs and Contreras, a deal never materialized. Left with nothing to play for but pride and his next deal, Barnhart abandoned Detroit’s hitting philosophy and went back to what he felt worked for him.
After posting an abysmal 44 wRC+ through 201 plate appearances leading up to the trade deadline, the switch-hitting backstop put up a 99 wRC+ over his final 107 PAs. While it’s possible his future production trends back closer to his career mark of 80, playing in a more hitter-friendly park with a team he wanted to join may help boost things closer to league average.
The Cubs are going to be over the 40-man roster limit once this deal is made official, so they’ve got to do a little work to clear space. That could mean trying to sneak Zach McKinstry or Miles Mastrobuoni through waivers, with the former being more likely because he doesn’t have options remaining. Michael Rucker is a DFA candidate as well.
Ed. note: I’ve mentioned this here a few times before, but this deal is really cool for personal reasons. Barnhart’s dad, Kevin, is a baseball coach and instructor here at a local facility and my son has been working with him since we moved to Brownsburg, IN in 2017. I wanted Ryne to work with someone who had experience with switch-hitters and we’ve really enjoyed the last few years, so seeing this come around to the point of having Tucker playing for the Cubs is pretty wild.