Despite regressing and struggling through much of the 2018 season, Austin Barnes returned this year as the starting catcher. The Los Angeles Dodgers had reunited with Russell Martin via a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, but the veteran was slated to fill a backup role.
Barnes was optimistic an offseason of work that aimed at refining his mechanics would lend to improved results at the plate. However, he continued to scuffle and ultimately was demoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Nevertheless, Barnes was re-signed to a one-year contract earlier this month and avoided arbitration. The signing came ahead of the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players.
Despite the rough 2019 campaign, Barnes has been the subject of trade interest from the Houston Astros, according to Jorge Castillo of the L.A. Times:
The Houston Astros have inquired about Austin Barnes, per source. They’re looking for catchers with Robinson Chirinos and Martin Maldonado hitting free agency. Barnes has struggled at the plate the last two years, but the Astros are high on his framing.
— Jorge Castillo (@jorgecastillo) December 12, 2019
Barnes certainly presents a difficult and intriguing valuation. He remains under team control for three years, is considered one of the sports’ better pitch framers and offers positional flexibility.
However, Barnes’ struggles at the plate are running on two years and with that have come questions whether he can fill an everyday role behind the plate. Although the Dodgers re-signed Barnes, it’s presumed he was heading into 2020 as the backup to Will Smith.
Barnes has hit .229/.343/.362 with 35 doubles, 17 home runs and 80 RBI in 318 games over parts of five seasons with the Dodgers. His best year came in 2017, which saw Barnes overtake Yasmani Grandal as the starting catcher down the stretch of the season and into the playoffs.
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