What All-Star Travis d’Arnaud provides Braves goes far beyond numbers

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

LOS ANGELES – Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud is an All-Star in 2022. In 2019, he played for three teams in just under two weeks.

D’Arnaud played four games in 2018 and underwent elbow surgery. He returned the next season, but the Mets designated him for assignment in late April after 25 plate appearances.

“I was 1-for-23; I didn’t play well,” d’Arnaud said Monday. He sold himself short: He was 2-for-23. Nonetheless, he went unclaimed on waivers and was released May 3.

The Long Beach native signed with his hometown Dodgers two days later, but the playing time wasn’t there. After just five days, the Dodgers did him a favor and traded him to the Rays for cash.

That was a career-altering move for d’Arnaud. He was rejuvenated with the resourceful Rays, hitting .263 with 16 homers and 67 RBIs, helping the Rays make the postseason.

“It feels like yesterday,” d’Arnaud said. Asked whether he feared his career was in jeopardy during that stretch, d’Arnaud said: “At that point, I’d just had a daughter and I just wanted her to be loved. It’s crazy how it turned out. … Her birth helped me become a better baseball player. It put things in perspective, just knowing baseball doesn’t run my life; family runs my life.”

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D’Arnaud became a free agent following the season and the Rays hoped to retain him. His older brother Chase, who spent parts of two seasons with the Braves (2016-17), acted as somewhat a recruiter, encouraging Travis to join the Braves, who were run by a familiar face in Alex Anthopoulos and aggressively pursued d’Arnaud early in the winter.

Years later, can Travis say Chase painted an accurate picture of the Braves organization? “Yes, definitely” Travis said. “Especially how well they take care of the team and my family. That was probably the main reason we went there. It’s pretty crazy I’ve had a few successful years here already with a championship.”

As for Anthopoulos’ ties to d’Arnaud, he acquired the youngster in the Roy Halladay deal of 2009, the first major transaction of Anthopoulos’ executive career. He later traded d’Arnaud in a package that brought Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey to Toronto.

In winter 2019, Anthopoulos prioritized d’Arnaud as a replacement for the retired Brian McCann. The Braves felt d’Arnaud’s best was yet to come, and his Rays tenure was just a preview.

Anthopoulos nailed that bet: d’Arnaud has been one of baseball’s most reliable catchers over the past three seasons. His renaissance helped the Braves capture a title last season and resulted in his first All-Star appearance this summer at age 33.

“One thing about Travis, he’s not afraid to put the work in to improve himself,” said Braves catching coach Sal Fasano, who worked with d’Arnaud when he was Eastern League MVP in 2011. “He’s always willing to go the extra mile to make himself better, whether it be physically or mentally. Game calling, I’ll take him over anybody. I might be biased, but to see his growth and maturation process for us, it’s awesome.

“I’m so proud. I feel like a dad sometimes because I’ve known him for so long. How good he is, it makes me smile. I’m really happy for him.”

This season, d’Arnaud is hitting .261/.310/.461 with 11 homers – on pace for new career high (16) – and 38 RBIs. That’s allowed him to return home an All-Star.

“For me it’s big, being from here and watching a lot of baseball games in these outfield seats here (Dodger Stadium) when it was all-you-can-eat hot dogs and, obviously not for me, but all you can drink too,” d’Arnaud said. “It’s special and I’m really looking forward to (the game).”

The Braves’ clubhouse adores d’Arnaud and appreciates his leadership and professionalism. The pitching staff, especially, values d’Arnaud for the game-planning element that initially prompted the Braves to pursue him.

“What he brings is invaluable,” Braves All-Star lefty Max Fried said. “You can’t really put it to a stat sheet or add numbers to it, but his ability to see the game and connect with his pitchers, being able to make adjustments is, for me, one of the best that I’ve been around. And you can see how much every teammate loves him in the clubhouse and as a person. To see him, especially the journey that he’s had, come back and be an All-Star in his hometown, I couldn’t be happier.”

The Braves extended d’Arnaud to another two-year deal last summer. The team has William Contreras as its young backstop option – it traded top prospect Shea Langeliers in the Matt Olson deal – and Contreras, an All-Star as a designated hitter, can benefit from d’Arnaud’s tutelage.

At 33, d’Arnaud seems closer to the end than the beginning, but he hasn’t played like it. He’s a crucial part of a Braves team trying to catch the Mets – the very team that dumped him in 2019 - in the National League East. Despite the poor ending, you won’t hear a bad word about the Mets from d’Arnaud.

Even as one national writer prodded Monday for a negative remark on the Mets, d’Arnaud wouldn’t budge. “There were a lot of bright spots in New York,” he later said, mentioning how Mets legend David Wright helped him when he was younger. “It was fun playing there.”

It would surely be fun to overtake them and help secure the Braves’ fifth consecutive division title, too.