It’s time for the Dodgers to free Austin Barnes

Photo: Stacie Wheeler

During Monday night’s game, a key situation in the seventh inning called for a pinch-hitter. Yasiel Puig and Enrique Hernandez had singled and doubled, respectively, off (literally) Angels’ starter Ricky Nolasco. One would think with the ample talent on the roster, the Dodgers would send someone to the plate who might come through in the clutch.

The Angels brought in Cam Bedrosian (who is good). The Dodgers countered with Mike Freeman (who is not good, and yes, I know it’s the other way around). Bedrosian struck out Freeman on four pitches, to no one’s surprise.

The Dodgers had Logan Forsythe and Trayce Thompson on the bench. They also, technically, had Corey Seager, but he was virtually unavailable. And if he wasn’t going to hit in that situation, he probably wasn’t going to play. Most relevantly to this article, they also had Austin Barnes, who would have been the best non-Seager option in that situation. But with two more innings and no clear place to bring him in defensively, the Dodgers weren’t going to burn their backup catcher for an opportunity to cut the lead to 3-2. That makes some sense, but we’ve come to a time in the season when the Dodgers need to be able to use Barnes on the days he doesn’t start behind the plate (or second base). To do that, they need another catcher on the roster.

Barnes has the 11th-best WAR among all catchers in baseball. He would start for at least half the teams in baseball, if not more. This is a luxury the Dodgers have, and they’re using him more. But freeing him up to be used even more off the bench in crucial situations would behoove them.

You’re only as good as your worst player, and Freeman is the Dodgers’ worst player on the active roster. If you don’t believe me, take it from Mariners’ fan and prospect guru Jason Churchill.

And that was on the Mariners’ roster, which doesn’t compare that well to the Dodgers’.

So, the Dodgers could use an upgrade in the 25th-man spot. There are really only two candidates if it means getting Barnes some more opportunities.

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Kyle Farmer is on the 40-man roster and Bobby Wilson, a non-roster invitee who was pushing Barnes (according to some, apparently) for the backup catcher job in spring training.

Farmer struggled offensively in 2016 but has rebounded to hit extremely well this season: .338/.395/.524 between Double- and Triple-A. This should be a no-brainer, right? Not so fast.

First, I’m not convinced this is even close to the real Farmer. His true talent lies closer to what he did in 2016 (.734 OPS) than what he’s doing this season. Plus, I’m not sure he’s going to benefit from pinch-hitting in the majors once or twice a week or playing in a blowout situation. Keeping him in Triple-A where he can continue to develop and work — especially behind the plate — would be best for him.

That’s why Wilson is the guy here. His numbers aren’t just underwhelming, they’re not good overall: His .787 OPS is aided by the fact he has hit 10 home runs in a hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. But what he does well is receive and frame, which is exactly what you’d need out of your third catcher. His primary role would be to be Barnes’ backup and allow Barnes (or Yasmani Grandal on the days he doesn’t start) to pinch-hit in key situations without having to worry about who’s there to catch if the starter gets hurt.

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During the 2016 offseason, the Dodgers had a “lack of infielders” issue. I thought Barnes might be the answer to that. Clearly, the Dodgers valued him too much behind the plate (and as Grandal’s eventual successor) to risk moving him to a more utility role, and that was just fine. But in this situation, the Dodgers would stand to benefit from Barnes being available so the likes of Mike Freeman aren’t forced to perform in key situations.

This isn’t a post to crap all over Freeman, as I’m sure he’s a fine human being, but he doesn’t really have much purpose on this roster (and will probably be gone sooner rather than later). But even if/when Freeman goes, the Dodgers should still at least toy with the idea of carrying a third catcher so Barnes and/or Grandal could have more opportunities off the bench.

With a team this good, we’re basically just nitpicking at things these days. This falls into that category.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin’ Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif., and has yet to be shot.