Like Trey Mancini and Eric Hosmer before him, Tucker Barnhart was let go by the Chicago Cubs after he didn’t quite perform in the complementary role he was signed to occupy. Today, the Cubs officially released Barnhart.
It’s a disappointing outcome for both Barnhart and the Cubs, who’d hoped he could be the 1-B catching option together with 1-A Yan Gomes, emphasizing the glove and his work with the pitching staff.
Unfortunately for Barnhart, the bat slipped (.202/.285/.257/53 wRC+) to the point where the glove and pitching work would have to be outrageously over the top to justify continuing to give him starts over Miguel Amaya, who has done nothing but hit since he got healthy this year and came up as the third catcher. I’m not sure the glove was really there, at least not to my amateur eye.
As far as his work with the pitching staff, it’s hard to know how that went, both because so much of it is behind the scenes, and because Barnhart has started just twice in the last 20 days, and just seven times total in the second half. It probably didn’t help his cause that Marcus Stroman, whom Barnhart had been catching regularly, saw his performance deteriorate dramatically and then go on the shelf for potentially the rest of the season. I would think if Barnhart was elevating the performance of his pitchers to a substantial degree, he would’ve been getting more starts.
So Barnhart heads back out into free agency, as Hosmer and Mancini did, and he’ll hope to have better luck finding a new gig than they have. If he reaches the big league roster of another team, the Cubs will save a prorated portion of the Major League minimum salary. Otherwise, the Cubs will be on the hook not only for the balance of the $3.25 million he’s owed this year, but also the $3.25 million player option for next year.
I say there’s no reason not to wish Barnhart well from here. He seemed like a good guy in the clubhouse, and I expect it was very disappointing for him that this didn’t work out.
As for the Cubs, if Barnhart was never going to start, then he was simply taking up a roster spot they could use in another way down the stretch. The games now are too important to mess around, and maybe an extra bench bat – coupled with a few extra starts for Amaya – will prove the difference in a game or two.
Also, a related hat tip to the front office on a very minor trade from last month that almost no one discussed: going out and getting back old friend P.J. Higgins, to serve as a depth catcher at Iowa, probably played a big part in the Cubs feeling comfortable in letting Barnhart go. After all, losing Barnhart – even as he struggled – is still a hit to the team’s depth. If Gomes or Amaya were to suffer an injury, the Cubs could be really screwed. But now, at least, they have Higgins in reserve – a guy who was already familiar with the Cubs’ pitchers, coaching staff, and run-prevention program. (Not that it necessarily matters, but Higgins is also hitting really well this year at Triple-A, going .318/.404/.493/120 wRC+ in his time with the Diamondbacks and now Cubs.)