Everyone seemed to have reasonable concern about the catching position for the Atlanta Braves after they let Brian McCann walk in free agency and sign with the New York Yankees for money they could not pay. Once one of the faces of the franchise, McCann was a well liked person and teammate, but the Braves made the tough decision to let him go, as they were not willing to invest big money on a catcher entering his 30s.
The Braves had a replacement in Evan Gattis and while he held down the fort for a short time, they opted to deal him to the Houston Astros, signaling the team would be moving in a different direction at catcher for the foreseeable future. Unwilling to make a huge financial commitment on the free agent market, the Braves looked for the best value they could find, essentially a short-term fix, so the position would be covered until they could find or develop an everyday catcher in the minor leagues.
While the Atlanta farm system is stacked with talent, most of the talent, at least in the upper levels, is in the pitching department. One of the areas of concern in the minors is the catching position, as there is no standout catching talent anywhere near ready for the majors. As a result, the Braves found a veteran on a short-term deal that could be a stable presence.
Flowers, 31, joined Atlanta last offseason on a two-year deal, with a team option for the 2018 season. He was expected to see the majority of the time behind the plate, but it was not known what the team would receive. Flowers had some success with the Chicago White Sox as the starter behind the plate in 2014 and 2015, with his best year coming in 2014 when he played in 127 games, slashing .241/.297/.396, along with 15 home runs and 50 runs batted in.
As a short-term fix, Flowers provided the Braves everything they needed last year during a tough season as the organization continued to rebuild. He was reliable with the pitching staff, commanded games and was one of the better framing catchers in all of baseball.
On offense, he was quite a surprise as well. Although he missed a couple months due to injury, when he was in the lineup, Flowers performed quite well. In 83 games, the veteran catcher hit .270/.357/.420, along with 18 doubles, eight home runs and 41 runs batted in.
In the offseason, the Braves signed veteran Kurt Suzuki to a one-year deal to pair with Flowers, giving the Braves more options going into this season. Flowers was named the starters and manager Brian Snitker said he would do the majority of the catching.
So far this year, Suzuki has caught the occasional off-day for Flowers and seems to be the personal catcher for knuckleballer RA Dickey. The Braves were hopeful Flowers could replicate his production from last year, and so far he has performed admirably.
Through 25 games, Flowers is hitting .369/.481/.446, along with one home run and 13 runs batted in. While just a small sample size, Flowers has continued where he left off last season. While he will not be able to maintain these numbers over a full season, right now, the Braves love the way the veteran is producing not only in the batters box, but behind the plate.
Even if Flowers eventually ends up hitting .270 on the season like in 2016, he will have provided everything the Braves have needed. Instead of a potential black hole at catcher, the Braves have a veteran who feels comfortable in Atlanta and could hold the position until the organization is ready to turn the position over to a younger player. While he may not be an All-Star, he is a safe, reliable veteran who is well liked in the clubhouse. This is one acquisition that continues to be a pleasant surprise for the Braves.