ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Braves have agreed to an $8 million contract extension with catcher Travis d’Arnaud that ensures his return in 2023, as well as a club option that could extend the deal for a second season.
D’Arnaud recently rejoined the first-place Braves after missing more than three months with a thumb injury. The deal announced Friday includes an $8 million club option for 2024 with no buyout.
The streaking Braves team finalized the extension before the start of a weekend series in Baltimore. They had won 13 of 15 games — including a season-best, six-game winning streak — to build a four-game lead in the NL East.
D’Arnaud said he never had any desire to test his value on the free-agent market.
“I’m very thankful they reached out to me. I wanted to come back,” he said. “It’s going to be fun. This team is built to win for a long time. I’m just so grateful to be part of it.”
The 32-year-old d’Arnaud was hitting .223 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 23 games, but the Braves are hopeful he can regain the form he showed in his first season with the club in 2020.
D’Arnaud batted .321 with nine homers and 34 RBIs, earning an NL Silver Slugger award as the top hitter as his position and helping the Braves win their third straight NL East title.
“He wanted to be here and we wanted him to stay,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “It’s a really good fit.”
D’Arnaud needed surgery on his left thumb after sustaining a torn ligament while making a tag in a May 1 game against Toronto.
While d’Arnaud was out, the Braves went through five catchers without much success. William Contreras got the first shot filling in for d’Arnaud, but the 23-year-old struggled during an extended stint as the starter.
Contreras was sent back to Triple-A Gwinnett even before d’Arnaud had recovered from his injury, leaving the position in the hands of revolving door of journeymen that included Stephen Vogt and since-released Kevan Smith.
Anthopoulos said the signing of d’Arnaud for possibly two more years gives prospects such as Contreras and Shea Langeliers — the No. 9 overall pick in 2019 and currently at Double-A Mississippi — a chance to develop without being rushed to the big leagues.
“Contreras and Langeliers are exceptionally talented. I think they’re both going to be all-stars at some point,” Anthopoulos said. “But there’s a lot more to that position than throwing guys out. It’s about preparation, having guys on the mound that believe in you. Experience and reps are really critical at that position.”
D’Arnaud said he’s eager to mentor the catchers who could replace him some day.
“Both of them are going to be studs in this league for a long time,” he said. “Hopefully they both know they can reach out to me anytime with any questions they have.”
The Braves came within one game of reaching the World Series last year, squandering a 3-1 lead to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Championship Series. D’Arnaud had two homers and 10 RBIs in 12 postseason games.
He signed a two-year, $16-million contract with the Braves ahead of the 2020 season after reviving his career in Tampa Bay.
D’Arnaud was released by the New York Mets early in the 2019 season and sold to Tampa Bay after a brief stint with the Dodgers. He suddenly blossomed with the Rays, hitting .263 with 16 homers and 67 RBIs in 92 games.
As part of his new deal, d’Arnaud will donate 1% of his earnings to the Atlanta Braves Foundation.
Anthopoulos said other Braves players have a similar clause in their contracts, but it has never been publicized. He decided it was time to give his team credit for their role in improving the community.
“We live here. We care about this place,” the GM said. “The more awareness we can bring to that, and knowing the players are doing their part, I think is a real important thing.”
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