Travis d’Arnaud provided an enormous boost in the Rays’ run to the ALDS last season, and though d’Arnaud is a free agent, the relationship between the catcher and his former team may not yet be a thing of the past. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that d’Arnaud and the Rays “remain in talks” about a potential new contract.
After being cast off by both the Mets and Dodgers last May, d’Arnaud got his career back on track over 92 games and 365 plate appearances in Tampa. D’Arnaud hit .263/.323/.459 with 16 homers in a Rays uniform and also managed to stay healthy, which is no small feat considering his injury-plagued history. It was enough for MLBTR to rank d’Arnaud as the second-best catcher available in this year’s free agent market (and 26th overall on our list of the top 50 free agents), with a projected contract of two years and $14MM.
Now that Yasmani Grandal has made an unexpectedly early exit from the market, however, d’Arnaud’s stock could very well rise. Grandal signed a four-year, $73MM deal with the White Sox, a team that wasn’t seen as one of the prime candidates to pursue catching since James McCann was already on the roster. That leaves the most catcher-needy teams (such as the Brewers, Rangers, Angels, Astros, Reds, Nationals, Braves, and Rays) all still looking for help behind the plate.
It doesn’t necessarily bode well for the Rays if the d’Arnaud market turns into a bidding war, though it’s probably a stretch to imagine his price getting unusually high given his age (31 on Opening Day) and the long list of injuries on his resume. If the Rays truly feel that d’Arnaud just needed a change of scenery away from New York and can now enjoy a fairly stable playing career, they might feel inclined to go slightly beyond their usual financial comfort zone in the name of finally solidifying their longstanding issues at catcher, and because Tampa Bay is intent on making a deeper postseason run in 2020. Until d’Arnaud is actually signed to another team, it certainly makes sense for the Rays to keep the lines of communication open between the two sides to see if an acceptable price point can be found.
The Rays do have in-house catching options in Mike Zunino and Michael Perez, though Zunino’s struggles in 2019 paved the way for d’Arnaud to assume everyday duties. Zunino is also projected to earn $4.9MM in arbitration this winter, and he has often been mentioned as a non-tender candidate unless the Rays were to decide they didn’t have any better options. As Topkin notes, a decision one way or the other from d’Arnaud prior to the December 2 non-tender deadline would at least give Tampa a bit more time to decide whether to stick with Zunino or look elsewhere at catcher (or, the team could non-tender Zunino and try to re-sign him at a lower price).