Midway through the 2019 season, had the suggestion of signing a twice-released and recently injured Travis d’Arnaud come up, it might have seemed like an idea that was a little too outside the box, even for the Tigers. Since then, d’Arnaud went on to have a tremendous season with the Tampa Bay Rays, including an appearance in the postseason, which unfortunately now means he might be too in demand to be accessible to the Tigers.
That said, the Tigers are in need of a veteran catching presence, and unlike last year, it seems that general manager Al Avila is ready to start looking for one.
The 30-year-old d’Arnaud spent the bulk of his early career with the New York Mets. He missed almost the entire 2018 season after having Tommy John surgery to repair a torn UCL. After returning in 2019 he was quickly released by the Mets following some early season struggles. He was picked up by the Los Angeles Dodgers — a strange move given their glut of catchers at the time — and five days later was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays for cash considerations.
The Rays needed a catcher. Offseason acquisition Mike Zunino and rookie Michael Perez were both on the injured list, so the team took a chance on d’Arnaud. Their risk paid off.
In 92 games with the Rays, d’Arnaud hit .263/.323/.459 with an impressive 16 home runs (the most he’d hit since 2017, and in 20 fewer games). It was his best season overall since 2015. His 98 wRC+ might have been slightly below average, but based on catcher’s overall in baseball, placed him firmly in the top 20 of wRC+ between both leagues.
d’Arnaud really seemed to come back to life with the Rays, demonstrating that he was still a player who could be relied on behind the plate, and certainly one worthy of consideration on the free agent market.
Another area where he was reliable was in his caught stealing numbers, which were also the best they’d been since 2015. Between three teams in 2019 he had a 29% CS%. While they don’t come close to Alex Avila’s impressive 52%, it’s worth noting that Avila only had 21 attempts to d’Arnaud’s 67.
Ultimately, d’Arnaud is still relatively young, and while he’s only one season removed from an invasive surgery, he more than proved himself at the end of the 2019 season as being a good defensive catcher who also happens to have a reliable bat. He is also no longer a stranger to American League batters, having spent a good chunk of the 2019 season with an AL team.
In working with a relatively young staff of pitchers in Tampa Bay — Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough, and more — he is well versed in teaming up with a younger pitching staff, something that could make him an asset to both the Tigers up and coming pitchers, and also young catchers like Grayson Greiner and Jake Rogers who could use a veteran presence in their arsenal.
Sharing time behind the plate with the younger guys would also minimize the risk of further injury to d’Arnaud, though it remains to be seen if that’s of any interest to him, or if he’d rather focus on a starting catcher role, riding the wave of new success that took him all the way to the ALDS this fall.
If the Tigers are keen to add a veteran catcher to their roster, though, d’Arnaud is worth a long look. He made $3,515,000 in 2019, and could likely be had for about $3 million a year, especially on a two-year guarantee if the Tigers were willing to sign him for that long.