Fox Sports Detroit has recently released a piece focusing on the Detroit Tigers approaching the Trade Deadline, and I’ll freely admit that it took a stance I did NOT see coming: There’s speculation that the Tigers may be seeking Milwaukee Brewers’ catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
Now, before I get into this, I have to say that I’m in Team Sell at the deadline – the way this team is currently constructed (not to mention managed), there’s no way they can be a viable threat in the postseason. The starting pitching is shallow, the bullpen is either not good or mismanaged, the offense can go ice cold, and the defense isn’t as good as it should be. Frankly, I think dealing K-Rod, Saltalamacchia, and Mike Aviles would net a nice return without really damaging the nucleus of the team. That being said, holy **** they have to get Lucroy!
This guy isn’t just a good catcher, he may be the single best all-around catcher in Major League baseball. Let’s break it down:
Lucroy struggled mightily in 2015, desperately trying to recapture a form that saw him net WARs of 3.5, 3.4, and 6.1 from 2012-2014. When healthy from 2012-2016, Lucroy’s wOBA has never dropped below .345, nor has his ISO dipped below .164 in that span. These are crazy-good numbers for a catcher, and his consistency lets one imagine at least another 2-3 season of stellar production at his position.
In fact, Lucroy may be becoming a better hitter now than he’s ever been: he’s got a wRC+ of 122 through 84 games, he’s walking consistently, hitting with great power, and all of this on a very scatter-shot Brewers team that features Ryan Braun and two Astros castoffs. AND he’s doing this in the NL Central, which boasts some completely unfair starters and bullpens.
Aside from getting on base and hitting dongs frequently, the dude can even swipe a base from time to time, nabbing 4 already this year.
This is where Lucroy really shines: this guy has been the best defensive catcher who isn’t a Molina for the last several seasons. He can call a game incredibly well, block pitches well, frame pitches well, guard the plate, and has thrown out 39% of would-be base stealers this season….which is better than Alex Avila’s career best.
In fact, in a fantastic piece by Just a Bit Outside, super-smart baseball wizard Eno Sarris examines players who are good at both framing and blocking, with pretty amazing results:
Loogit that! Jonny Lucroy, best in the bigs at framing bad pitches…which is probably INCREDIBLY useful when half a team’s pitchers are booger-eating dingleberries.
Well holy cow, he’s also top-3 league-wide in blocking! Which, again, probably comes in especially handy when half a team’s pitchers wouldn’t know a strike zone from hippo’s brown eye.
This is where things start to get very interesting. Spotrac takes a look at the incredible extension the Brewers signed him to back in the day, and it’s favorable to the team to the bitter end:
His current season payment of $4.25 would be prorated to the rest of this season, and the team option for next season would again render him criminally underpaid if he were to keep up his metronome-like consistency. After that, dude’s a 32-year-old unrestricted free agent catcher. That just means that this season and next are SO DAMN VALUABLE, so we’d have to examine what Lucroy would command on the trade market.
This is where things get pretty murky. Bless You Boys put out a piece looking at the top Tigers prospects that could be dealt this year to acquire God knows what, and the list — while accurate and insightful — makes my stomach turn at how pragmatic it is.
Lucroy’s current value — when taking into account how well he’s playing, how good his contract is, and how many teams need to upgrade at catcher — is sky-high. Milwaukee can easily request 1-2 good prospects and perhaps a Major-League caliber player.
The Tigers may have to part with potentially Steven Moya, Matt Boyd, and perhaps even Joe Jimenez, or some combination of the three….or an additional player. Texas, Houston, and Boston could REALLY use a quality catcher to give them a big boost to a League Championship series, and Tigers fans know that Dave Dombrowski will sell anything that isn’t nailed down in the minors to get what he wants. The fact that the Rangers and Astros have such an incredible farm system also works against the Tigers.
However, with all the evidence pointing at just how good Lucroy is, and how much he can elevate a team both offensively and defensively, it would honestly be in Detroit’s best interest to make a play for him; he’s a superior player at a very tough-to-fill position. Acquire him, extend him, and don’t be afraid to give him starts at first and at DH.