The Cubs designated Tucker Barnhart for assignment today in a move that was surprising only because of Barnhart’s salary for 2024. The backup catcher joins Trey Mancini, Edwin Ríos, and Eric Hosmer as depth signings that didn’t work out. Looking at the other catchers who were available, though, it’s hard to blame the Cubs’ front office on this one.

Name Games wRC+ WAR WIth Team
Willson Contreras 102 123 2.1 Yes
Omar Narváez 30 65 -0.2 Yes
Christian Vázquez 78 64 0.5 Yes
Mike Zunino 42 62 -0.2 No (DFA)
Austin Hedges 69 24 0.6 No (Traded)
Roberto Pérez 5 12 -0.2 No (60 day IL)
Tucker Barnhart 47 53 0.1 No (DFA)
Gary Sánchez 62 112 1.4 No (DFA)
Luke Maile 59 91 0.2 Yes
Kevin Plawecki 0 No (DFA)
Curt Casali 40 38 -0.2 Yes
Jorge Alfaro 18 24 -0.4 No (DFA)
Pedro Severino 0 No (DFA)
Cam Gallagher 47 -13 -0.9 Yes
Luis Torrens 13 75 -0.1 No (DFA)
Sandy León 22 1 -0.4 No (DFA)
Andrew Knapp 0 No (DFA)

I was a proponent of signing either Narváez or Vázquez over Barnhart this offseason, but Narváez has been hurt and bad, and while Vázquez has out-performed Barnhart, he has two years and $20M left on his contract. In fact, only six free-agent catchers have been worth positive WAR this season: Contreras, Vázquez, Hedges, Sánchez, Barnhart, and Maile, and only three have out-hit the average catcher. The Cubs were set on not re-signing Willson Contreras, and Gary Sánchez was passed over by two organizations this season before finding a role with the Padres. I guess you could call Luke Maile a miss, but Barnhart accrued significantly more defensive value in his time with the Cubs, and they prioritized defense over offense at the catcher position.

Tucker Barnhart didn’t work out in Chicago this year, but by all accounts he was a great teammate, good pitch framer, and paired with one of the team’s best pitchers during a run of excellent starts. You can argue (and I have) that the Cubs should have traded for Sean Murphy or William Contreras, but for the purposes of this exercise I'm assuming that only free agents were options at the time. If you were signing a free-agent catcher last offseason, it was hard to do much better.

All data from FanGraphs. I used DFA and released interchangeably in the above table for simplicity, even though they are technically different.