Tucker Barnhart was signed as a Free Agent to help out with the catching, with the emphasis on defense. He’s theoretically a switch-hitter (though he’s gone back to lefty-only this year) but isn’t especially good from either side, as a .245 lifetime batter with a .359 slugging percentage who averages about 10 home runs per annum.
The 32-year-old pairs with 35-year-old Yan Gomes in the Cubs’ backstop crew, which also includes the elusive Luis Torrens. In 10 years as a major-leaguer with the Cincinnati Reds, Barnhart has accounted for a total of 7.1 WAR (4.0 fWAR). However, he has won Gold Gloves (2017 and 2020) at the position, and is highly regarded behind the plate.
He’s not expected to tear the cover off the ball. He is expected to foster the Cubs’ pitchers relationship with the strike zone, keep the veterans on-target, and continue to develop Justin Steele and Hayden Wesneski, along with the afore-mentioned Gomes.
The argument that this idea has been a good one is bolstered by the Cubs current won/loss record, a lot of which has been driven by excellent starting pitching. Neither has really hurt the Cubs at the plate, where Barnhart has five singles and a walk in 19 at-bats, good for a .263 BA and .318 OBP, and Gomes has three home runs and six RBI to go with a stolen base in his 42 at-bats.
Former Cub catcher Willson Contreras has struggled this year, adding to the schadenfreude among those fans who are upset about Contreras’ post- and pre-season remarks. I wouldn’t count him out — equally the Cubs’ catching tandem has plusses which stand out over the course of the game. The old eye test says they don’t get shaken off so often and both have enough arm to discourage the average runner from swiping additional bags. Like this one against the Mariners [VIDEO].
Barnhart signed for two years at a reasonable $6,5 million, splitting annual salaries down the middle, with a player option after the second year. That’s less than the $7.5 million he got from Detroit in 2022 and approximately half of what Gomes earns (two yrs, $13m).
Part of deals like this is the veteran players’ ability to get along with their teammates. This interview with new teammate Ian Happ is revealing.
Indeed, Barnhart attests that part of his job is psychologist:
“I think, first and foremost, you have to understand that each guy’s different,” he said. “They tick differently. Some guys like to hear certain things about mechanics. Other guys like to just get pat on the back and told, ‘Hey, everything’s going to be all right. We’re good.’ Some guys want to just talk about what you’re going to do after the game. They want to get their mind off of it.
“So, I think it starts with understanding who’s out there on the mound. Past that, you have to be invested. You have to be prepared. It’s a lot easier to have a conversation when you show guys that you’re genuinely invested in what they’re doing. And them as people, too.”
The man has gifts. Though he’s listed at 5-foot-11, he admitted to 670 The Score’s Laurence Holmes and Leila Rahimi that he’s really just 5-foot-9 without his helmet and cleats on. So, gab is also a gift.
‘‘When I think of a pro,’’ Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson said, ‘‘who I think of is Tucker.’’ The Cubs pitchers love working with him. That can’t be all bad. Yan Gomes is likely to be in his last year with the Cubs, though who will be replacing him is fuzzy at the moment. Barnhart likely stays through his deal and helps to usher in the next generation of Cubs catching.