An old friend leads Barnhart to the Cubs

January 6th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian's Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

As Tucker Barnhart considered a move to Chicago, the veteran catcher reached out to a friend he knew he could trust. That was left-hander Wade Miley, who went through a tough season last year of battling injuries while trying to help the Cubs’ rotation.

Miley -- a teammate of Barnhart’s for two seasons with the Reds -- raved about how he was treated in his brief time with the North Siders.

“I leaned on Wade Miley a lot,” Barnhart said via Zoom this week. “He told me, he said, ‘You know, me, man. I've been quite a lot of places. And I played on different sides of the country, for winners, for losers.’ And he said, ‘It's hard for me to choose or pick a different organization that's done it better.’”

Miley’s feedback on the way the Cubs operate, the pitchers in the fold and Cubs catcher Yan Gomes helped Barnhart make his decision. The 31-year-old Barnhart also loved to hear from the Cubs about how much they valued run prevention, and he enjoyed the initial conversation with Gomes about their pending partnership behind the plate.

Barnhart, who signed a two-year deal (worth $6.5 million guaranteed and with a player option for '24), expects to be in a split role with Gomes. They offer Chicago lefty (Barnhart) and righty (Gomes) bats, but both embrace a defense-first mindset with a strong history of controlling the running game.

“I talked with Yan about it,” Barnhart said. “I want our guys on the mound to -- outside of the gear we're wearing or what we look like -- to not know who's back there. I think that's when pitching staffs reach the highest potential, because we're all on the same page. They trust us.”

Barnhart boasts a pair of Gold Glove Awards (2017 and ’20) during his eight-year run with the Reds, but the advanced metrics (minus-eight defensive runs saved and minus-2.3 framing runs) took a hit in ’22 with Detroit. He said he would “be the first one to tell you” he endured a bad year last season, but Barnhart feels poised for a comeback.

“I grew so much in Detroit,” he said. “I think when you're in spots where you have to kind of dig yourself out, you learn the most about yourself. And you learn like how to persevere through those situations.”

And Barnhart is looking forward to putting that to the test at Wrigley Field.

“The stadium just feels alive. It’s hard to put into words, that feeling,” he said. “Playing at Wrigley Field, having that as your home or playing for the Cubs, is kind of like a bucket list thing.”