The Braves signed veteran catcher Chris Stewart to a one-year major league contract Wednesday, a non-guaranteed deal that provides more depth at a key position on a team that’s counting heavily on the development of its young pitchers.
Stewart, who’ll turn 36 next week, is a quality defensive catcher and pitch-framer who has a .230 career batting average with nine homers in 449 games over parts of 11 major league seasons, the past four with the Pirates.
The Braves opened a spot on the 40-man roster by putting rehabbing reliever Grant Dayton (elbow surgery) on the 60-day disabled list. Their hope is that Stewart would accept an assignment to Triple-A after spring training if there are no injuries and he’s not needed on the major league roster.
“It’s not a clean fit right now; we’ll see how things develop,” Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said, emphasizing that there had been no change in the status of Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki as the team’s primary catchers. “If there’s no spot for (Stewart) at the end of six weeks, hopefully he’ll be willing to stay with us in some capacity.”
The Braves also signed veteran catcher Rob Brantly to a minor league deal in December with an invitation to spring training, so now they have two experienced catchers behind their regular duo if there are any problems this spring with Flowers, 32, or Suzuki, 34.
The Braves would’ve preferred to sign Stewart to a minor league deal, but he wanted a major league contract or else would’ve looked elsewhere for a job.
Flowers had surgery on his left wrist and forearm after the season, but is fully recovered and has no restrictions in spring training. Anthopoulos reiterated when asked about Flowers’ surgery that it had no influence on the decision to sign Stewart.
“No, zero,” the GM said. “That’s why I wanted to make it clear. He wasn’t coming on a minor league deal, so this is what it took to come here.”
Stewart hit a career-worst .183 with no homers and a .463 OPS in 144 plate appearances over 51 games last season with Pittsburgh, but was a productive hitter as recently as 2015, when he hit .289 with eight doubles in 159 at-bats. In 2014, he hit a career-best .294 with a .362 on-base percentage in 154 plate appearances.
His offense was not the attraction for the Braves.
“We like that he can frame and receive,” Anthopoulos said. “His makeup, clubhouse (reputation) – especially with all these (young) arms in camp. If things don’t work out, if he doesn’t make the team, hopefully he’ll want to stay.”