2017 Reds

Tucker Barnhart: Devin Mesoraco is Reds’ starting catcher

No catching controversy here:

“Obviously Devin in the lineup gives us the best chance to win, without question,” Barnhart said just before this season ended. “Whether that means I catch 20 games or end up catching 120 games next year, first and foremost I want Devin back and healthy and in our lineup.”

“Winning in the Major Leagues trumps anything there is. I want to be a part of a winning culture and a winning team,” Barnhart said. “Getting back one of our key pieces in Devin is what we need. I think whatever role I’m given when that happens, I’ll be more than happy to take it and run with it and help the team win as much as possible.”

Read the whole thing.

There are so many moving parts that it’s not worth getting too deep into the weeds of the 2017 catching situation just yet. Devin Mesoraco won’t be able to do any catching until January, and while the Reds’ crack medical staff says there’s no reason to think Mesoraco won’t be physically able to catch, I’m not going to bet the ranch on it.

I want to be cautiously optimistic about Mesoraco returning to catch 100-120 games for the Reds in 2017. After all, we’re talking about an All-Star catcher, right? But you’d be foolish to assume that he’ll ever again be a regular catcher in the big leagues.

Tucker Barnhart proved this year that he’s a legitimate major league catcher. He’s going to make a lot of money as a catcher for the next dozen or more years. He’s great defensively, and his bat surprised a lot of people this season. But I’m just not sure he’s a credible starter for a contending team. (But if Barnhart can stay healthy, he’ll always have a job in the league as a backup catcher.)

Can the Reds have an above-average catching duo if both catch 80 games? What do the Reds do if Mesoraco can’t catch at all?

Add those questions to the list of unknowns facing the 2017 Reds.

44 thoughts on “Tucker Barnhart: Devin Mesoraco is Reds’ starting catcher

  1. I thought that pairing when the Reds had Hernandez and Hanigan seemed to benefit both players, keeping them both fresh. Barnhart would work well in that kind of setup. Even if Mesoraco comes back, they probably would be be wiser to not drop him into 120 games behind the plate until they got a few months of work on him. If he couldn’t go, finding maybe a left handed hitting catcher to pair with Barnhart in a duo would be good.

    To be fair, I think Barnhart might have another gear above what we have seen. He has improved quite a bit in his first couple years in the big leagues and he could grow a bit more into the job.

    • Actually, I’d go with a RH hitting catcher to pair with Barnhart. He’s a better hitter from the LH side. I’d want another “defense first” catcher unless the goal is for this catcher to be a 100-115 game catcher on the next competitive Reds team.

  2. Barnhart is better than the typical back up catcher, and in some areas by a lot. But he’s also definitely not an aspiring all-star caliber starting catcher. I’m glad he’s on the roster. He gives the Reds a lot of flexibility to adapt to Mesoraco’s health and endurance. If Mesoraco starts 100 games and Barnhart the rest then I’d say that’s a good outcome. I’ll be pretty happy if it’s an 81-81 split. I’m not getting my hopes up for more than 89-100 starts for Devin. But because Tucker is a Red, catcher is actually pretty far down my list of concerns for the 2017 Reds.

      • Agreed. This fan’s wishful thinking is for Meso to be completely healthy and be able to be the Reds’ regular catcher and TBarn to be a prime backup. However, this fan’s more realistic desire is for the two to platoon and provide a combined 20hr-90RBI/.333 OBP/.450 SLG/+780 OPS season. I’d be satisfied with those numbers from that position in 2017 however the playing time is sliced up. Would you Reds fans?

        • I would be very pleased with that result, especially if that could happen with no time on the DL for Barnhart or Mesoraco. Share of starts wouldn’t matter at that point. But I don’t see that happening with Mesoraco catching more than three games out of five.

        • How about 30/120 as a duo

          I think your obp and slugging for the duo are fine

        • That’s probably closer to reality.

          But it depends upon whether Mesoraco can shake off the rust in the spring and how long it will take for him tore discover form, both as a catcher and as a hitter.

