The Braves have signed veteran catcher Chris Stewart to a one-year major-league contract, per a club announcement on Wednesday. The contract is non-guaranteed according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David O’Brien and will pay him $575,000 if he makes Atlanta’s roster per USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale.
The reason for Stewart’s signing isn’t abundantly clear, as the Braves are returning a catching duo in Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki that was exceptionally productive last season. O’Brien wrote Wednesday that the move doesn’t change Flowers or Suzuki’s status and that Stewart was added simply to provide extra depth. Stewart, who turns 36 next week, is out of minor-league options and has too much big-league service time to be optioned without his consent anyway. Thus, unless either Flowers or Suzuki goes down before Opening Day, Atlanta will either have to carry three catchers to begin the season or designate Stewart for assignment at the conclusion of spring training. Since O’Brien reported that Stewart wouldn’t accept a minor-league deal, the chances of him reporting to Triple-A Gwinnett if he doesn’t make the Braves’ roster seem low.
Despite the fact that Stewart’s bigger than most catchers (6-foot-4 and 200 pounds), he’s generally regarded as a solid defender who does a good job of managing a staff. Those skills have kept him in the major leagues despite his lack of offensive production, as he’s posted a .230/.298/293 slash line with nine homers in 1,317 career plate appearances. He struggled significantly at the plate in 2017, hitting .183/.241/.221 with no homers in 144 PAs.