The Braves announced Wednesday morning that they’ve reinstated catcher Travis d’Arnaud from the 60-day injured list and opened a spot on the roster by designating fellow backstop Kevan Smith for assignment.
The 32-year-old d’Arnaud played in just 23 games this season before undergoing surgery to repair a ligament in his thumb. It wasn’t an especially productive start to the campaign for d’Arnaud, who batted just .220/.253/.341 in 87 plate appearances. However, the veteran backstop posted a mammoth .321/.386/.533 line with nine homers and eight doubles in 187 plate appearances for the Braves in 2020.
The 2021 season is the second of a two-year, $16MM deal inked by d’Arnaud in the 2019-20 offseason. He signed that deal on the heels of a breakout .263/.323/.459 run through 92 games with the Rays. All told, over the past three seasons, the former No. 37 overall pick and longtime top prospect has combined for a healthy .266/.325/.448 batting line. That’s about six percent better than league average, by measure of wRC+, but it’s particularly hearty output for a catcher. Dating back to 2019, the average catcher has been about 12 percent worse than league average at the plate.
Atlanta gets its starting catcher back at a pivotal juncture, as the Mets have begun to fade after a nearly three-month run atop the division. Both the Braves and the Phillies have overtaken the Mets, and it’s now Philadelphia that holds a one-game lead over Atlanta and a two-game lead over New York. A healthy d’Arnaud will go a long ways toward improving the Braves’ lineup, as neither Smith nor deadline acquisition Stephen Vogt has provided much of anything with the bat since joining the organization.
Smith, 33, came to the Braves with a solid enough track record at the plate — .272/.321/.384 in 726 plate appearances from 2016-20 — but hasn’t been able to come close to his former levels of production. In 101 plate appearances with the Braves, he’s mustered a tepid .165/.248/.198 batting line with a 28.7 percent strikeout rate that is more than 10 percent higher than his career mark. The Braves will put Smith on outright waivers or release waivers within the next week.