After a rather underwhelming performance by the offense this season, the Cincinnati Reds enter this offseason with a major goal in mind. Improve the lineup. One of the most glaring holes in the offense this past season, came from the catcher position. Manned by Tucker Barnhart, with back up catching duties falling on Curt Casali and utility man Kyle Farmer, the Reds got next to nothing offensively. This year’s free agency class was headlined by former Reds farmhand Yasmani Grandal. It was widely reported that the Reds would pursue Grandal this offseason, and rightfully so, as a reunion seemed to make sense for both sides. The Reds have the money to spend and it would give Grandal an opportunity to join an improving team on the brink of contention. Unfortunately for the Reds, Grandal opted to sign with another team looking to enter a competitive period, the Chicago White Sox. Grandal inked a four year, $73M deal, locking him up through 2023.
With Grandal off the market, the Reds will have to look elsewhere. One possibility for the Reds was to target Travis d’Arnaud, coming off a season where he spent most of his time with the Tampa Bay Rays. In the 92 games played for the Rays, d’Arnaud posted a slash line of .263/.323/.459 (AVG/OBP/SLG), which would be a significant upgrade offensively over current Cincinnati Red Tucker Barnhart’s slash line of .231/.328/.380. The Reds would yet again miss an opportunity to upgrade, as d’Arnaud signed a two year, $16M deal with the Atlanta Braves. The market for catchers is dwindling quickly as two of the top players available are already off the board. So, the question becomes, who is left that is worth going after?
One option is for the Reds to spend the money elsewhere and rely on the same guys as last year. This is definitely an option, but it will require some major offensive upgrades in other positions in order to avoid too many holes in the lineup. For all of Barnhart’s struggles offensively, he has been very solid defensively behind the plate. Barnhart was a Gold Glove winner in 2017 and by all accounts works well with the pitching staff. The wild card with Tucker Barnhart is that, reportedly, he is going to drop switch hitting and only hit from the left side moving forward. This will change the way the Reds look at their catching rotation and could push Curt Casali into more of a platoon role. Curt Casali has been a solid backup catcher in his time with the Reds and has given no reason to think that couldn’t be the case moving forward. Casali played in 84 games last season slashing .251/.331/.411. Nothing stands out about his numbers, but as a backup catcher they don’t have to. If the Reds decide to do a platoon then Casali could see an uptick in those numbers, since he would be facing predominately left-handed pitchers. Kyle Farmer would continue to be the third catcher in this scenario. Typically, teams don’t carry three catchers on the roster, but the one thing that Farmer really has going for him is his versatility. Along with catcher, Kyle Farmer appeared in at least one game in all the infield positions and even pitched in a game last season. Even if the Reds acquire a catcher, it would be wise to consider keeping Farmer over Casali due to the added versatility.
The longshot candidate is 2015 first round draft pick Tyler Stephenson. In 2019, Stephenson spent the full year in AA slashing .285/.372/.410 with 6 HR and 44 RBIs. He then was invited to the Arizona Fall League where he caught fire, slashing .347/.418/.490 in 13 games. The one thing that is holding back Tyler Stephenson is that he isn’t hitting with enough power, evidenced by the .410 slugging percentage. The good news is that Stephenson hit 19 doubles and the power is expected to continue to develop. If Stephenson appears at all, it is most likely to be through a call-up at some point this season. He was added to the 40-man roster in order to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft, which means he will be invited to big league spring training and could possibly play his way onto the Major League team. Although, without the help of an injury it would be rather unlikely.
The last available free agent option the Reds should go after is Robinson Chirinos. Chirinos is coming off a one-year deal with the Houston Astros where he hit .238/.347/.443 to go along with 17 HRs and a bWAR of 3.8, compared to Tucker Barnhart’s 2019 bWAR of 0.6. With any free agent signing there are upsides and downsides, and the same can be said for Chirinos. The upside is that Chirinos provides a significant upgrade in power at the catcher’s position. He hit more doubles, home runs, and out-slugged Tucker Barnhart in the 2019 season. On the other hand, the downside with Chirinos is the age. Robinson Chirinos will turn 36 next season and with any player that old, especially at catcher, there is a risk of a decline. With that in mind, the Reds are likely to offer a short-term contract. Last year’s contract with the Astros was one-year, $5.75M, and the contract he will receive this offseason will likely reflect a similar AAV.
Omar Narvaez is a 27-year-old catcher for the Seattle Mariners. Jeff Passan, writer for ESPN, reported that the Seattle Mariners are looking to move Narvaez. Omar Narvaez is a bat-first catcher, but there are questions concerning his defense behind the plate. Narvaez hit .278/.353/.460 with 22 home runs, which would be a very significant offensive upgrade from Barnhart. Behind the plate is where Narvaez ran into issues, posting a -0.6 dWAR. The question the Reds have to answer, is whether the offensive upside is enough to offset the defensive short comings. If the answer is yes, then this is definitely the guy to go after. The lefty bat would give a much-needed shot in the arm to the Reds offense going into the 2020 season. Another bonus to acquiring Narvaez is that he enters his first year of arbitration next offseason, meaning that the Reds would have three years of team control.
If the Reds decide to go after Chirinos or Narvaez, it is important to note that the Reds have Tucker Barnhart signed through 2021 with a team option for 2022. So, Barnhart could be used as a secondary catching option, allowing Casali and Farmer to provide much needed catching depth, if they decide not to trade Barnhart. For the Reds, the outside acquisition seems like the way to go. Preferably they get Narvaez, as he is the better of the two when considering age and overall added value. Adding a guy like Narvaez or Chirinos provides them with a short-term offensive boost to the lineup, allowing Tyler Stephenson to continue to develop until he is ready to take over the starting catcher position.
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