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Keeping Travis d’Arnaud around is a solid move for the Braves

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He may not have been the main one we’re all waiting on to sign a contract extension, but it’s nice to have him around nonetheless.

Atlanta Braves v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Today, we all got news of a contract extension from the Braves that we had all been waiting for. The anxiety and nervousness of potentially parting ways with someone who has played such a key role for this team finally came to an end on Friday afternoon. The two parties finally came together, put pen to paper, and made sure that the player will be wearing a Braves jersey once Opening Day rolls around in 2022. Indeed, there was much joy in Braves-ville when it was announced that Fre—wait a minute, this wasn’t a contract extension for the first baseman of the Atlanta Braves? Instead it was for Travis d’Arnaud, the catcher?

Fair enough! Anyways, this contract signing makes a lot of sense for the Braves. As has been mentioned multiple times on this website over the years, the Braves have done a really good job of somehow finding a way to get decent-to-really good production out of the catchers spot from the early days of their divisional dynasty, through the both the mini-resurgence of the early 2010s, the dark days of the mid-2010s rebuild, and even through into this season. However, this season was when the Braves got a taste of what happens when something finally goes wrong at the catcher’s position.

When Travis d’Arnaud went down with a freak thumb injury earlier this season, the obvious hope was that William Contreras and Alex Jackson would step in and go on a wonderful Baby Braves run at backstop and everything would continue to go smoothly at that position. Well, the Braves decided that Contreras could use another season in Gwinnett after seeing him struggle at the plate for the 158 plate appearances he had and Alex Jackson’s performance basically had the Braves convinced that it was worth it to send him to Miami in order to bring back Adam Duvall.

Those two being unable to give the Braves what they wanted led to the catcher’s position basically turning into a revolving door. I think we all know how that ended up, but it’s really worth it to just look at exactly how bad things got at the catcher’s position for Atlanta in 2021 in terms of production. I take no responsibility for the screams of horror that you might let out after digesting the contents of this table.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Braves Catchers 2021

Catcher Name Plate Appearances 2021 fWAR wRC+ Isolated Power
Catcher Name Plate Appearances 2021 fWAR wRC+ Isolated Power
Jonathan Lucroy 9 0.1 129 0
Travis d'Arnaud 112 0.1 71 0.146
Jeff Mathis 9 -0.2 -100 0
Alex Jackson 28 -0.3 -20 0
Stephen Vogt 67 -0.3 16 0
William Contreras 158 -0.4 76 0.183
Kevan Smith 101 -0.4 17 0.133
Braves Catchers in 2021 484 -1.5 46 0.102
FanGraphs.com

There, we made it. It’s over with. Folks, that is absolutely mortifying to look at. It’s even worse considering that Travis d’Arnaud and two good games at the plate from Jonathan Lucroy are carrying this to a respectable number. Otherwise, we’d be looking at some of the most ghastly production you will ever see from a collection of catchers. We actually saw this scenario play out a bit not too long ago, which is when the backstop duo of Kevan Smith and Stephen Vogt were the two major league catchers for the Braves.

It was pretty clear that the organization was just holding on until d’Arnaud returned from his injury. The only saving grace for Vogt is that he knows how to take a walk this year — he’s walked in nearly 12 percent of his plate appearances for the Braves this season and I can remember two off the top of my head where all he had to do was just watch the pitcher dig their own grave as he picked up an RBI via walk.

Other than that, this has been a truly ghastly year for the Braves when it comes to catcher and it was truly a sight for sore eyes when Travis d’Arnaud came back into the picture. He hadn’t even been doing well at the plate before his injury, but you would take what he gave you ten times out of ten over what any of the other catchers had given you here in 2021. So despite this being an incredibly rough year for Travis d’Arnaud, he got two years and $16 million with a team option for a third year out of it, so I suppose things worked out for him then.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Atlanta Braves Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

So I’d say that this deal is a pretty good bit of business for both sides. Alex Anthopoulos has been pretty good at pulling off team-friendly deals since joining the Braves and Travis d’Arnaud gets to do this whole “two years, $16 million” thing for another two years and another $16 million. That’s a pretty decent payday for him and it also gives the Braves a bit of time to figure out what they want to do with the catcher’s spot long term.

I’d imagine that William Contreras is still going to be the main catcher for the Braves at some point, but also Shea Langeliers has been making plenty of noise in the minors this season. This deal for d’Arnaud takes the pressure off of both of them, and I think that Contreras should be ready to at least be a backup in 2022 and Langeliers won’t get rushed to the big leagues unless something catastrophic happened — and unfortunately, that’s basically what happened this year. Surely lightning can’t strike twice in that department and the Braves will actually have something approaching a normal year when it comes to injuries — particularly at the catcher’s spot.

I’m not expecting Travis d’Arnaud to repeat what he did in 2020, but as long as he can hit at or near league average and continue being a reliable backstop, then the Braves will be totally fine for him serving as a bridge for the next wave of catchers that they have coming up on the farm at the moment. Travis d’Arnaud should be perfectly fine and the catchers currently in the minors will be better for it since there’s going to be less pressure on them to get to the bigs and produce right away. The Braves may have had a serious blip when it came to their production at the catcher’s spot in 2021, but I think that it’ll be just that: A blip.