Posted on September 22, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
Despite another losing season, the Cincinnati Reds believe they are starting to put some pieces in place as they build for the future. Catcher Tucker Barnhart appears to be one of those pieces. The Reds announced Friday that they have agreed to a four-year, $16 million extension with Barnhart. The deal will keep Barnhart in Cincinnati through the 2021 season, with a $7.5 million club option for 2022.
“Tucker has made us proud on the field with his play and off the field with his community involvement,” Reds GM Dick Williams said in a statement. “He worked his way up through our system, improving every step of the way, and has established himself as an elite defensive catcher and a productive offensive player. Switch-hitting catchers who can impact the game defensively are tough to find.”
The 26-year old Barnhart would have been arbitration eligible for the first time this winter. The extension takes care of his arbitration years and at least his first year of free agency. His salary will fluctuate between $2.5 million and $4 million over the next four seasons, giving the Reds plenty of payroll flexibility.
Barnhart had a breakout season offensively in 2016, hitting .257 with an OPS of .702. He’s continued to improve upon those offensive numbers in 2017. On the season, Barnhart is hitting .272 with an OPS of .748. With one more home run and one more double, he will match the career highs he set last season. He’s also considered a top contender to win a Gold Glove this season.
The extension for Barnhart is similar to the one the Reds gave catcher Devin Mesoraco prior to the 2015 season. At the time, Mesoraco appeared to be Cincinnati’s catcher of the future. However, he’s had trouble staying healthy since signing that extension. In 2015, Mesoraco missed large chunks of the season with a hip injury. In 2016, a torn labrum limited him to 16 games. This season, Mesoraco has played just 56 games. He suffered a broken foot in August that has ensured he ends his third consecutive season on the DL.
At the start of the season, the Reds planned for Barnhart and Mesoraco to share the catching duties. But with Mesoraco spending most of the season on the DL, Barnhart once again became the team’s primary catcher. Even if Mesoraco is healthy next season, Barnhart has likely solidified himself as Cincinnati’s top catching option. With Mesoraco entering the final year of his contract in 2018, the Reds appear ready to move on from him and commit to Barnhart.
Barnhart’s contract extension is worth less money than the one they gave to Mesoraco, even if they end up exercising his option for 2022. This helps to minimize Cincinnati’s risk just in case Barnhart falls victim to the injury bug like Mesoraco. More importantly, it ensures the Reds have a trustworthy catcher as they continue the rebuilding process. If Barnhart can continue to produce offensively in addition to playing strong defense, signing him to an extension will end up being a great move by the Reds.