Travis d’Arnaud had options — the catcher market heated up early — but the Braves separated themselves among the bidders for the free agent. Atlanta, which has emerged as a popular destination in the young offseason, offered a combination of familiarity and winning that swayed d’Arnaud back to the National League East.
A glowing review from his older brother didn’t hurt either.
Chase, who played for the Braves in 2016-17, said “nothing but great things about how the organization treats players and their families.” Despite the lean seasons of the rebuild, the organization made a nice impression on its former utilityman, who played for six teams between 2011-18.
“Atlanta is an amazing place,” Travis said, recalling Chase’s review. “Big fan base, a lot of great people. … Everyone is always in a great mood. Everyone pulls on the same rope.”
The franchise now adopts the second d’Arnaud brother. The Braves inked Travis to a two-year, $16 million contract on Sunday, addressing a glaring hole on their roster. D’Arnaud replaces the retired Brian McCann and will split time with Tyler Flowers, creating what the Braves hope is another productive catching tandem.
D’Arnaud was considered one of the better available backstops behind Yasmani Grandal, who received a four-year, $73 million deal with the White Sox four days ago. D’Arnaud, who like Grandal is represented by Wasserman Media Group, knew catchers were the market’s hottest commodity.
The Braves were among the most aggressive in that market. They had d’Arnaud “near the top” of their shopping list, according to general manager Alex Anthopoulos. It wasn’t the first time Anthopoulos targeted d’Arnaud. The general manager knew d’Arnaud from their time with the Blue Jays, when Anthopoulos acquired d’Arnaud in the Roy Halladay trade in 2009. The nine-player, four-deal deal was the first significant move for Anthopoulos, who was a 32-year-old first-time GM.
Three years later, with Toronto pushing to contend, Anthopoulos dealt a package headlined by d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard to the Mets for Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey.
D’Arnaud debuted in 2013, spending the next six seasons with the Mets. His production was limited by injuries, including most recently a torn ulnar collateral ligament which required right elbow surgery and limited him to four games in 2018.
“You can learn a lot just watching this game,” d’Arnaud said, recalling his experience watching baseball from the sidelines. “It gave me my second wind.”
After opening the season on the injured list, d’Arnaud went 2-for-23 before the Mets designated him for assignment. His hometown Dodgers signed him, only to trade him to the Rays five days later.
The unconventional sequence paved the way to d’Arnaud’s renaissance. He played 92 games with the Rays (103 overall), hitting .263 with 16 homers and 67 RBIs. Tampa Bay made the playoffs, winning the wild card game and losing to the Astros in the American League Division Series.
D’Arnaud was rejuvenated in Tampa Bay, proving himself healthy and productive just before hitting free agency. He feels there’s a lot left in the tank, even jokingly referencing Tom Brady and LeBron James’ recent exchange in which they said they’ll play until they can’t walk anymore.
“Last year, to get that opportunity, I was so thankful and grateful to everyone who got my arm back to full strength,” d’Arnaud said. “The Rays were talking to me about coming back, it’s just something that didn’t work out. I’m forever grateful to that organization for giving me a chance to play again. I wish everyone the best there and they have a bright future.”
D’Arnaud described Atlanta as the right fit. He relishes a return to the NL East, where he feels his history provides a “huge advantage” in game planning. The Braves loved his intangibles. He’s expected to fit seamlessly in the clubhouse.
The 30-year old heard rave reviews of that clubhouse culture. He knew he’d be positioned to compete for a World Series. He’d heard praise for manager Brian Snitker and his staff, though he’s most excited to reunite with catching coach Sal Fasano. D’Arnaud worked with Fasano when he was named Eastern League MVP in 2011.
“I am ecstatic to work with Sal Fasano,” he said. “He taught me so much about catching. To be able to work with him and pick his brain again was something I was looking forward to when I said yes.”
From the Braves’ perspective, they’ve added the ideal stopgap catcher at a reasonable rate. The team has 2019 first-round draft pick Shea Langeliers and touted backstop William Contreras in the minors. They’ve strayed from investing long-term into the position, instead relying on veteran pairings that’ve provided above average production.
“With prospects, when they’re ready, they’ll find a way up here,” Anthopoulos said. “This was about making the 2020, 2021 Braves the best team they can be. Right now with Travis and Flowers, we really like where we’re at with this position.”
The Braves, who signed three relievers prior to d’Arnaud, still want to address third base and the starting rotation. The team has spent over $70 million in total contracts thus far this offseason.
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