Austin Barnes finished the 2017 season hitting .289 with eight home runs, a smattering of stolen bases, 38 RBI’s, a 2.6 WAR and the presumed starting catching duties for 2018. He would have to put the nail in the coffin during spring training to truly take it from Yasmani Grandal, however, at least momentarily, it felt like the heavy lifting in Barnes being the starting backstop, was done.
His rampant success in 2017 went through a rapid depression and the offseason, something a team hopes to be a bridge between a successful campaign and another one, was merely a pause long enough for Barnes numbers to digress to nearly unusable. Grandal maintained his starting spot, Barnes hit .205 and 2018 season was a stark change from the previous year to the current.
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The hopeful excuse to Barnes downfall was a slump. His groundball numbers were through the roof in 2018 and they were the easy scapegoat reason for the uninspiring campaign. The presumed fix to the issue was for him to lift the ball more, push it to the outfield more and see the results of a technique change.
It would be a necessary technique change, too. The Dodgers had lost Grandal to the Brewers, traded next to nothing for Russell Martin and Barnes, a catcher formally stuck in a bench role due to lackluster offensive skills, was thrust into a role where he needed to perform. The Dodgers did not want to call up Will Smith yet either so Martin and Barnes were 2019’s Batman and Robin.
The wrench in the dynamic duo came when Barnes couldn’t find outfield grass with a baseball to save his life. Prior to his demotion to Triple-A, the 29-year-old backstop was hitting just .196 with five home runs and a .1 WAR. His results were abysmal and the Dodgers, who tried to milk out a demotion for as long as possible, had their hands forced and made the move. Will Smith was recalled and Russell Martin’s new companion behind the plate was the Dodgers fourth overall prospect.
The change was certainly necessary and the result was a new big league catcher that paid dividends upon his return to the big league roster with a 3-3 performance that included a single, a double, a homer and six RBI’s.
But, similar to how the Dodgers refuse to call up Gavin Lux, arguably the hottest hitter in the upper minors and the Dodgers best prospect, Smith’s time on the big league roster could simply be waiting on Barnes to show signs of life in Triple-A.
The Dodgers are winning, they do not need to have premier prospects on the roster to burn service time because quite frankly, the team is so solid it doesn’t really need the help.
So, say Smith is sent back down in the near, or even distant future, the solution, as things stand right now, would be to recall Barnes and reconstruct the system put in place this April: Martin and Barnes would be back together.
But, say the Dodgers could trade for a new catcher, one that would hit roughly the same as Barnes does, a flaw the team has emphatically proven they find acceptable and plays defense at a gold glove caliber. What if they replaced Barnes with another Barnes that plays defense out of his mind?
The Dodgers could do that. The Chicago Cubs traded for Martin Maldonado just a few weeks ago and already, they have put him back on the market. The 32-year-old (soon to be 33) catcher is more than likely at an all-time low as far as price goes and the Dodgers would only be trading for him for half the season.
This year, Maldonado has been great behind the plate as usual. A seven DRS and a league-leading 2.06 calls per game in the framing world makes him a phenomenal option to throw on the mask and chest protector for a Dodger organization that values defense behind the plate more than they do a bat.
Now, they have the best of both worlds in Will Smith but, again, Smith’s time in the big leagues may not be permanent until the 2019 playoffs and the 2020 season. And, say his status is officially solidified as a big leaguer. The Dodgers could easily benefit from having Maldonado on the roster as a third catcher and lighten the load for Smith and Martin in the field.
Acquiring Maldonado would essentially end Austin Barnes tenure as a Dodgers backstop except in injury situations. But, after consecutive years in which his season WAR would not add up to his 2017 season WAR, that probably wouldn’t be a bad thing.
The Dodgers are set offensively. A trade for Martin Maldonado would boil down to two things: are the Dodgers done with Austin Barnes and is Will Smith a permanent fixture in Los Angeles right now? If the answers to those questions are yes and not yet respectively, trading for Maldonado could be a cheap and necessary move in the next 48 hours.