Where Barnhart, Newman fit for the D-backs

January 4th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Steve Gilbert’s D-backs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

PHOENIX -- The signings of catcher and infielder  to Minor League contracts by the D-backs this past week flew under the radar for the most part, as most Minor League signings do.

But both players received invites to big league camp this spring and could wind up seeing time in Majors over the course of 2024, so it’s worth digging into the moves a little deeper.

Let’s start with Barnhart’s deal first.

The 32-year-old veteran catcher didn’t have a great year for the Cubs in 2023, slashing .202/.285/.257, but he is well regarded defensively -- as evidenced by two Gold Gloves -- and offers the D-backs a left-handed hitting alternative on the days when Gabriel Moreno needs a rest.

Barnhart, who has played parts of 10 seasons in the Majors, will compete this spring with Jose Herrera to be the primary backup for Moreno, and it’s possible the D-backs could still add another backstop.

Adding some depth at the catching position was a point of emphasis for Arizona GM Mike Hazen after he dealt Seby Zavala to the Mariners as part of a deal to acquire third baseman Eugenio Suárez

“He obviously brings Major League credibility to that position,” Hazen said. “I think when we traded Zavala we said we were going to try to continue to add depth in this area. I wouldn't say that we're done continuing to try to add depth, but I don't know where that's gonna take us or how successful we'll be with it.” 

Barnhart was released by the Cubs in August after signing a two-year deal with them prior to the season. That means that if Barnhart makes the team, the D-backs will only be responsible for paying him the Major League minimum salary with the Cubs responsible for the rest of the $3.25 million. 

As is typical in deals like this, Barnhart does have an opt-out of his deal with the D-backs at the end of Spring Training.

Newman’s deal is for $1.75 million if he is in the big leagues, and he has the chance to earn another $1.4 million if he reaches certain plate appearance incentives. 

The 30-year-old spent the first five years of his career with the Pirates before being traded to the Reds last offseason.  

In Cincinnati in 2023 Newman appeared in 74 games with a .253/.311/.364 slash line, and the right-handed hitter has excelled against lefties in his career. In 2022 he slashed .361/.404/.433 against southpaws and last year he slashed .278/.349/.464. 

With incumbent shortstop Geraldo Perdomo struggling last year against lefties -- a .579 OPS against them as opposed to a .736 mark against righties -- Newman gives the D-backs an alternative when Perdomo needs a day off. 

Newman, who has an opt-out in his deal at the end of Spring Training and another on June 15, will compete for playing time with top prospects Jordan Lawlar (No. 1 per MLB Pipeline) and Blaze Alexander (No. 15).

After the D-backs designated Nick Ahmed for assignment last September, Lawlar was promoted and finished out the regular season and postseason as Perdomo’s backup. While both Lawlar and Alexander will get a look this spring, for them to make the team Hazen would want them to get regular at-bats and not just serve as bench players. 

“With the young players I don't think we want to get into a situation where guys are just sitting on the bench,” Hazen said. “So if young guys are gonna be up here, getting very minimal playing time, that doesn't make a lot of sense for their development.”