It has become the norm for Alex Anthopoulos and the Atlanta Braves that there isn’t a hint of a trade or a signing until the press release has been sent out by the team’s PR department. That was again the case Friday when the team announced that they had an agreement with catcher Travis d’Arnaud on a two-year, $16 million contract extension that also includes a club option for a third season.
“It really came together pretty quickly,” Anthopoulos said when asked about the extension. “Obviously, him being on the IL, we needed to wait a little bit, but it came together pretty fast here in the last 24 to 48 hours. We wanted him here. He wanted to stay, and we were glad to be able to get something done.”
d’Arnaud missed three months of the season with a torn ligament in his thumb that required surgery. He returned August 11 and has helped solidify the position just as the team has made its move into the top spot of the division. d’Arnaud originally agreed to a two-year, $16 million deal in November of 2019 and that deal immediately became one of the best value signings of the winter when he hit .321/.386/.533 with nine homers and a 144 wRC+ in 44 games while winning the NL Silver Slugger Award for the catcher position.
Anthopoulos said that they didn’t have any talks in regards to an extension this past offseason but let it be known that they were interested in keeping him beyond his original two-year deal. “I think just in general, you touched base. Last offseason was so unique with the calendar and so on. We knew at some point we would talk.”
The deal may come as a bit of a surprise given that the Braves have two good catching prospects in the minors in William Contreras and Shea Langeliers. Contreras turned in a good spring and replaced d’Arnaud in the lineup when he got hurt despite having not logged a single at-bat at Triple-A. However, he eventually slumped and was sent back to Gwinnett to refine some things and has performed well since the demotion. Langeliers has turned heads not only behind the plate defensively, but offensively as well slugging 19 homers with a 136 wRC+ at Double-A Mississippi.
Anthopoulos thinks that d’Arnaud can be a valuable mentor for both young catchers and can be a bridge to both. He also talked about how important having depth at the catcher position is and you need look no further than the 2021 season for the Braves as a good example.
“Obviously, guys like Contreras, Langeliers, they are exceptionally talented,” Anthopoulos said. “I think they’re both going to be all stars at some point, but there’s a lot more to the position than just being able to hit or throw guys out. The game calling, the preparation, the receiving, having guys on the mound that believe in you and just experiencing reps is really critical in that position. It’s hard to quantify, but this allows us to take our time with both guys and to really look beyond the fact that at that position, guys get hurt, guys get banged up, and it’s the one area, you need depth. So the fact that Travis is an ideal fit for us and everything else that he brings from a makeup standpoint, clubhouse standpoint, all those things, it’s just a great fit for us.”
While keeping d’Arnaud at an affordable rate is certainly a good move, he isn’t the free agent to be that is on a lot of Braves fan’s minds. Freddie Freeman remains unsigned beyond this season and as the days tick off, the concern grows. There is only so much Anthopoulos can or would be willing to say in regards to any negotiations for a new contract for Freeman, but you shouldn’t read anything into the fact that a deal with d’Arnaud was completed first.
“It’s not an order of priority, it’s just the way things may come together,” Anthopoulos said. “The negotiations happen at their own pace and time. As long as things get done, you’re happy.” He also pointed out the team’s need for a reliever at the trade deadline, but noted that the deals for the outfield additions got to the finish line first.
“The goal is to sign him. He’s been very clear his goal is to stay,” Anthopoulos said of Freeman. “Beyond that, we never discuss specifics on contracts and things like that. Like anything you’re starting from a good foundation which both sides wanted to have.”
Anthopoulos also gave an update on starter Ian Anderson and outfielder Eddie Rosario who are both on a rehab assignment at Gwinnett. The plan is for Anderson to make one more rehab start and if all goes well, he could slot back into the rotation next week.
Anderson has made three rehab starts at Gwinnett and allowed four hits and struck out six over 4 1/3 scoreless innings while throwing 76 pitches earlier this week. Two off days next week will afford the team some options with the rotation.
Anthopoulos acquired Rosario from Cleveland at the trade deadline for what amounted to a salary dump. The Braves are hoping he can provide them with some left-handed punch either off the bench or in a corner outfield spot.
“Rosario is playing pretty much every day in Gwinnett now. We’re having them rotate between left field, right field, centerfield to get him acclimated,” Anthopoulos said. “He hasn’t played in a long time. Everyone’s doing a good job up here and the team’s playing well. That’s allowing us some time to get him reps after being off for so long. We’re just going to continue to watch him, continue to get him at-bats and get him some defensive work as well.”