The Milwaukee Brewers are in full rebuild mode, which was evident well before the club dealt former All-Star shortstop Jean Segura in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks which landed them a package of infielder Aaron Hill, pitcher Chase Anderson, and prospect Isan Diaz. Milwaukee took on half of Hill’s salary to get Diaz, an intriguing 19-year-old infielder who put up excellent numbers in rookie ball in 2015.
The club is coming off an abysmal 94 loss season, so new general manager David Stearns’ priority is to right the ship for the future. He’s dealt Segura, Francisco Rodriguez, and Adam Lind among his many veteran dealings, but one name which keeps generating interest around the league has been catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
Lucroy said that basically, he’s not interested in being part of a rebuild, and the catcher would fetch Milwaukee their biggest return on the trade market this offseason. The Brewers would be silly not to trade him given the interest in him and his insanely affordable contract.
There’s little doubt Lucroy is among the best catchers in the game, even if he’s coming offf a down year. The 29-year-old was an MVP candidate in 2014, but he experienced some bumps in 2015. He missed over a month of the season with a broken toe and appeared in only 103 games. His numbers were down across the board as he only managed seven home runs and 43 RBI while batting .264 with a .326 OBP, a far cry from his 2015 results – but injuries, especially to catchers, can deflate hitting stats.
In the past, he’s drawn praise for his excellent receiving skills, but as FanGraphs notes, he’s totally fallen off a cliff in that regard. Jeff Sullivan wrote there’s still a chance he can rebound, but his elite ability at framing pitches is probably over.
Catchers who have declined before haven’t often bounced back, and Lucroy himself is among them. You could also think about Brian McCann and Ryan Hanigan, who once looked like framing wizards, but who now appear mostly average. We’re still learning about this as a skill. Maybe some peaks just happen to be awful short.
Lucroy may not be the player he used to be, but he’s still fairly young and at $4.25 million next season and $5.25 in 2017, he presents excellent value for a starting catcher. His market should be hot, as good starting catchers are always in demand.
Who would be interested in his services? The Washington Nationals seem like a perfect fit. Wilson Ramos struggled offensively as the full-time catcher, and the Nats, who are trying to refresh the franchise, would benefit from adding Lucroy. The problem with a potential move is Lucroy has the Nationals on his no-trade list.
Without knowing what other teams are on Lucroy’s no-trade list, it’s hard to peg a potential destination, but teams like the Colorado Rockies, Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, and Los Angeles Dodgers could all use upgrades behind the plate, though the Rockies and Mariners likely won’t be contenders this year and the Rangers and Dodgers haven’t exactly been jonesing to trade high-end prospects lately. Two weeks ago, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports wrote a major-league source told him the Brewers asking price was “too high,” which isn’t surprising given his low cost and high skill level.
Milwaukee needs to add prospects now, but it wouldn’t hurt the franchise if they held on to Lucroy, let him rebuild his trade value throughout the first half of 2016, and dealt him during the trade deadline or next offseason. No matter what, it seems like his day in a Brewers uniform are numbered – it’s more a matter of “when” and not “if” the team sends him packing to a new club..