Reds: Tucker Barnhart’s time is over, time to embrace Tyler Stephenson

CINCINNATI, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 24: Tucker Barnhart #16 of the Cincinnati Reds looks on. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 24: Tucker Barnhart #16 of the Cincinnati Reds looks on. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Hard as this may be to hear, Reds Country, Tucker Barnhart‘s time in Cincinnati is likely coming to a close. While some may hold out hope that the veteran backstop will return to the only organization he’s ever known, the reality is that it’s time to embrace Tyler Stephenson as the Cincinnati Reds everyday catcher heading into next season.

Replacing Barnhart will not be easy. While the 30-year-old has never enjoyed a stellar career at the plate, what he’s done behind it has been extraordinary. Until this season, Barnhart had gone nearly a full season’s worth of games without committing at error.

Barnhart is beloved in the clubhouse and by the Cincinnati faithful. But, with a $7.5M team-option on the table for the 2022 season and rookie backstop Tyler Stephenson looking to make an impact as an everyday player, it’s hard to see the Reds’ front office bringing the veteran catcher back next season.

Tucker Barnhart will likely surrender his job as the Reds’ starting catcher.

It’s hard to call Tucker Barnhart the Cincinnati Reds’ starting catcher, as both he and Tyler Stephenson has split the duties behind the plate this season. But, for all intents and purposes, Barnhart is the still the “starting” catcher in the minds of most fans.

While Reds’ fans have thoroughly enjoyed what they’ve seen from Tyler Stephenson this season, make no mistake, you don’t just replace a player like Tucker Barnhart. Barnhart’s leadership and skills behind the plate will be sorely missed if indeed the two sides decide to part ways.

Barnhart is a two-time Gold Glove recipient, and outside of Joey Votto, is the longest tenured member of this Cincinnati Reds team. Barnhart has played in 114 games for the Reds this season, while Stephenson has appeared in 128, though several of those games were as a pinch hitter and/ or at first base.

While Barnhart’s offensive numbers don’t stack up as well as Stephenson’s, catcher is one of those rare positions where franchises will ride with a below-average hitter so long as he provides excellent defense. Barnhart has certainly done that.

Who will replace Tucker Barnhart as the Reds’ backup catcher?

If the Cincinnati Reds make the decision to move on from Tucker Barnhart, the question must be asked; who will be the team’s backup catcher? As far as “in house” options are concerned, Mark Kolozsvary would be the logical choice.

Kolozsvary was called up earlier this month while Stephenson spent a brief stint on the injured list, but never saw the field. Kolozsvary is currently at Triple-A Louisville after spending time with the Chattanooga Lookouts earlier this season and playing overseas in the Tokyo Olympics as part of Team USA. Kolozsvary, much like Barnhart, is known more for his defense than his hitting.

If you’re looking at some veteran free agents to-be, the Reds’ could take a look at players like Yan Gomes, Robinson Chirinos, or Wilson Ramos. However, all three of those mentioned are right-handed hitters, and one would think Cincinnati would prefer a left-handed hitting catcher to somewhat platoon with Tyler Stephenson.

Former All-Star catcher Alex Avila, who is a left-handed hitter and has experience playing first base, is also a free agent this offseason. Avila signed with the Washington Nationals last winter for $1.5M.

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That type of contract, for the role a player like Avila would be tasked with in 2022, is much more reasonable for the Reds than Barnhart’s $7.5M salary should Cincinnati pick up his team-option. I’d look for the front office to pursue a player like Avila rather than keep Barnhart in the Queen City.