I wrote about this just days after the Braves were eliminated from the playoffs, but since that was almost four months ago, and Tyler Flowers is still a free agent, it seems appropriate to bring it up again.
With Travis d’Arnaud in the fold, the days of the catcher platoon are over. He’s the starter, and there are no questions about it. Still, over a 162-game schedule, a backup catcher is a critical piece to the puzzle, especially in the Atlanta heat. The most games d’Arnaud has ever played in a season is 112, meaning whoever the second backstop is for the Braves will be relied on to catch at least 50-60 games. That’s a large chunk and could be the difference in winning or losing what is expected to be a tight NL East race.
Atlanta does have a few options in their farm system that could potentially fill the role. Shea Langeliers is probably a year or two away, but William Contreras held his own last season when forced into action, going 4-10 at the plate. However, Contreras has yet to even log a game at the AAA level. He probably should do that before becoming an everyday major-leaguer. Alex Jackson is another option, but based on what we’ve seen thus far, he’s an AAAA player — someone who thrives at the AAA level but just doesn’t seem to have it in the majors. I haven’t totally given up on him, but the Braves would be foolish to go into the season with him as their second catcher.
Unless the coaches have seen something we haven’t, and a guy like Contreras is much more ready than we are aware of, Anthopoulos has to bring in a free-agent to fill the void behind d’Arnaud. We’ve given Flowers plenty of flack on this site, but in reality, he’s a stable backup option that is a fantastic pitch-framer and is familiar with the pitching staff. From my article back in October:
Flowers is the best in the business when it comes to pitch framing, and it’s the reason why he is always highly regarded by FanGraphs in terms of WAR. In 2017, he recorded an impressive 4.5 fWAR behind the best offensive season of his career. But even in the two years after that — as his offense regressed to the norm — he still recorded over 2.0 WAR each season. Hell, Flowers only appeared in 22 games this past season and hit a meager .217 but still finished with 0.4 fWAR — good for 25th among all catchers. Not too shabby for a backup that receives little to no praise.
Honestly, I’m a bit surprised this hasn’t happened already. Outside of Flowers, the other catchers available on the free-agent market are abysmal. The Braves have an obvious need; it’s time to stop monkeying around and get a short-term deal done. Otherwise, there could end up being a hole where there should never have been one.