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Milwaukee Brewers free agent targets: Travis d’Arnaud

A viable substitute if Brewers cannot sign Grandal.

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2019 ALDS Game 5 - Tampa Bay Rays v. Houston Astros Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Yasmani Grandal will always have a special place in the hearts of Brewer Nation. His 2019 season behind the plate for Milwaukee was one of the best by a catcher in franchise history. With that in mind, David Stearns said that he would like to bring him back.

Rosiak’s last sentence in the tweet above is significant. You will get no argument from me if you posit that Grandal should be the number one free agent priority for Milwaukee. Unfortunately there are a lot of teams that would like to sign Yaz, especially with no draft pick compensation attached to him this time around. Since Milwaukee will have to outbid teams for Grandal, it is probably good to have a backup plan for the catching position. The next best catcher on the market just might be Travis d’Arnaud.

MLB Trade Rumors actually predicts d’Arnaud going to the Brewers on a 2-year, $14MM deal. Eno Sarris, writing for the Athletic, also predicts he will go to the Brewers on a 2-year, $10MM contract. The baseball world has been waiting for the former Mets’ catcher to break out for some time. It was quite possible that break out had to coincide with leaving New York. Once he left the Mets and went to the Tampa Bay Rays, he posted a 107 wRC+. From May 11 until the end of 2019, d’Arnaud slashed .263/.323/.459 while hitting 16 home runs and walking 8.2% over 365 plate appearances. That it significant production from a catcher. It is significant production period. The question remains, can he put up those numbers on a consistent basis?

Injury is a likely culprit for d’Arnaud’s slow development. From 2013-2018, the soon-to-be 31 year old catcher missed at least three weeks each season with injury. He suffered a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee prior to entering the major leagues. Over seven years with the Mets, he played in just 407 games because of the following maladies:

2013: Broken foot
2014: Elbow surgery
2015: Sprained elbow and broken hand
2016: Rotator cuff sprain
2017: Bruised wrist
2018: Tommy John surgery

Travis d’Arnaud’s history with injury must give teams pause. However, d’Arnaud could be poised for a sustained breakout that would put him in the top echelon of offensive catchers.

Unfortunately for those of us that became used to having a backstop that could do it all, d’Arnaud is not a strong as Grandal defensively. However, d’Arnaud was in the top half of the league in framing, he throws out runners at about league average, and he’s a solid defender overall.

A statistic that I like to attribute a great deal of significance to is catcher ERA, or the ERA posted by pitchers as a group who threw to a particular catcher. Travis d’Arnaud grades out well here. In 2019, d’Arnaud’s catcher ERA was 3.90. Coupling him with Manny Pina, whose catcher ERA was 3.82 in 2019, might give the Brewers a really nice 1-2 punch at the catching position. Obviously, we would like to see Grandal back, but if that does not occur, Travis d’Arnaud would be a quality substitute.

Baseball statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs