ST. PETERSBURG — Catcher Travis d’Arnaud and the Rays enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship after his mid-May arrival and there was significant interest on both sides in staying together.
But not $16 million over two years’ worth.
That’s what d’Arnaud got from the Braves, and apparently what the Rays wouldn’t give him, in a deal announced Sunday afternoon.
The Rays had been in talks with d’Arnaud since the end of the season and were still negotiating as late as Saturday night in hopes of bringing him back.
But the Braves, the most aggressive team early in the offseason, had him “right up at the top” of their list, general manager Alex Anthopoulos said, and had been in pursuit “for quite a bit of time.”
D’Arnaud said it was a tough decision.
"I want to thank the Rays organization for everything,'' he said via text message. "The front office, the coaching staff, the environment, the city, and most importantly my brothers I got to share the field with day in and day out. They made showing up to the park truly enjoyable. The Rays gave me an opportunity that I will be forever grateful for. I hope nothing but the best for everyone involved in the organization. God bless.''
D’Arnaud, 31 in February, had something of a career resurgence with the Rays after being acquired for $100,000 from the Dodgers, who signed him after he was released by the Mets. In 92 games with the Rays, he hit .263 with 16 homers, 67 RBIs and a .782 OPS. Highlights included a walkoff homer that beat the Yankees July 6 and a three-homer game at Yankee Stadium on July 15.
“He’s been a highly touted prospect for a long time; injuries have derailed his career and his upside,” Anthopoulos said. “He finally was able to settle in with the Rays and show what he was capable of doing and we think he’ll continue to move forward in that direction. .... There’s a lot of things that we like.”
Anthopolous was familiar with d’Arnaud from their time in the Toronto organization, acquiring him from the Phillies in the 2009 Roy Halladay deal and then trading him to the Mets in the 2012 R.A. Dickey deal.
The Rays liked a lot about d’Arnaud, too, but the $8 million for each of two years seemingly exceeded what they determined he was worth, as they were perhaps concerned about d’Arnaud’s injury history. Over six big-league seasons, he has never played more than 112 games, and three times less than 100.
"We’re really happy for Travis,'' Rays GM Erik Neander said, without revealing details of the negotiations. "He’s a great player and an even better person. He was a huge part of our 2019 club and we wish him nothing but the best as he moves forward.''
With d’Arnaud gone, the Rays may look at other free agents, such as Jason Castro, Robinson Chirinos, Yan Gomes and Martin Maldonado, and/or to the trade market, where Cubs All-Star Willson Contreras is among the best available.
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The Rays still have veteran Mike Zunino, who is coming off a poor year offensively, and face a Dec. 2 deadline on whether to tender him a contract with a projected $4.9 million arbitration salary, or work out a new deal. They also have Michael Perez as an option, although he is relatively inexperienced.
Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, talking early in the off-season, said d’Arnaud had a “huge” impact on the Rays’ season and he hoped he returned.
“Little did I know what to expect when he came to our team,’’ Kiermaier said Nov. 3. “He’s one of my best friends, one of the best teammates I’ve ever played with. He was a guy who didn’t start out necessarily too hot, but I never heard him complain one time throughout the whole year.
“He cared. He cared more than anyone. If we won, and he went 0-for-4 with three Ks, he was happy, dancing, doing our little celebration after the game. And those are the guys you want to be around. So I’ll vouch for him any day of the week. …
“He absolutely raked for us and he played great defense behind the plate. He’s that veteran type of guy who’s been there, done that. He’s been in a World Series. It showed throughout this whole year, he was composed. He never let the big moment get the best of him. He was as clutch as anyone in baseball. The hits he had for us were amazing. He was just as important as anyone on our team.’’
Minor-league coach may come come from college
A strong candidate for a minor-league hitting coordinator position is Greg Brown, currently the head coach at Nova Southeastern. The Rays are close to finalizing their staff, with an announcement possible this week.
Brown has led the Sharks for nine seasons, posing a 316-149 record and seven NCAA South Region Tournament appearances and earning Div. II national coach of the year honors in 2016. He previously was a scout for the Astros (signing J.D. Martinez and Kike Hernandez) and played in the minors for the Marlins.
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.