The most important offseason in recent memory for these Cincinnati Reds is about to begin. There are a few areas that need prioritized, whether to be upgraded through free agency or trade, one of which is the catcher position.

Tucker Barnhart

Don’t get me wrong, I love Tucker. Dude is cool as a cucumber and an awesome person to root for (did you know he likes to cook?). Part of the criteria for a championship team makes no mention of the player’s likability, however, so I am leaving these evaluations strictly on the field.

Most would agree that Tucker has had a down year. The Reds catcher has seen his offensive explosion from 2017 disappear as he will finish 2019 with an OPS+ somewhere around 80 (it currently sits at 18). What’s disconcerting, though, is his on-base plus slugging is right about where his career number is. Currently, his OPS is .687 which is just .008 less than his career average. He gets on base roughly 32% of the time (right on his career average) and actually has a batting average .023 points less than his career average.

Per Fangraphs, Barnhart has a 0.6 WAR which puts him 28th among catchers with at least 250 plate appearances. What stings a bit is the fact that former-future Red, JT Realmuto, is at the top of the list with 5.6 WAR. Tucker’s 77 WRC+ ranks second to last. Defensively he’s pretty much middle of the pack.

Curt Casali

He hasn’t been much more impressive than Tucker. Baseball Reference has him at a 1.1 WAR and Fangraphs has him at a 0.8. He gets on-base a tad more than Tucker (almost 33%) and slugs a bit more (.415). His OPS is much closer to league average, but still below it at 91. All that being said, he’s done it in just 195 at-bats. Maybe he gets better with more exposure, or maybe he gets exposed.

The problem with that line of thought is the Reds do not have the luxury of giving regular playing time to a guy who is still figuring it out in 2020. The idea is to go all in as this window of competition appears to be opening. Even if it isn’t (as some opine) then now is the time to force it open. This rebuild has looked more like a merry-go-round than anything resembling a well-oiled machine. The time is now to build a winner and it sure seems like the opening day catcher for 2020 should be Mr. Outside Hire. There’s one option that jumps out.

Yasmani Grandal

It would be a reunion, of sorts, for the Reds and the second-highest fWAR catcher of 2019. He has had a phenomenal year working on a “prove it” contract for Milwaukee. WAR can be a tricky to use as a main method of measuring a player’s worth (baseball reference has him at almost three wins less) but the rest of his numbers are impressive. He’s amassed 27 dingers and an OPS+ of 120. He gets on base almost 39% of the time and has the best isolated power of any catcher at .221.

The interesting thing will be how Milwaukee handles him. Grandal has a mutual option for 2020. If the two sides do not agree that he should remain a Brewer, he will most likely be looking for a pay raise and multi-year deal. Frankly, if he’s a free agent the Reds should hand him a blank check (so to speak) and bring him back into the fold.

Anyone else?

Really, if we’re being honest, the rest of the field isn’t all that exciting. They could look at Tyler Flowers, if the Braves do not pick up his option, or Jason Castro. Neither are more than slight upgrades over Barnhart, though. Wellington Castillo could be available, as well. He has had a rough season and could be a bounce back candidate. The one issue with him, though, is he lacks plate discipline, which is not something the Reds need to be ignoring in their quest to remodel the lineup. If Grandal is not available, the Reds may have to look at a trade if they want to upgrade at catcher.

Next week I’ll take a look at a position that all of can agree needs a lot of TLC, second base.

32 Responses

  1. old-school

    How far off is Tyler Stephenson? He did well at AA, is 23 and is off to a good start in the AFL. He is a former #1 pick and overall #12.

    • jim walker

      Fangraphs projects T.Stephenson for 2020 MLB arrival. Not sure just how to interpret that given that next year September rosters will not be expanded to the degree they are now (looks like 28 will be the September limit but they may hatch a scheme of 28 active for any given game out of a larger eligible pool).

      Right now Stephenson is coming off a very good AA season (wRC+ of 130) and playing in the Arizona Fall League. I would think he opens 2020 at AAA and things go from there.

      Here is the link to him on Fangraphs:
      https://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=sa874242&position=C

      • Old-school

        Seems to me Tucker Barnhart is a perfect backup catcher and could groom Stephenson. By all accounts, he’s great with pitchers. Grandal and his offense is exactly what this team needs but if Stephenson is close, I’d be ok with a catching plan of Stephenson getting 150 at bats in AAA and moving in to the starting catching role by Memorial Day. Perhaps the Reds are getting a focused look at him in the AFL to better project things.

        A home grown young catcher would be huge.

