A day after his third two-homer game of the season, catcher Kurt Suzuki signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract to return to the Braves in 2018, assuring the team will keep intact what’s been one of the more productive catching tandems in baseball this season.
“This is a place that I love,” said Suzuki, 33, who hit .271 with a career-high 18 home runs and a career-best .868 OPS in 76 games before Saturday. “I wanted to come back. Glad everything worked out. The comfort of my family, all that stuff, it held a lot in the decision.”
Tyler Flowers, the other half of the veteran duo, has a $4 million team option for 2018 that the Braves intend to pick up.
“It was something that was in the works for a few weeks,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said in announcing the Suzuki signing Saturday. “Kurt’s had such a great season, but even more than that he’s such a great person. The way he works with young pitchers, the way he works with guys on the team -- I mean, he was a guy that we wanted back for the 2018 season. We’re very fortunate to get a deal that worked for both sides.”
Suzuki had 14 homers, 28 RBIs and a .990 OPS in 38 games since the beginning of July, including two homers in Friday’s 7-2 win against the Phillies. He’s made 66 starts at catcher this season, and Flowers made his 81st start Saturday.
“It’s real good for everybody,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of the Suzuki signing. “I think it’s a good situation for him. He likes it here, and we’ve sure loved having him, I know that. Because as good a player as he is, he’s even a better person and teammate. When you get quality people like that on your team, you do nothing but make everyone better.”
Suzuki, a Hawaii native from Maui, had 18 home runs in 255 at-bats in his first season with the Braves through Friday after totaling 16 homers in 1,230 at-bats over the previous three seasons with the Minnesota Twins.
Before Saturday, Braves catchers ranked second in the majors in on-base percentage (.358) and OPS (.836), third in RBIs (93) and slugging percentage (.478), four in batting average (.277) and tied for fourth in home runs (28).
“When we brought back Kurt, part of what it was that he worked so well with Tyler,” Coppolella said. “I read something that only Buster Posey and the Giants have a higher FanGraphs WAR than does the tandem of Kurt and Flow. So it was something where they are good friends, they work together very well, they both work well with our young pitching -- which is a big thing we’re trying to do – they both hit very well, so it’s kind of like the old saying, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
“This has worked great this year and we want to see if it can work as well in 2018, too.”
Flowers (19) and Suzuki (13) had also been hit by pitches 32 times, which was more than the entire Nationals team (28) and half of the Braves’ total (64) before Saturday.
“It’s too bad they’re not one because they’ve had a Silver Slugger-type year with what they’ve produced together,” Snitker said. “Obviously the (catching) rotation that we’ve had all year has worked.”
Flowers, a 31-year-old Roswell native, entered Saturday with career-bests in batting average (.283), OBP (.377) and (.444) and had 11 homers and 47 RBIs.
“You have those situations sometimes, and the guys may not get along like these two do,” Snitker said. “These guys are each other’s biggest fan. And I think that makes an arrangement like that special, when each of them is genuinely pulling for the other guy. That’s pretty cool.
“The biggest thing is how invested they are into the pitching. With a young pitching staff, to have guys like that is pretty important. And it’ll be good for those guys to have experienced catchers.”
Suzuki said, “It’s definitely nice to be in a place with a lot of young players. You can see the potential here, the positives that come out of this. It’s only going to get better. So I’m excited to be a part of that.”
Suzuki signed a one-year, $1.5 million free-agent contract with the Braves in January, and many industry insiders thought he would draw far more interest and perhaps get a fairly lucrative multi-year deal if he tested the free-agent waters again this winter. Snitker was beginning to think the same thing as Suzuki’s offensive totals kept climbing.
“Yeah, I was thinking, like, man, you’re messing with us because somebody else is going to (make a big offer),” Snitker said. “I think it’s great. This is an outstanding signing and just really good for our organization and club to have a guy like that in tow.”
Suzuki was glad to have a deal done before the offseason.
“For the most part, at this point in my career I just try to take it day-by-day, not look too far into the future,” he said. “Try to live in the moment. Enjoy every day because you never know when it’s going to be your last. I just try to enjoy myself. Just playing with a lot of young arms, position players, see them develop over the last month or so, to see that is pretty neat and I’m glad to be part of it for next year.”