Yesterday, the Detroit Tigers kicked off the 2021-2022 offseason with the acquisition of 2x Gold Glove winner Tucker Barnhart in exchange for minor league infielder Nick Quintana. This trade comes at a huge time for the Tigers, as they look to exit their lengthy rebuild and resolidify positions of need.
Particularly, the Detroit Tigers were in desperate need of a strong backstop following the season-ending injury to Jake Rogers. Although Eric Haase had an exceptional season offensively, he leaves much to be desired on defense. Other options like Grayson Greiner and Dustin Garneau are not reliable solutions on either side of the ball.
Now, what makes Barnhart such a good option, and why did the Tigers waste no time acquiring him? In terms of the latter question, Barnhart has a club option that needed to be exercised within five days following the conclusion of the World Series, thus the major push to get the deal done.
Otherwise, the Barnhart pickup is an excellent one because…
Tucker Barnhart provides significant upside for the Detroit Tigers
As previously mentioned, the Tigers are lacking in great catching options. Eric Haase is a defensive liability, according to most catching metrics. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Tucker Barnhart is a stud behind the dish.
Ranking 18th in Baseball Prospectus‘s fielding runs above average, 22nd in framing runs, and 10th in throwing runs puts him in the upper tier of defensive catchers. Further, Barnhart’s framing ranked in the 79th percentile of the league, according to Baseball Savant. Barnhart’s game-calling skills also deserve some recognition, as he caught Wade Miley’s May 7th no-hitter.
However, with every positive comes some downside, and that comes in the form of his bat. Although he’s no Jeff Mathis, Tucker Barnhart has never really had much of a hit tool. This past season, he slashed .247/.306/.348 across 116 games. He matches that with around a career strikeout rate of 19.6% (closer to 25% in recent years) and a career walk rate of 9.6% (stats courtesy of Fangraphs).
Overall, Barnhart is very much a high-floor pickup. His defensive value and game management skills mean he will likely be in the lineup for about 100-120 games this season, barring injury. Barnhart will fit well in a platoon with Haase/Rogers and will only really need to hold his own on offense so that his defense can shine.
On the other end of the trade is minor league infielder Nick Quintana, whose professional career has been mired with underperformance and a major power outage. A second-rounder out of Arizona, Quintana had a career .989 OPS in college. Since joining the Tigers’ system, however, Quintana has a .607 OPS. Maybe a change of scenery will be what he needs to rediscover his college form, but for now, he’s seemed overmatched in A-ball at age 23.
The move to acquire Tucker Barnhart is the first of hopefully many this offseason, as the Tigers attempt to shore up positions of need prior to starting competitive baseball. His contract currently only has a year, so it’s likely he’s a stopgap for the impending rise of Dillon Dingler. However, he becomes the first move towards a competitive Tigers future.