      • jim walker

        The addition of the 26th man to the standard MLB roster could come into play with TS. Whoever they might be, the Reds could carry 2 catchers at the start of the season then use the 26th slot for Stephenson when they were ready to bring up thus avoiding the need to make an immediate move on one of the original guys until TS is well settled in.

        Stephenson is a RH hitter which would seemingly work well with Barnhart as his eventual backup.

        However if the Reds are really looking to be in the hunt in 2020, I’d think they’d be in the market for an established lead catcher on a shorter term deal.

  2. AllTheHype

    What about defense, pitch calling, pitch framing, pitcher’s preference, you know, some of the MOST important things to evaluate in a catcher? Or is only offense important in this writer’s view?

    • Stock

      Doesn’t Grandal have the reputation as one of the best framers in baseball.

      Grandal would be a huge addition but I feel somewhat unrealistic. Look for Stephenson to be up before May ends.

  3. Sliotar

    IMO, the analysis here is a little bit of overstating.

    It is widely accepted that catcher is a tough position to upgrade for most teams.

    But, on top of that…the Reds situation and “window” (such as it is) means, IMO, that it would be nice but not a must to “overhaul”.

    Reasons:

    -Reds are probably contending in 2020, maybe 2021…then likely re-tooling.
    Barnhart has 2 more reasonable $ years, before a $7.5 million option for 2022.
    Casali has 2 more years of arbitration.

    So….their control lines up with keeping them, then have young replacements ready in ’22.

    -FanGraphs WAR is, by far, more referenced by national baseball media than any other production tool. None are perfect, and in 10 years or less we will likely have better, but writing “tricky”… feels inaccurate.

    Reds catchers are 17th in fWar at 1.5. Not that good, but Cardinals/Nats/A’s all have less, and are in playoffs or very close.

    https://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=c&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=0&type=8&season=2019&month=0&season1=2019&ind=0&team=0,ts&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&startdate=2019-01-01&enddate=2019-12-31

    If it falls right to upgrade painlessly…great. (Pay a fortune if Grandal opts out).

    But, there are far more pressing areas in the roster, where perhaps an true impact bat or two can be landed…. than priortizing to overpay for an additional 1 WAR or so from the catching position in 2020.

    • Colorado Red

      I would think Catcher is the most pressing need in my opinion.
      You got possibilities in VanMeter and Aquino for 2nd base and RF.
      You got Nick in CF.
      SS is also a big need, but I do not see any significant upgrades in FA.
      Didi did not look any better then what the reds have.
      Spend some money and get Grandal.

      • Stock

        personally I feel that given the opportunity Stephenson would have a higher WAR next year than Aquino or VanMeter

    • Charles) Lackey

      Leave Grandal to other teams. Why pay him a lot when Tyler S is fairly close. Wait or look around more.

      • Rembrant

        Is Stephenson that close?
        He needed time, at very lvel t e a decent hitter. He has YET to do anything in AAA.
        Tucker is a VERY solid defensive C, and after a midseason injury , came back to hit well.

        I sure do not see signs his BAT compares to Van Meter or Aquino at this point.

        We need PITCHING depth ( and more southpaws)
        I saw suggestion that we get better at SS? Iglesias has done VERY well

  4. Scott C

    I totally agree that catcher is primarily the position that needs an upgrade. Looking at a lineup that has Barnhart batting fifth is not inspiring to say the least. Grandal would be my choice as well (in fact I was disappointed the Reds chose to send him to San Diego instead of Mesarosco but oh well) If not Castillo would be a distant second but would prefer a trade.
    The catcher position needs to get more production and power and a better arm. If we can add a bat here, get better production from 2’cnd base, and center we could get by with Iglesias or Galvis at short for another year. Although I would not be sorry to have an upgrade there as well. Spend some money Big Bob.

    • jim walker

      Ah, yes. Grandal vs Mesoraco. One of those little things I’ve wondered about too since it happened. Did the Reds lead with Grandal? Did the Padres ask for him ahead of or instead of Mesoraco? Was it a take their pick? And so on. If anyone has ever commented in public about it, I’ve not run across it.

      • Scott C

        Now it is hind sight. And who knows how it would have turned out had Mesoraco not been riddled with injury. I simply preferred Grandall because he was a switch hitter. Of course so is Tucker but Tucker can’t hit hardly at all from the right side and not a lot better from the left.

