The Dodgers have a decision to make at backup catcher this off-season. It will be Austin Barnes or Russell Martin as the club cannot keep both.
The Dodgers entered the 2019 season with Austin Barnes as their starting catcher and Russell Martin was the veteran backup catcher. Then Will Smith forced his way into the Dodgers’ starting catcher role after Barnes struggled mightily at the plate. The blue were able to keep all three catchers by optioning Barnes to Triple-A Oklahoma City and keeping Martin as the backup to Will Smith.
For the 2020 season, the Dodgers will not have the luxury of keeping all three catchers if they decide to bring Russell Martin back for another season. Barnes is now out of options so he will need to begin next season on the active roster or clear waivers in order to be sent to the minor leagues.
Given the shortage of quality catchers in baseball, there is no way that Barnes makes it through waivers. Even though he struggled last season, Austin Barnes was still the Dodgers’ best defensive catcher with an RAA rating of 8.5. There are plenty of big-league teams that would like a backup catcher with Barnes’ defense and pitch framing.
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This means that the Dodgers will need to choose between Russell Martin and Austin Barnes as their backup catcher. Martin is currently a free agent and despite the fact that he will turn 37 before next season, he intends to play next season. If Martin returns to LA that will signal that the team is moving on from Austin Barnes.
The Dodgers could try to deal Barnes before letting him go for nothing if they want Russell Martin back to mentor Will Smith for another season. While the backup catcher role is not one of the bigger decisions the front office will need to make, it still is an important decision. Keibert Ruiz is expected to be ready for the majors in 2021 so the Dodgers need a veteran backup for one more season.
Austin Barnes was awful offensively in 2019, posting a slash line of .203/.293/.633 but he still is a very good defensive catcher and players such as Rich Hill have talked about how Dodger pitchers are comfortable with Barnes behind the plate. The Dodgers should use Barnes as their backup catcher for the 2020 season.
While Austin will not provide much offensively, as a backup catcher his job is to provide steady defense and not hurt the team defensively. Barnes can do just that and even play several infield positions. If Andrew Friedman does decide to bring Russell Martin back then an Austin Barnes trade should follow shortly after.