          Let me put out a more likely scenario:

          (a) Barnhart is the incumbent Nr. 1 catcher – based on 2016 performance, his familiarity with the pitchers – particularly the young studs who need to develop game sense, and the fact that Meso is not yet -proven- recovered.
          (b) So, even under the best circumstances, the Reds break camp with three, not two, catchers – Barnhart, Mesoraco, Cabrerra.
          (c) Prorated to a full season that would mean 90-100 starts Barnhart, 40-50 Mesoraco (unless he is batting up an absolute storm), the rest Cabrerra..
          (d) And then, the imponderable: If Mesoraco is recovering as a batter but -not- as a catcher, or, even if he is, what is his value as a midseason trade piece with an AL club where he can get max playing time as a catcher/DH? That can’t happen in the NL without the DH and in the knowledge that he’s not going to be a credible OF and not going to be allowed to block the flow up from the minors (read Winker, Ervin, at. al). So the Reds will still need Cabrerra or an equivalent and Barnhart will still be the established Nr 1.
          (e) And, even with the Reds picking up part of his tab, it’s a payroll conserving action.

  3. “the Reds’ crack medical staff” Many different opinions have been posted. Sarcasm or true feeling?

  4. I’d count on Mesoraco as much as I’d count on Homer Bailey. If either is not on the DL on opening day next year I’ll consider it a bonus. That said, it’s good to have a guy like Tucker Barnhart who is a solid defensive catcher and adequate offensively.

  5. My money is on Devin never catching again consistently. I just wonder if he’s going to have to suffer a major (like 20-162 games lost) setback before everyone realizes it.

    As we certainly do not have 4 obvious, super talented above all others outfielders, anyone know how much does his value change doing his best Pete Incaviglia impression out in left field?

    • Really depends on if he can hit like Pete Incaviglia did. He already had two setbacks costing him over 100 games. I think that’s why there are a lot of people who don’t think he’ll ever be a 110-game MLB catcher again.

  6. Tucker Barnhart is entering his age 26 season and will not be arbitration eligible (pending CBA negotiations acknowledgement noted) until 2018, his age 27 season and will not be FA eligible until 2021, his age age 30 season. With Barnhart’s superior defensive catching skills and his marginal offensive skills as a switch hitter, would a long-term contract extention that included a couple of FA seasons be a sound investment? The Reds don’t have a solid catching prospect near major league readiness coming through the pipeline and Tucker would provide nice insurance as a superior backup option and possible #1 option behind the dish in a job-sharing role for several seasons.

    Tucker has a distinct platoon split as a switch hitter, favoring his LHB against RHP, both for OBP & SLG. He has always struggled against LHP and continued to struggle against LHP last season, although showing some improvement. That makes him a solid backup catcher or platoon catcher with the capability to fill in whenever needed. Such a player is valuable on a contending team and locking him up on a long-term contract would be beneficial to both parties if both parties are interested and reasonable contract terms can be negotiated.

    • This works for me Admiral Cossack. Barnhart is in that gray zone where he’s almost good enough to start and too good to back up. But he is intelligent and I suspect will continue to improve. All this makes him valuable insurance and probably at a high value salary. I think this is a modest cost, high value insurance policy to limit the downside on Mesoraco’s health. Not a flashy move but a solid one.

      • Any thoughts on these questions –

        Catchers blossom late sometimes, any chance Tucker will continue to improve, might he be an All-Star one day?

        In the Reds’ scenario, where there is so much grey zone everywhere else, could a Wild Card team, or a team that competes for the NL central crown afford to have a 1-2 WAR catcher?

        • The basic answer is simply yes, but I don’t think that is even the issue. Last season Tucker started 108 games and had a total of 420 PA. In 332 PA against RHP, Tucker had a .744 OPS. In the remaining 88 PA against LHP, Tucker had a .546 OPS. Tucker put up .100+ better OBP and SLG against RHP than LHP. That’s a lot and that’s a strict platoon waiting to happen. Fortunately for Tucker (and the Reds), his platoon split is against 60% of the pitchers in the league. I do not see Tucker as a pure starting catcher for two reasons. His platoon split grossly hinders his everyday player role and his ability to stay strong and fresh diminishes with everyday playing time.

