FanGraphs not sold on Chicago Cubs plan for catching position

Feb 26, 2023; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Chicago Cubs catcher Tucker Barnhart against the Los Angeles
Feb 26, 2023; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Chicago Cubs catcher Tucker Barnhart against the Los Angeles / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The catching position has been a key focus of the Chicago Cubs off-season given the fractured relationship that the team had with 2022 National League All-Star starting catcher Willson Contreras and the lack of interest there was regarding a possible contract extension.

Contreras has since signed a lucrative five-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cubs are opting for defense at the catching position in 2023 as they are moving forward with a platoon between veteran catchers Yan Gomes and Tucker Barnhart.

A pairing of Gomes and Barnhart at the catching position is not all that appealing on paper and that should be why it is no surprise to see FanGraphs rank the Cubs' catchers as the third-worst in Major League Baseball heading into 2023.

"My hypothesis is that we’ll see a fairly even timeshare in 2023 as the team sorts out if either of its veteran catchers still has anything left in the tank. By the time the Cubs are back in serious contention, it’s doubtful that either of them will play much of a part in it."

Dan Szymborski via FanGraphs

The catch with these rankings is that they are predominantly based on expected offensive output. That would be the reason why Symborski only has the Houston Astros and Colorado Rockies below the Cubs in regard to FanGraphs' catching rankings.

What the Cubs are emphasizing this season, especially at the catcher position, is defense and run prevention. Barnhart is a two-time National League Gold Glove award winner and Cubs pitchers were universally more effective with Gomes behind the plate last season than they were with Contreras. That success is not necessarily displayed in the grey that is defensive catching metrics.

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While we're on the subject, where do the Cardinals rank with Contreras? They fall directly in the middle at No.15 as the question is how effective Contreras will be as a catcher and whether there may be a path where prospect Ivan Herrera emerges as the better catcher of the two by the time the season concludes.