If you would like to know how hard it is to find adequate catching help, look no further than Travis d’Arnaud and how a guy that played less than half the season can get a 2-year extension at his current rate of pay. Finding a good catcher is like trying to find a good line cook nowadays.
The Braves signed d’Arnaud two offseason ago, and he’s spent the majority of his career in Atlanta with two years worth of commitment at $8M per. We originally signed him to a 2 year, $16M deal in the 2019-2020 offseason. And then halfway through the 2021 season, Atlanta gave him another 2 year, $16M deal that also includes a — you guessed it — $8M club option. Basically he’s going to make $8M a year until he proves he can’t play baseball anymore.
That in and of itself is interesting because he’s proven he can’t play baseball consistently. Catching is a brutal position with incredible scarcity at this point, and d’Arnaud has experienced that brutality more than most. He has never played more than 112 games in a season. He has played less than 80 games 4 of the last 7 seasons. And it’s debatable if he would have held up in 2020 when the league only played 60 games. To his credit, he played the highest percentage of his team’s games that year (44, or 73%).
So, as a surprise to no one, d’Arnaud missed a significant amount of this past season when he sprained his left thumb in May. And even after missing 86 games, he was still not healthy when he came back. He had a huge glove on his left hand protecting that thumb, and his bat didn’t return. His 78 wRC+ was one of the lowest of his career.
He did, however, hit some big home runs for Atlanta in the postseason, and he has a great reputation working with the pitching staff. Fangraphs loves his defense, and if he stays healthy, he can be one of the best catchers in the league. But that’s also because it’s not a high bar to hurdle anymore. Did you know that only 17 catchers played more than 110 games last year? Compare that to, say, second basemen, when 26 predominantly played second base and played in more than 110 games.
Atlanta’s system is pretty deep, compared to other clubs, at catcher with Shea Langeliers and William Contreras significant catching prospects. So Atlanta will probably ride with d’Arnaud over the next couple years. But d’Arnaud’s injury concerns is also what prompted Atlanta to pay a little more for a backup catcher than you’d probably like, giving Manny Pina $4M per year for the next 2 years. But hopefully d’Arnaud will stay healthy, and we won’t need Pina for more than 40-50 games next year.