The Braves continue to strike. Three out of the four free agents that have been signed so far have been by Atlanta. You know about the two relievers, and this time it’s solidifying the catcher position. So Travis d’Arnaud and Flowers will now handle the catching duties.
If you didn’t follow d’Arnaud career resurgence in Tampa Bay last year, you’d probably be fairly underwhelmed with the signing. After all, he’s had some lackluster tenures in recent history. In 2016, he had a .629 OPS as a 27-year old for the Mets. He went down with Tommy John in 2018 for an essentially lost season, and started so poorly for the Mets in 2019 that he was DFA’ed.
The Dodgers picked him up, but 5 days later, they sent him to the Rays for cash. But after two teams gave up on his last year, the Rays, desperate for offense at the time and missing their starting catcher Mike Zunino, plugged him in and he hit. He finished his stint with the Rays appearing in 92 games, only 4 at DH, and hitting .263/.323/.459 for a .782 OPS.
That’s the Travis d’Arnaud I hope the Braves are bringing over. Health has always been a concern with d’Arnaud as 112 games is a career high for the 31-year old. But I think the ideal scenario for d’Arnaud is getting about 120 games out of him with Tyler Flowers being a true backup. The two catchers, for their respective teams, appeared in 177 total games and contributed a total of 3.7 fWAR. You’re looking at around a little less than a 3.5 fWAR duo over 162 games should they both stay healthy.
It’s also worth noting that Fangraphs and Baseball Reference do not have as wide of a disparity in their WAR evaluations for d’Arnaud as they do for Flowers. d’Arnaud amassed 1.6 fWAR and 1.0 bWAR. Flowers, on the other hand, was clocked with a 2.1 fWAR and -0.1 bWAR, mostly because of the value given to pitch framing. Should d’Arnaud be able to gain any additional value in being on the same catching unit as Flowers and learning better pitch framing techniques, d’Arnaud could enjoy a similar bump in his fWAR, and the fan can then make their decision about which WAR they’d like to believe. Either way, pitch framing is undoubtedly a net benefit, so hopefully we’ll see better value in pitch framing.
Regardless, the Braves now have $12M committed to their catching duo this year, up from $8M last year (with Flowers’ $2M buyout added to that total). Overall, I’m happy with the signing as d’Arnaud will be another veteran on a team with plenty of youngsters, and if he can stay healthy, he’s in the top half of offensive catchers in the game even if he can’t quite match last year’s performance with the Rays. As long as the Braves don’t court all of the d’Arnaud brothers and bring Chase back to Atlanta, I’ll remain happy.