With Kurt Suzuki and Tyler Flowers both staring down Free Agency, the Braves have undoubtedly boosted their stock to heights that it’s never seen. Unfortunately, they may have also priced themselves out of returning both backstops.Flowers & Suzuki may give Atlanta a discount for reviving their careers. However, for two guys who are 32 and 34 respectively, they have to think about their livelihood.
Now, there’s a solid chance they can return one of these guys. You have to think Atlanta values Flowers’ age and pitch framing ability over Suzuki’s bat. Regardless, let’s assume Atlanta returns one of the two. Barring a revelation by Alex Jackson, the Braves’ catcher of the future appears to be William Contreras, but he does not project to be ready until about 2020. With the Braves window to compete opening, they need to make a move to add a quality presence behind the plate.
Francisco Cervelli (Trade via Pittsburgh):
Cervelli is having a strong year offensively, and he serves as a trade chip for the rebuilding Pittsburgh Pirates. His 31% caught stealing rate is pretty good, and the seasoned veteran backstop would be a great bat to insert into the lineup with his .243/.379/.839 slash line along with 9 Home Runs.
Tucker Barnhart (Trade via Cincinnati)
I would absolutely love for Anthopoulos to call up Nick Krall and swing a deal for Barnhart. He’s under team control until 2023, and he’s a defensive stalwart behind the plate. His bat on top of his catching abilities is just icing on the cake. His 44% caught stealing rate lead the majors in 2017. Cincinnati is a rebuilding club, and he doesn’t necessarily fit their timeline, but he sure does fit in nicely with our young core.
Wilson Ramos (Free Agent)
Ramos is having a career year at the right time; a contract year. He’s been absolutely mashing: .297/.488/.834 to go along with 14 Home Runs and 53 RBIs. He’s going to get paid, but are the Braves willing to invest in a catcher having his best season at age 31 coming off of an ACL injury? He’s been hampered by hamstring issues this season and is currently on the disabled list. Anthopoulos certainly doesn’t want to foot the bill for a catcher with chronic knee issues. Dishing out big money for a Washington-Matt Wieters situation would be a severe misplay. Ramos will be the big fish of Free Agent catchers this offseason.
Austin Barnes (Trade via Los Angeles):
With Yasmani Grandal’s free agency approaching (more on him later) and his assumed rising price tag, the Dodgers would have to be blown away to deal Austin Barnes. He’s under team control for a very reasonable price until 2022. He’s not having a great year at the dish, but he hit .289 in 2017 and can play 2nd & 3rd base. For controllable young catchers who aren’t a slouch with the bat, you can do a lot worse than Barnes.
Carson Kelly (Trade via St. Louis):
Kelly is the first on this list of former top prospects who haven’t gotten off to a great start with their new clubs. With Yadier Molina behind the plate until at least 2022, Kelly was assumed to be the next man up for the Redbirds. That hasn’t happened, and Andrew Knizner has been raking in AAA and is knocking on the door of the MLB. Kelly is hitting an absymal .080 in the majors this year (2 for 25) and has been demoted to AAA where he’s hit a more respectable .276 with 5 HRs. With injuries nagging him this season, this would be a good opportunity for the Braves to buy low on a talented guy who is stuck behind Molina and in front of Knizner.
Austin Hedges (Trade via San Diego)
A former top prospect, Hedges’ struggles at the plate are well documented. He’s a career .204 hitter with a meager 25 home runs over 4 seasons. He’s officially on burn notice after AJ Preller acquired Francisco Mejia in exchange for Brad Hand. His defense used to be his calling card, but it’s slipped to below average. It makes him a buy low candidate who’s under control until 2023 that wouldn’t cost much in prospect capital, but it’s obvious his time is running out with San Diego with Mejia knocking.
Yasmani Grandal (Free Agent)
Grandal is going to be a guy who gets paid a lot more than he’s worth. An offensive minded catcher who has a nice slash of .255/.472/.827 with 14 HRs, his bat is going to play wherever he goes. I think in his age 30 season he’s a significant gamble to give a big contract. His defense isn’t good, he led the league in passed balls last season (2nd time in his career) and his caught stealing rate is a meager 20% this season. Even though he has ties to Anthopoulos, he has the makings of a bad money signing written all over him.
Blake Swihart (Trade via Boston)
Swihart and Hedges are in the same situation. Many expect Dave Dombrowski to make a play for a catcher this offseason because Swihart hasn’t lived up to his former top prospect status. He’s only 26, but he’s a career .258 hitter (.211 this season) who’s bounced around AAA and the majors with 5 career home runs over 4 seasons. 2015 is the closest thing he’s had to a full season behind the plate, and he produced a 28% CS rate in 83 games. Since then, he’s bounced around to both corner outfield spots, 3rd base, 1st base, and DH. He’s under team control until 2023, but calling him a project is an understatement.
Jonathan Lucroy (Free Agent)
Lucroy is similar to Grandal. Atlanta would be paying for past production for an aging catcher with injury problems. He was one of the hottest names on the infamous winter 2017 market, but settled on a one year deal after spring training. He’s having a down year on a resurgent Oakland A’s club who has phenom prospect Sean Murphy knocking at the door. Lucroy still has tremendous veteran value, but it’s clear he’s past his prime. If his asking price is anywhere near what it was last offseason, I doubt Atlanta even gives him a call.
JT Realmuto (Trade via Miami):
Oh come on, you knew it was coming. The man everyone is after. After Miami’s slash and burn tactics that saw them lose the reigning NL MVP, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and whoever else they decide to ship out at the deadline, Realmuto is the last man standing. He’s also been the best catcher in the majors this year bar none. He’s been tearing the cover off of the ball, slashing .303/.356/.877 with 12 Home Runs, he’s matched that production with one of the best pop times in the majors and a 41% caught stealing rate. The icing on top? He’s under team control for 3 more seasons. Realmuto would cost us more in prospects than anyone else on this list, but he’s far and away the best catcher mentioned here. Boston, Washington, and many other contenders will no doubt make a hard push for him at the deadline.
If I had it my way, I would want Atlanta to re-sign Tyler Flowers and bring on Tucker Barnhart. Barnhart is worth Cincinnati’s asking price, which should be focused around middle tier prospects floating around Mississippi or Florida. If Flowers prices himself out of Atlanta, a buy low trade for Kelly would be ideal in my eyes. Trading for two catchers in an offseason would seem like a ridiculous idea, but with the cupboard as bare as it is in Gwinnett, something has to give.