Posted on November 24, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Atlanta Braves continue to be the busiest team in baseball in November. Having already improved both their lineup and their bullpen, the Braves added another piece of the puzzle on Sunday, signing catcher Travis d’Arnaud. The Braves are d’Arnaud agreed to a two-year deal that will pay the backstop $8 million in each of the next two seasons. The move comes just a couple of days after Yasmani Grandal, the top catcher on the free-agent market, signed with the White Sox.
“We’ve been pretty clear about needing someone to add to the roster, and we had Travis right up at the top,” Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos said of the signing.
It was a whirlwind type year in 2019 for d’Arnaud, who missed almost all of 2018 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He began the season with the Mets, who let him go in early May after d’Arnaud got off to a sluggish start offensively. Following a brief stopover with the Dodgers, d’Arnaud ended up with the Rays and ended up becoming a key part of Tampa’s run to the playoffs. In 92 games with the Rays, d’Arnaud hit .263 with an OPS of .782. Despite a somewhat abbreviated season, d’Arnaud matched his career-high of 16 home runs.
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Of course, d’Arnaud underdoing Tommy John surgery early in 2018 was just the latest in a long string of injuries that have derailed his career. He was once one of the top catching prospects in baseball because of his offensive prowess and framing skills. However, d’Arnaud has never played more than 112 games in a season because of several trips to the IL. But when he’s been healthy, d’Arnaud has usually produced, having his best season in 2015 when he produced an OPS of .825 amidst multiple injuries while helping the Mets reach the World Series.
“He’s been a highly touted prospect for a long time,” Anthopoulos said of d’Arnaud. “Injuries have derailed his career and his upside, but he finally got to settle in with the Rays and show what he’s capable of doing, and we think he’s going to continue to move forward in that direction.”
The Braves were in need of a catcher after veteran Brian McCann retired at the end of the season. Atlanta was quick to retain Tyler Flowers, who shared duties with McCann in 2019. That role will likely belong to d’Arnaud in 2020. However, it remains to be seen how playing time will be divided, as d’Arnaud provides more upside offensively than Flowers when he’s able to stay healthy.
With Flowers signed on for one more season, it’s significant that the Braves gave d’Arnaud a two-year deal. That should provide some stability for the Braves if Flowers doesn’t stay with the club beyond 2020. Two of Atlanta’s top prospects are catchers, William Contreras and Shea Langeliers. However, both will require at least one more year of seasoning in the minors, prompting the Braves to sign a veteran like d’Arnaud.
“With prospects, when they’re ready, they’re going to find their way up here,” says Anthopoulos. “This was about making the 2020 Braves and 2021 Braves as good as they can be. We’d love to be in a position where our prospects are playing well and they deserve to be on the big league team and we have some tough decisions to make. But right now, with Flowers and Travis, we really like where we’re at at that position.”
While they’ve been busy this offseason, the Braves don’t appear to be done just yet. With Flowers and d’Arnaud, they are set behind the plate. The Braves have also addressed their bullpen by retaining Chris Martin and Darren O’Day and adding Will Smith. But the Braves could have one or two more big moves left to make this offseason, as they head into 2020 striving for their third straight NL East title.
“We’re going to continue to try to make our club better,” Anthopoulos said of the rest of the offseason. “We’ll see how that manifests itself, but we’re still in a position, and still active trying to add to the club.”