CINCINNATI -- The Reds have parted with a lot of their established talent in recent years as they've tried to add young players and rebuild. On Friday, they took a step to retain the next generation for the long term as catcher Tucker Barnhart was signed to a four-year, $16 million contract.
Barnhart's contract includes a $7.5 million club option for the 2022 season that has a $500,000 buyout. He also received a $1.75 million signing bonus. With escalators and performance bonuses, the deal could be worth up to $24.5 million.
"Since we've been through the rebuilding process, this is the first multiyear contract we've signed in a while," Reds general manager Dick Williams said. "It's the right guy at the right time. We're really pleased that ownership was behind this deal."
Barnhart, who will turn 27 in January, would have been eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason. The deal covers all three of his arbitration years, and up to two more in which he could have become a free agent.
It's also a frontloaded contract in which Barnhart will make $4 million in 2018, $2.5 million in '19, $3.5 million in '20 and $3.75 million in '21. By doing that, the club frees up budget space after next season to make other acquisitions. For Barnhart, he's free to focus on matters on the field and not worry about contract negotiations.
"I want winning, and I want being able to produce for the team to be first and foremost in my head," Barnhart said. "There are times this year when there were thoughts about what was going to happen from that side of it. But to be able to wipe all of that thinking out and just worry solely about what's going on on the field … I was extremely hopeful something like this would get done so that was the only thought."
A 10th-round pick in the 2009 Draft, Barnhart made a slow, steady rise through the organization, and he established himself in the Majors after former All-Star catcher Devin Mesoraco was plagued by injuries.
Barnhart caught 73 games (67 starts) in 2015, and he played 108 games (106 starts) behind the plate last season. The switch-hitter entered Friday batting .272/.349/.399 with six home runs and 42 RBIs through 113 games this season.
Mesoraco, who has been limited to 95 games from 2015-17, has one year remaining on his four-year, $28 million contract. He's been done for the season since Aug. 15 because of a broken left foot. Even though Barnhart emerged as the primary catcher this season, Williams left the decision on how to split their duties up to manager Bryan Price.
"As you've seen, it's a great problem to have -- having multiple catchers that you feel good about -- because you never know what's going to happen injurywise," Williams said. "The priority now is to get Devin healthy and get him back out there going into next year."
Barnhart has excelled with defense and game-calling this season. He has thrown out 31 of 70 runners attempting to steal (44 percent) -- tops in the National League and second best in the Majors. His 2.9 defensive Wins Above Replacement lead all NL players while ranking second among all Major League position players.
"The fans see what we see: a tremendous defensive player, a steadily improving offensive player that has become a significant contributor there," Williams said. "And he's a guy that takes charge of the game when he's behind the plate."
This month started with Barnhart and his wife, Sierra, welcoming their first baby -- a son named Tatum. Two years ago, they got married and bought their first house. Now with a new contract and financial security, he called the experiences a whirlwind.
"It is still surreal, and it still hasn't sunk in," Barnhart said. "I will probably have to wait until the offseason, when I can kind of sit down and reflect with everybody. It's something that I wanted to happen, and I'm really, really thankful that it did."
Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.