The Atlanta Braves will bring back catcher Tyler Flowers for at least one more season after agreeing to a contract extension Tuesday. The particulars of the deal are pretty simple as reported by Jon Heyman. Flowers will receive $4 million in 2019 and the Braves hold a club option in 2020. They can either bring him back for $6 million or pay him $2M if they deny the option.
The first thing that stands out about this deal is how much Flowers loves Atlanta and vice versa. Flowers, who the Braves originally drafted in in 2005 in the 33rd round, came back to the Braves after 2015 on a two-year contract after getting to the majors with the Chicago White Sox. After working with Kevin Seitzer, Flowers set a new high in wOBA with a .338 mark and had his first above-average wRC+ of his career at 110. The following year, with new platoon partner Kurt Suzuki, Flowers’ marks improved to .358 and 120. He also had his first two-win season with a 2.5 fWAR.
The Braves made a no-brainer despite the offseason turmoil with the front office and picked up Flowers’ option for the 2018 season. Things haven’t been nearly as good for the catcher at the plate, though, and he’s hitting just .225 after his BABIP has fallen over 60 points. His pop is also down from .164 last year to .110 this season. On the bright side, Flowers has radically improved his plate discipline after being a swing-at-everything player with the White Sox and walks 13.5% of the time this year. That gives him a .357 OBP.Of course, it’s his pitch framing that Flowers is most known for. It remains extremely solid with Baseball Prospectus ranking him as the second-best pitch framer this season and Statcorner ranking him ninth. And after allowing 60-of-63 potential base stealers to swipe safely in his first season in Atlanta, his caught-stealing percentage has been much closer to league average despite a pitching staff that often forgets about runners.
He’s even accounted for 6 DRS this season after 11 last year. While defensive metrics for catchers are ripe with problems, the fact is that Flowers is a plus behind the plate. He might not take home a Gold Glove, but he’s more-than-solid.
His defense and even his offense before his BABIP-helped cooldown this year makes this deal a bit of a surprise for me. If the Braves are making a choice between Suzuki and Flowers, I felt it might be Suzuki – whose offense has also cooled. Suzuki is two years older than Flowers and seemed more likely to be keen on a one-year contract. I felt Flowers, who turns 33 in January, would get a similar contract in free agency as he did when he came to Atlanta – two years plus an option. I also felt he could earn what he is guaranteed in his new contract ($6M) as an annual average guarantee plus a buyout. Just a couple of years younger, Jason Castro got $24.5M after 2016 entirely because of his defense.
But Flowers loves Atlanta and wants to stay. And you can bet that the Braves love having him behind the plate with their young pitchers. In addition, Alex Jackson and other young catchers in the organization seemed attached to his hip last spring. I imagine that will continue next spring as they try to learn the nuances of pitch framing.
Signing Flowers doesn’t mean the Braves won’t bring back Suzuki, though, with the platoon’s struggles to duplicate the success of 2017, it does seem likely. In addition, signing Flowers doesn’t mean the Braves won’t entertain the idea of bringing in another backstop. In addition to Suzuki, Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos will attract a lot of attention as free agents. Of course, there’s also J.T. Realmuto, who the Braves have been attached to before. Finally, Atlanta may have been interested in acquiring Buster Posey. Interest that probably died with news about his hip.
Here’s a fun one: the Astros are likely to let Brian McCann leave after declining his $15M club option. McCann is having an ugly season, but bringing him back to platoon with Flowers screams like something Atlanta would do.
Either way, it’s unlikely the Braves don’t make one more move with the catcher position. Alex Jackson has a .322 wOBA and 102 wRC+ at Gwinnett over 29 games. On the surface, that’s an improvement over his numbers with Mississippi. Jackson has also K’d about 35% of the time. He’s either trade fodder or ticketed for a return to Gwinnett to open 2019. William Contreras is being groomed to be the eventual catcher of the future, but he’s just 20-years-old and has played less than two dozen games at High-A.
In the end, this was a solid deal for the Braves. They got, at worst, a plus backup catcher for 2019 and potentially 2020 at not only an affordable rate, but I’d argue a bargain. Flowers makes the Braves pitchers better and potentially could be a great mentor for Jackson and Contreras.
What do you think? Let me know below.