          To start the 2017 season, the Old Cossack is completely comformtable with a strict platoon between Mesoraco (against starting LHP) and Barnhart (against starting RHP), with Mesoraco being a late-inning RH pinch hitter and Barnhart being a late- inning LH pinch hitter. Let the season play out and see what Mesoraco has in the tank after 2 injury-riddled seasons and 3 major surgeries before making any additional decisions.

        • Came in to say this same thing Cossack. Go into next season starting Barnhart behind the plate against right-handers and Mesoraco against lefties. In American-League parks start Barnhart at catcher for his superior defense, and let Mesoraco DH no matter who the opposing pitcher is. Hopefully using this kind of split will get the most value out of both players.

    • Why lock him up with a long term contract now if he’s under team control till 2021? By that time one or both of the catching prospects should be ready, Stephenson and Okey. I like the platoon with Barnhart hitting against righties, though.

    • Yeah I don’t really understand trying to make a long term deal with Tucker at this point either. He has got 4 years of team control left and I don’t think he is ever gonna put up the kind of numbers that get you paid in arbitration. It would have to be a pretty cheap extension for it to make sense for the Reds and even then they probably wouldn’t save much money.

      That’s not to say I don’t like Tucker. I do. Love his defensive upside and batted ball profile. Lots of line drives and almost no pop ups. And he and Mesoraco would compliment each other perfectly if Mes could get healthy. I just think Tuckers ceiling is limited and because he is a catcher there is increased risk in a long term contract.

      The guy the Reds need to make a long term decision with this off-season is Billy. Already arb eligible with 3 years of control left. Just put up his 2nd 3 win season in his first 3 years despite missing almost 50 games. I really think that sometime in the next few years Billy is gonna have a year where everything comes together for him and he puts up a 5 win season. He could get expensive quick if things work out for him and the Reds could lose him right as he is becoming a superstar. But he is an injury risk too. Tough decision.

    • I’m kind of done with extensions at this point. Let arbitration play out. Cost certainty for a small market club is nothing if you have a lot of payroll sitting on the DL. The Reds just can’t do that anymore. Maybe extensions for guys you know you want to keep as they enter their 2nd arb year? And that’s a big maybe because I probably wouldn’t do pitchers or catchers due to injury risk being higher.

    • This as usual is spot on sir. I am more impressed with TB than the numbers you made me aware of. He has improved so much at the plate over the last 2 seasons as dictated by injuries I may be overhyped on him but looking at the farm system the FO better make sure to keep him happy.

    • It’s not the hip surgeries. His torn left rotator cuff will rob him of strength and bat speed, to I doubt he can really hit again. I could be wrong, but I doubt it.

      Too bad all around. Devin is a great young guy.

      • Thought he tore his labrum not rotator cuff??

        Devin will catch next year how much is yet to be determined. He will be eased back into the line up with TB getting a bunch of starts.

      • In all fairness, Votto didn’t have a catastrophic injury and his injury wasn’t to a hip or shoulder. Big difference between hinge joint injuries and ball-and-socket joint injuries.

    • You may be right. My dad has been saying that about him since his first hip surgery. My dad also said the same thing about Bailey not ever being a factor from the mound since his UCL tear. I really hope you’re both wrong. Mes is a key cog to this team.

  7. Yes I think the facts are that no one knows whether Devin will ever be what he was two years ago. The fact that Barnhart is a good serviceable catcher, we need to keep him around. He doesn’t have a cannon for an arm nor is he an offensive juggernaut. But he does handled a pitching staff well, frames pitches decently and is a good 8 hole hitter, puts the ball in play and makes the opposing pitcher work. I hope Mesoraco comes back, and catches 80-100 games, if not the smart thing to do is fine another serviceable catcher to backup Barnhart and not have to rely on a poor defensive catcher who has a below average bat.

