For multiple reasons, the injury news the Braves received on catcher Travis d’Arnaud was devastating. Not only will they be without one of their better bats for a lengthy period, but they also don’t have any stable replacement options. The Braves decided to roll the dice this offseason and not sign a veteran backup catcher, hoping that Alex Jackson or William Contreras could hold down the fort, and so far, that looks like a colossal misjudgment.
The sample size may be minuscule, but I’m confident in saying Jackson is not the answer. He’s currently hitting .043, recording just one hit in 23 at-bats. For his career, Jackson has just three hits in 42 at-bats to go along with 22 strikeouts. I’m not sure he will ever be a major-league-caliber player, but he’s certainly not there yet. The Braves can’t really be considering him as their everyday catcher, which is probably why they added him to the IL as well with a hamstring injury. In his place, veteran backstop Jeff Mathis was called up.
It looks like Contreras will be given the starting job, which is both exciting and frightening. In a tiny sample size, he’s had success when thrust into major-league action. Last year, the brother of the All-Star catcher for the Cubs, Willson Contreras, had four hits in just ten at-bats, and he looked the part again in his first start yesterday, recording a hit and an RBI in his first at-bat of the season. Unlike Jackson, I’m very confident Contreras will become a starting-caliber catcher and possibly even an All-Star like his brother. His strides at the plate have been noticeable over the past couple of years, but he has yet to log a start at the AAA level. Is he really ready to be the starting backstop on a team with championship aspirations? That’s quite a lot to ask.
Whoever the Braves decide to roll with, they’ll likely be the guy for the remainder of the season. Torn ligaments will keep d’Arnaud sidelined for 3-4 months at a minimum, and even when he returns, he’ll need some live action in the minors to ramp things back up before rejoining the team in Atlanta. The Braves say they expect him to come back at some point near the end of the season, but there are no guarantees.
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) May 2, 2021
Thankfully, there’s a fairly straightforward answer to the Braves’ biggest problem at this point in the season — bring back Tyler Flowers… as a player. If you’re not aware, Flowers is currently a member of the Braves organization, serving in a non-playing position that focuses on analytics.
I pounded my fist on this topic for the entirety of the offseason, and for the most part, people thought I was crazy. Now, they realize just how boneheaded it was not to add a veteran catcher to go along with their young prospects.
There was always the possibility that either Jackson or Contreras could handle the backup catching duties; however, my biggest concern was what would happen if d’Arnaud found himself on the injured list for a substantial period. He’s suffered an extended list of injuries over his career, and catchers tend to take a beating throughout a season.
The Braves don’t have an answer for his absence on the current roster, but Flowers remains a free agent after going unsigned this offseason. He posted 0.4 fWAR as a backup in the 2020 shortened season thanks to his elite pitch framing and a sneaky-good ability to get on base. Flowers is a more than capable starting catcher, and his veteran leadership would be welcomed, allowing Contreras to ease into things.
Perhaps there is a reason Flowers didn’t sign anywhere this offseason. He may view his playing days as behind him; he’s 35-years-old, and his offense has regressed in each of the last three seasons. However, if Flowers is still interested in resuming his career, the Braves would be foolish not to hand him another contract. Either way, Alex Anthopoulos needs to bring in another option from the outside. Jeff Mathis certainly isn’t the answer, and Contreras — despite the crazy potential — is still a question mark. At least in Flowers, the Braves know they are getting a major-league quality talent.
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