  5. weigarp

    I’d go slow on Grandal for the following reasons: 1. He turns 31 in November. 2. His .249 season average is his highest since 2012. 3. If you take away his best month this year (May–average .321, 11 HRs, 19 RBIs) his numbers for the other months become pedestrian. 4. His WAR is only 2.7 this year. 5. The Dodgers let him go last season for some reason and are doing just fine without him. 6. $20 million/year on a long-term contract can be used better in other places.

    • jim walker

      If the Reds believe Tyler Stephenson is the real deal, it makes no sense to go beyond 2 years, 3 at the most, on somebody else at catcher. But who and how do they get the person that is an upgrade to Barnhart/ Casali on that short term?

  6. Chris Holbert

    I think you can carry average to below average, at perhaps catcher (TB/Casali), and to a lesser extent SS, (J Iggy or Galvis). However, those have to be the weakest offensive links, 7th and 8th consistently in the lineup. CF and 2B need to be more of a focus, and for a longer period of time. Whichever one Senzel is going to be the regular at going forward, 2B or CF, then zero in on the other, fill that and go down the list. I would set the needs list, whatever order, CF, SS, 2B, C, etc.,and move and move quick. If Tyler Stephenson is coming, then TB and Casali, are probably sufficient and under team control, from an expense perspective. IMO the other 7 “regular” everyday positions should be evaluated and looked at first. Run production is the biggest need and there are probably more options for the other 7 positions than C.

    • Old-school

      Great points Chris. The Reds could plan for Tyler Stephenson at C second half of 2020.. move Senzel to 2b and hit lead off every day and trade for an elite young CF. Christian Pache braves? Raisel Iglesias..Jon India, Amir Garrett or others could help nail down a young positional nucleus at key positions for awhile.

  7. wizeman

    would hate to overpay huge for grandal if stephenson close.
    hope they move senzel to second and find a centerfielder.

  8. RedNat

    watching Stephenson I don’t think he will provide much pop with the bat. i actually like Hendrick Clementina from an offensive standpoint. he has more power in his bat by far. but his defense is not the best.

    • Stock

      personally I feel that given the opportunity Stephenson would have a higher WAR next year than Aquino or VanMeter

    • Stock

      The above comment was meant to go to another comment. What this season showed us was that using ML ball’s increases your power. I think Stephenson hits 15-20 HR in the majors this year if he plays all season

  9. Matt WI

    If the Reds can’t find a bona fide upgrade, just wait for Stephenson and put their chips on some other positions. The Reds have been a great example of having bench players that get over-exposed. People got nuts about Dietrich, he faded when playing a lot. People got nuts about Casali, he faded when playing a lot. A little bit with Van Meter… but there is still a door of some possibility there. Heck, even Jose Iglesias doesn’t actually stack up compared to other SS’s across the board.

    Catchers are kind of like drafting TE’s in fantasy football. Get one of the top 3 or 4 or just wait until the later rounds, because everyone else is kind of the same.

    • RedNat

      good comparison Matt to the tight ends in football

    • Jerad

      I think Stephenson will be fine, sure his power hasn’t showed up in the minors but neither did Eugenio’s. What I like about Stephenson is for 6’4″ he does not strikeout a lot like you would expect and he has shown good plate discipline. As he matures the power will come

    • BK

      The bottom line is the Reds need to bolster their talent level. Grandal is the only FA catcher worth targeting IMO. SS, 2B, a starting pitcher (LH would be ideal), CF, and LH relief are areas where the Reds can look to improve. Find the best values on the FA market and sign them.

  10. Charles) Lackey

    Leave Grandal to other teams. Why pay him a lot when Tyler S is fairly close. Wait or look around more.

  11. TR

    Catching favors a young guy and Grandal is age 31 in 2020. I haven’t followed Tyler Stephenson’s minor league career but as a #1 pick and apparently close, bringing him up in 2020 sounds good and I like the idea of Tucker as the backup. Stephenson catching and money spent on an all around centerfielder plus extending Jose Iglesias for a couple years could signal the end of the rebuild.

    • Jerad

      A trade for Ketel Marte would be nice, perhaps Ervin, India, Santillan? I know wishful Thinking.

      • Jerad

        shoot, I’d even throw rasiel Iglesias in there

  12. Matt V

    Typo alert: I assume Tucker’s OPS+ currently sits at 81, not 18.

  13. Steve Schoenbaechler

    Honestly, with the amount of Grandal’s offensive output, I wouldn’t go after him. Reason being? The cost. This upcoming year, I believe he’s due $16 million. That’s a bit too much for me.

    Though, if we do overhaul C, he would be the one to go after, at least on the FA market.

    I would look to see what we could do at the other positions first.