Tigers strike quickly, acquire catcher Tucker Barnhart in deal with Reds
Detroit — The Tigers didn’t waste any time getting their catcher.
On Wednesday, they worked a trade with the Cincinnati Reds for eight-year veteran and two-time Gold Glove winner Tucker Barnhart. The Tigers, who will pick up Barnhart's club option for $7.5 million for 2022, sent third-base prospect Nick Quintana, a second-round pick in 2019, to the Reds.
"We identified Tucker as one of our top priorities, if not our top priority," general manager Al Avila said in a Zoom call Wednesday afternoon. "We knew in order to get a catcher of this quality and caliber, we were probably going to have to do a trade. Last week I reached out to (Reds general manager) Nick Krall and it came to fruition this morning.
"It feels good to get the guy you identified at your meeting, the guy you wanted."
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The Tigers were forced into the market for a high-level catcher when rookie Jake Rogers underwent Tommy John surgery last season. Being able to pounce on Barnhart once it became clear the Reds weren't going to exercise their option, was a coup.
"One of the things we prioritized was we wanted a catcher who could lead our young pitching staff," Avila said. "He's proven he can do that. It's not just calling a good game. It's his relationship with the players, the pitchers He has that history, that experience and reputation of being a good leader for a pitching staff."
Barnhart, who will be 31 in January, was drafted out of high school by the Reds in 2009, broke into the big leagues in 2014 and became the club's starting catcher in 2016. He won Gold Gloves in 2017 and 2020.
But, with 25-year-old catcher Tyler Stephenson coming on, Barnhart's role transitioned from everyday catcher to back-up and mentor.
"For nearly half my life I've been around some incredible people (in Cincinnati)," Barnhart said. "It is bittersweet. But it is one of those things, in my opinion, for me professionally and for my family personally, this is a wonderful thing for us.
"And I think the best version of Tucker Barnhart on the baseball field is now and in the future."
Barnhart said he found out about the trade while playing a round of golf. He got a call from manager AJ Hinch on the seventh tee box.
"I'd be naive or I'd be lying if I didn't somewhat see it coming," he said of being traded. "I've been on the other side of it, as well, where I've been the younger guy and there's been a veteran."
Barnhart's emergence in 2015 signaled the end of veteran catcher, and current Tigers' minor league manager, Brayan Pena's tenure with the Reds. So, he harbors no ill will toward the Reds or Stephenson.
"It's nobody's fault," he said. "I'm not trying to put blame on anyone whatsoever. It's the way this thing works. It's the way this business works. I prepared myself for every avenue that could happen.
"Whether it was a trade, whether it was free agency, or whether it was going back to Cincinnati. I'm one of those guys who believes everything happens for a reason. I think being a part of such a great organization like this is so special."
It's been since 2008, when a 36-year-old Pudge Rodriguez manned the position, that the Tigers posted a plus number in defensive runs saved from the catching position. Barnhart is a plus-20 for his career.
He's thrown out 32% of would-be base stealers, dispatching a league-best 44% in 2017.
"I know there's a lot of talented arms here, no doubt about it," Barnhart said. "From playing against them last year, it was one of those things — no matter who was out there, you never felt that sigh of relief. It was always a guy coming after you, a guy who was going to make you work and put you on the defensive.
"I can't wait to get started with those guys and help build on what's already been built here."
That he is a left-handed hitter, one who has done consistent damage against right-handed pitchers, is also a plus for the Tigers. Overall, he slashed .248/.324/.371 with a .696 OPS with the Reds.
Against right-handers, he's hit .256/.333/.389, with a .722 OPS including 45 of his 51 home runs. The Tigers were at the bottom end of the spectrum against right-handed pitching last season (.234/.302/.394).
Avila said he expects Barnhart and right-handed hitting Eric Haase to share the catching position next season. Barnhart has played some first base and Haase will likely continue to make occasional starts in left field.
"We think it's a great combination," Avila said. "The combination of him and Haase is very exciting when you think about the potential, not only on the defensive side, but the offensive side, too."
Avila would not discuss any plans to extend Barnhart beyond the 2022 season, though he didn't rule out future negotiations. But he also made it clear Rogers was still in the mix.
"We are still very high on Jake," Avila said. "I think he said the other day that he was 'crushing rehab.' I knw he's going to come back stronger and better than ever — that's what our hope is. If we got him back at the latter part of next year, that'd be great.
"Having Tucker and Haasey and Jake, that gives us some pretty good catcher depth."
Barnhart, though, does have the mild misfortune of coming to a team that's already taken his jersey number out of commission. No. 16, worn by the legendary lefty Hal Newhouser, is firmly affixed to the wall at Comerica Park.
"I just want to have a jersey in my locker, man," he said, laughing. "I don't care if it's No. 99 or negative-9. It doesn't matter. As long as I have one with my name on it."
Barnhart grew up in Indiana and still maintains his home base there. He spent most of his professional career in Cincinnati. He wears his Midwest roots as a badge of honor.
"Growing up in Indiana, all you heard about was the kids in Texas or the kids in Florida or the kids in California — they got to play all year around," he said. "So when I see Midwest guys having success, not only at the pro level, but at the collegiate level, it gives you pat on the back, like, we can play here, too.
"Baseball in the Midwest, I hold near and dear to my heart. I'm a Midwest guy, a blue-collar type player. I will always be that way. So to be part of a blue collar city like Detroit is special to me."