Barnhart deal clears path for Stephenson

November 3rd, 2021

CINCINNATI -- In a move that completes a changing of the guard behind the plate, the Reds traded veteran catcher to the Tigers on Wednesday. In return, they received Minor League third-base prospect .

Barnhart, 30, had a $7.5 million club option for 2022, which Detroit will exercise. That figure did not fit in with the Reds' budget, especially with young catcher ready to play regularly. Barnhart and Stephenson worked in tandem during 2021.

“We just have to make sure that our resources and our payroll are aligned,” general manager Nick Krall said. “I think it’s something where moving forward, we will have to take it one move at a time and see where that goes.”

Barnhart is a two-time National League Gold Glove Award winner (2017 and ’20). A 10th-round selection by Cincinnati in 2009, the native of Brownsburg, Ind., made his big league debut in 2014, making him the second-longest-tenured Reds player behind Joey Votto.

“I’ll be 31 in January, so for nearly half of my life, I’ve been in and around some incredible people. I’ve been fortunate to cross paths with a lot of very great people,” Barnhart said.

In 116 games, including 97 starts at catcher, Barnhart batted .247/.317/.368 with seven home runs and 48 RBIs last season. His calling cards, however, were his defense and ability to call games.

The trade came together over the past week after Krall canvassed the league to gauge interest. The Tigers were among a couple of teams that wanted Barnhart.

“On a personal level, it’s really tough,” Krall said. “He’s a great player, but a great guy. A great guy in your clubhouse, a great guy to be around. He’s been in our system since he was drafted out of high school. It’s been a long time. I’ve known him for a long time. You get to know people. It’s always tough, but that’s something where we do have some guys that, like Tyler, can replace things that [Barnhart] does, and we’re going to have to go with him moving forward.”

Stephenson, 25, batted .286/.366/.431 with 10 homers and 45 RBIs in 132 games -- including 60 starts at catcher. Manager David Bell looked for ways to keep Stephenson’s bat in the lineup -- including using him at first base while Votto was injured in May -- and he became a reliable middle-of-the-order hitter while also improving defensively.

Barnhart feels that Stephenson is ready to take over as regular catcher.

“For me, his play on the field spoke for itself, I think that was clear,” Barnhart said. “I think the most impressive part for me is how well he handled the pitchers. Obviously, there's going to be growing pains, and there were some, but they were small. It seemed to me that he gained the respect of all the pitchers very fast.

“Being able to make mound visits at certain points, being able to have conversations. ... It seemed to me like he had all of that under control.”

Stephenson -- Cincinnati’s first-round Draft pick in 2011 -- was at the dentist when he started receiving text messages about the trade. He understands the significance of the transaction.

“I haven’t had much time to process it,” Stephenson said. “The ultimate goal, this is what I’ve worked so hard for, and I want this. I guess it’s coming true. I’m ready, obviously, to put in the work.”

The Reds' only other catcher on the 40-man roster is Mark Kolozsvary, who split this past season between Double-A and Triple-A.

“We’d obviously like to get someone else that can complement Tyler on the roster and that can play in the Major Leagues,” Krall said.

Stephenson credits Barnhart -- a team leader in the clubhouse during his time with the Reds -- for being a key part of his development.

“Always a resource if needed,” Stephenson said. “Probably one of the best individuals, honestly, that I’ve met. The definition of what a professional player is.”

Quintana, 24, split time with three teams across Rookie-level and Low-A ball in 2021, batting .186/.317/.328 with nine home runs across 89 games in 2021. The Tigers drafted the Las Vegas native in the second round (47th overall pick) in 2019.

“He's a guy we liked in the Draft a few years ago, a really good defensive third baseman,” Krall said. “Offensively, he's got some tools. ... He takes decent at-bats, and we think he can grow into a usable Major League player with the tools that he has.”

Dealing Barnhart could be the first of multiple changes the Reds make over the next few days.

Starting pitcher Wade Miley has a $10 million club option with a $1 million buyout; Krall said no decision about Miley has been reached.

Right fielder Nick Castellanos has five days following the conclusion of the World Series on Tuesday night to exercise an opt-out clause from the final two years of his four-year, $64 million contract. Krall has not yet been in contact with Castellanos' agent, Scott Boras.

The Reds' payroll was approximately $121 million in 2021; a figure has not been set for 2022. Krall did not rule out free-agent activity in the offseason.

“It's going to be a more of a 'wait and see,' but I don't think we're not going to sign players on the free-agent market,” he said.