The Atlanta Braves have, undoubtedly, been baseball’s busiest team this offseason, as profiled on Baseball Essential last week. Their activity continued on Sunday, as they signed catcher Travis d’Arnaud to a two-year, $16 million deal. He will earn $8 million annually and is expected to begin the season as the Braves primary catcher.
d’Arnaud’s career path has been quite interesting. Once a top prospect for the Philadelphia Phillies, he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays as part of the Roy Halladay trade and then was dealt to the New York Mets as part of the R.A. Dickey trade, which also sent Noah Syndergaard to Queens. By the time the Dickey deal went down, d’Arnaud was going into his age-24 season and was ready to help the Mets at the major-league level. Unfortunately, his tenure was marred by injuries and rather mediocre performance.
Over 407 plate appearances with the Mets, d’Arnaud slashed .242/.307/.412 (.719), while accruing 1.9 bWAR and 8.4 fWAR. After being cut loose by New York last May, he was picked up by the Los Angeles Dodgers and traded to the Tampa Bay Rays just five days later. In Tampa Bay he slashed .263/.323/.459 (.782) with 16 home runs. The most encouraging part about his renaissance was the fact that he remained healthy throughout the season.
With d’Arnaud, the Braves are getting a catcher who is considered above average defensively, with a pop time in the 55th percentile, high range factor marks, and highly regarded pitch framing. Offensively, he brings atypical power from behind the plate, averaging 20 home runs per 162 games. He also has experience within the National League East and has caught many of the Mets current pitchers. This could serve as a boon to his offensive output, as he may be more familiar with certain tendencies of his former teammates. My projections have him playing in 92 games (339 plate appearances) and batting .245/.304/.415 (.719) with 12 home runs.
While I consider this to be a reasonably solid signing for a team that was in need of some extra catching depth, I believe that the Braves overpaid a bit, but that comes with operating in the free agent market during November and into early-December.
Another aspect of the signing that stood out to me was the fact that d’Arnaud, Tyler Flowers, and Alex Jackson are all right-handed hitters. Having catchers that hit from either side is an excellent strategy for teams without a bonafide star, such as J.T. Realmuto or Yadier Molina. It would make planning days off for the primary catcher much easier, while resulting in higher offensive output from the position, one that is typically not known for being robust offensively.
d’Arnaud will be the Braves starting catcher, but based on his injury history and the fact that Flowers has proven to be a reliable backstop for the Braves over the past few years, I’d expect him to start 60 percent of the time, with Flowers starting 30 percent and others, such as injury replacements, making up the last 10 percent.
The Braves will not have to make any roster accommodations for this transaction, and they’ve made the signing official.