Written by Skye Paul (@BravesFromLA on Twitter), August 20th, 2021
Travis D'Arnaud playing in the Braves vs. Marlins 2020 NLDS
Today the Atlanta Braves announced a two year contract extension with catcher Travis D'Arnaud worth a guaranteed 16 million with an 8 million dollar club option for 2024.
D'Arnaud has spent most the 2021 season on the injured list due to a thumb injury he sustained on May 1st which required surgery. Travis recently returned to the team and is slated to play regularly for the rest of the season and has totaled 28 games played entering today.
The season totals to this point for D'Arnaud are not pretty... currently holding a .223/.277/.369 slash line (.646 OPS) with a 71 wRC+ (29% below league averahge offensive production), however it would be foolish to base D'Arnaud's value entirely off of this small sample size. Just last season, Travis was a star player for the Braves and would have undoubtedly made the all-star team had there been a full season. When looking at his combined numbers from the past three seasons (2019-2021), D'Arnaud grades out as above average offensively and defensively (106 wRC+) (0.6 FRAA).
While I don't believe D'Arnaud will repeat his incredible 2020 season, he has shown to be an above average catcher when healthy. He has made improvements to his defense in the last two years, particularly this season. Baseball Prospectus has him at 11.17 FRAA/162 (his current FRAA rate put across a full season). While in a very small sample, Travis has been effective at the plate since his return from injury, collecting seven hits (two homers) and five walks in 29 plate appearances.
This contract extension comes at a bit of a surprise, as the Braves currently have not one, but two top catching prospects in William Contreras and Shea Langeliers. Both are excelling in the minor leagues and will be big league ready soon (Contreras already received a chunk of playing time with the Braves earlier this year), you'd have to think one of them will be traded within the next calendar year. Some may disagree with me on that, citing the strong possibility of the Universal DH coming to the MLB next year.
I disagree, I believe with catchers need defensive development more than any other position, if the Braves are serious about keeping both Contreras and Langeliers in Atlanta, it will be awfully tough to get enough reps in for D'Arnaud, Contreras, AND Langeliers.
On the flip side, it is quite possible that Alex Anthopoulos hopped on this extension purely because it's such a team friendly deal. The Braves are getting a bargain with D'Arnaud at 8 million per year, which is worth a little over 1 WAR at market value. In his last 162 games, D'Arnaud has accumulated 2.9 WARP (Prospectus WAR). Travis most likely took this deal as a no-risk move, considering his substantial thumb injury, it would be difficult to project what he would make on the free agent market.
Overall, I like the deal and am intrigued to see what how the organization deals with the abundance of catching depth. The contract is perfectly reasonable, D'Arnaud has proven himself in Atlanta with little sign of major regression. I grade it as an 8.5 out of 10 for the club.