  8. I’m a little curious/concerned how Mesoraco would fare in handling such a young pitching staff. That alone might be reason enough to give Barnhart plenty of starts. And then if Mesoraco’s offense is too good to ignore, bite the defensive bullet and shift more of the workload to Mes. That would be a nice situation to deal with.

  9. I believe the prudent course for the Reds is to move forward as if Mesoraco will not be available to play up to standard at the beginning of the season, if ever. If something finally works out OK for Meso after two years on the shelf, deal with that happy “problem” when it happens.
    Support the individual in his recovery and rehabilitation efforts; but, don’t tie the Reds future to his future. If he would become the odd man out, that’s part of the business. He will collect the remaining ~$21M on his contract regardless of whether he is playing for the Reds, somebody else, or sitting at home watching the games on TV.

  10. The Nationals have placed right-handed reliever Aaron Barrett on outright waivers, according to a person familiar with the situation per Chelsea Janes of the Washinton Post.

    I know that 40-man roster spots will be at a premium for the Reds, but this is worth a waiver claim despite the risk of 2 elbow surgeries in the past 2 seasons. The Nats are in a win now mode and four seasons of team control for a relief pitcher not able to contribute immediately this season does not fit their needs or plans. Four years of team control for a possibly elite reliever who is not able to contribute immediately this season seems right up the Reds needs and plans.

    The Reds would have first dibs on a waiver claim, so Barrett is low-hanging fruit for the Reds. Barrett is super-two eligible in arbitration but is projected to make just $700K through an arbitration award this season due to the injuries. That’s right in line with the Reds budget and if Barrett is not ready to go at the start of the 2017 season, he can be moved to the 60-day DL. If he needs time to finish his rehab, I believe he has an option left. If his recovery stays on track, he could be in the bullpen wearing a wishbone C on opening day.

  11. I like TB, he’s saying all the right things, seems like a good guy. Is Chad Wallach considered a viable option at the MLB level in the near future? Looks like he had an OK season at AA in 2016, seems to have above average plate discipline…

    • I don’t believe that Wallach has the defensive skills needed as a catcher at the major league level. With that said, his bat might play at the major league level in a utility role as possibly a 3rd catcher and pinch hitter. Having a bat like Wallach on the bench for the Reds with Barnhart and Mesoraco as the primary catchers would free up whoever didn’t start for high leverage pinch hitting opportunities with Wallach held in reserve as an emergency catcher. Wallach i still 1-2 years away from even such a limited major league role.

  12. Considering two bad injuries at a young age, he may well be AL bound and try to DH rest of his years.

  13. Maybe I’m dissenting, but I don’t think Barnhart is anywhere near to being a “great,” or “fantastic” or “really good” defensive catcher.

    BIS gives him credit for -3 DRS, StatCorner gives him credit for -4.5 RAA from framing, and BR gives him credit for -7 RAA for pitch calling (I didn’t know this existed until 5 minutes ago).

    He does seem to be above average in helping to control the running game, but I’d be hard-pressed to call him anything other than average. This isn’t a case of me scouting the stat line, either. I’ve always felt he looked worse than consensus, now I finally got around to looking at some numbers.

    • And regarding running, he gave up the 3rd most SB (68) in baseball, but threw out 33%, which isn’t bad. Also, these sorts of stats are terribly bad given that pitchers control more about running games than do catchers.

      Tyler Flowers only threw out 3 of 63 SB attempts. Wow, that’s bad.

      • Pitchers contribute a ton to this, for good or for bad. Is there a statistic that shows lefties are better at holding runners at first than righties, in general?

        • Yeah, lefties are better in general…at least that is the industry consensus.

          To control for individual pitcher/batter/runner combos that may be wonky, if you just take a huge sample size, I’d almost guarantee lefties have a lower steal rate against and probably a better caught stealing rate. Maybe I’ll research this before next year.

      • I’m not huge on defensive metrics (yet) but will point out that TB’s rating for “Def” was 4th among all qualified catchers at Fangraphs. That’s supposed to take into account a lot of things. Very hard to measure DRS for a catcher and I don’t think anyone can really measure pitch calling since a lot of pitches are called from the dugout (unfortunately).

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