Since the hot stove is officially sizzling with the Winter Meetings upon us, a heightened level of attention will be placed on the Brewers potential trade targets. It seems the Brewers have fully embraced their rebuilding project. Doug Melvin did much of the heavy lifting already, trading away Carlos Gomez, Mike Fiers, Gerardo Parra, Aramis Ramirez, and Jonathan Broxton at the 2015 trade deadline — all of which signaled that the Brewers were finally ready to rebuild. Then, it was announced that Melvin would step into a lesser role within the organization, and the Brewers hired David Stearns from the Astros to be the club’s new general manager. Stearns’ former boss, Jeff Luhnow is reputed for engaging in one of the biggest organizational teardowns in recent memory. One, however, cannot necessarily come to the conclusion that Stearns will engage in the same sort of teardown. That being said, what seems to be certain is his inclination to engage in a rebuild. This was made even more evident by the trade of Francisco Rodriguez to the Tigers.
One of the Brewers biggest remaining trade chips is Jonathan Lucroy. He’s already been linked in a number of rumors. One of the biggest problems with Lucroy’s market, though, is the question surrounding his value. The Brewers’ backstop, after all, is coming off one of his worst seasons as a professional ballplayer. Many (including myself) have pointed to the number of injuries Lucroy suffered this year. He broke his left toe early in the season, which seemed to heavily affect his play. He did, however, put up better numbers near the end of the season, which could give several teams hope that he can bounce back in the future.
While Lucroy’s true talent level is somewhat in question, a number of folks still believe Lucroy can bring back a handsome return in the trade market. The main argument points to the weak free agent class for catchers. The idea is that since there is a lack of catchers in the free agent market, teams will therefore have to turn their heads to the Brewers if they want to acquire a catcher, thus giving the Brewers all of the leverage. While the premise of this argument seems to make sense, I disagree with it. The biggest and clearest problem with this form of argument is that it only takes into account the supply without considering the demand.
J.C. Bradbury, author of Hot Stove Economics: Understanding Baseball’s Second Season, mentioned a very similar myth among the baseball free-agent class when he used to write on his blog sabernomics. His main point was that a free agents market is not affected by the number of free agents on the market, which play the same position, “It seems logical that more free agents at a position will mean more options for teams. Players act as substitutes and thus a team can pit the players against one another to keep salaries down. The problem with this is that the free agents have come from somewhere. A high number of players looking for new teams means that there is a corresponding number of openings that teams need to fill.” So, for example, if Yadier Molina was to become a free agent in 2015, that would increase the demand market for catchers. There would be another team looking to add another catcher, which could prove to be beneficial for the Brewers. If the Cardinals deemed the price in free agency for Molina too high, then they would certainly ask about Lucroy. Even if they didn’t deem the price too high, it would be extremely naïve and foolish for them not to ask about Lucroy.
This sort of argument was met with some pushback, however. The main one being that if a player becomes a free agent then that doesn’t necessarily create an opening. A player could be waiting to come and take his place from the minor leagues, or the team could simply restructure the alignment of their roster. This is obviously true. But as J.C. Bradbury pointed out, “It has nothing to do with the number of free agents on the market.” The idea is that both the supply and the demand are linked. Not one is of vastly greater importance than the other. When one suggests there are no catchers on the free agent market, which raises Lucroy’s value, they are taking into consideration only the supply but at the same time ignoring the demand. This is, of course, a crucial mistake.
One must also not simply take into consideration the free-agent market or the trade market. One must take into consideration the entire market as that will play into the demand and the supply. Too often do I hear people refer to the trade market or the free-agent market as separate entities. This is simply not the case. The market is one singular being and all parts affect it.
I think, and from what I can tell, Jonathan Lucroy is in high demand. The main reason Lucroy is in high demand, however, is not because there are bad free agent catchers. It is rather due to his extremely team-friendly deal, and due to his history of great performance. After all, it was not so long ago that we were discussing Lucroy as an MVP candidate. (The way teams project him going forward will have a factor into the calculus.) The point is that Lucroy’s market will be determined by how teams value him and the position the teams that value him are in. Teams, for example, who expect to be contending will value Lucroy more than teams who aren’t. These factors will all play a role in what should be an active market for Lucroy. But what is most important is his value. If a team that expects to contend believes Lucroy can provide an upgrade to their catcher position, they become another team creating demand. The next part is pinning each team against one another and looking at who is going to value Lucroy more. Who is willing to give the Brewers the best return for their asset?