The Braves have plenty of work to do this offseason as they attempt to take the next step and become the champions of the National League after finishing just a run short in the NLCS. There are extensions to hand out, potential trades to be made, free agency, and of course, retaining their own guys. Several key members of this year’s team will be free agents, including catcher Tyler Flowers.
While the backup to Travis d’Arnaud is not the sexiest role on the roster, it’s still extremely valuable, especially during a 162-game season. The Braves need to make sure they have a reliable option to catch at least 60 games next year, and with their prospects still so inexperienced, bringing back Flowers on a one-year deal makes the most sense.
Flowers gets a lot of grief from the fan base, and I haven’t been shy about voicing my displeasure with him at times, especially during the 2019 season when he couldn’t hit or play defense. However, as far as backup catchers go, he’s one of the best in the business.
Over the years, catchers have basically become offensive zeroes. There are only a few guys that play behind the plate that also put up great numbers in the batter’s box. The main priority for most backstops is defense and managing a pitching staff — two things Flowers has proven to be excellent at in his career with the Braves.
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.
You can make the argument that FanGraphs overvalues pitch-framing a bit, and I would agree with you to a degree. However, those guys are pretty damn good at what they do, and the point still stands, Flowers is among the best at stealing strikes, which is invaluable with a young pitching staff.
The alternatives also have to be taken into consideration. The Braves have two hot catching prospects that project to be the future behind the plate, but with no minor league baseball in 2020, it’s hard to gauge just how far along they are in their progression.
Out of necessity, thanks to an early-season COVID scare that resulted in d’Arnaud and Flowers missing the first two series of the season, William Contreras made his MLB debut and performed admirably. However, you can’t look at that four-game sample size in which he went 4 for 10 and deem him major-league ready.
In 2019, Contreras played his final 60 games in AA Mississippi and struggled offensively, to the tune of a .647 OPS with just three homers. The Braves believe he has made significant improvements in his swing since then, and it looked like that in the brief time we saw him, but he still has yet to play a game in AAA. Atlanta can’t go into the 2021 season and expect him to be their backup catcher on Opening Day. If they do, they could end up being very vulnerable on days when Travis d’Arnaud needs to rest.
Shea Langeliers is also a bright young name on the farm, but the 2019 first-round pick has yet to even play a game above A-ball. He’s likely still a couple of years away from making his MLB debut.
Of course, the Braves could always pursue another catcher in free agency, but they aren’t going to be in on any of the big names, and there aren’t many better secondary options than Flowers. The Braves’ best course of action in addressing their backup catcher vacancy is bringing back Flowers on a one-year deal. If he finds something significantly better elsewhere, so be it, but I’m sure there is an appeal for him to return to a team that plans on competing for the World Series.