Jonathan Lucroy has kept the hot stove roaring into late January.
First, Baseball Prospectus launched their new defensive catching metrics, and we were all reminded –despite his down 2015 — Lucroy has a long and deeply established track record as one of the best pitch framers of the modern era. Then, Lucroy had the audacity to speak to a notion that every breathing Brewer fan with deductive reasoning skills had already concluded on their lonesome: that the best course of action for all parties involved would be for the Brewers to trade Lucroy to a contender.
Lucroy’s comments weren’t even divisive, aggressive, or inciteful in any way. In fact, I’d classify them as more “observant” than anything. Lucroy saw Aramis Ramirez get traded to a contender, he saw Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers get traded to a contender, he saw Gerardo Parra get traded to a contender, he saw Adam Lind get, well, he saw Adam Lind get traded. At this point, he’s one of the last remaining veterans in the clubhouse — it’s down to Lucroy the Undervalued and Braun the Untradeable, pretty much. Still, the thinking-from-our-gut bloc of Wisconsin sports fandom flew into a frothy rage at the comments. I wish I could say I was shocked.
Now that the bubbas have moved on (or back) to calling for Ted Thompson’s head on a pike, let’s move on to Lucroy’s inevitable moving-on. Smart money says he’s played his last game in a Milwaukee uniform, and even if that’s not the case, he’s a near-certainty to finish out 2016 for a different team. The only question is, where will his new home be?
9. Oakland A’s
— Casey Witt (@CaseyWitt_) January 25, 2016
Contender Status: Pfft. The A’s traded away Josh Donaldson and lost 94 games in 2015. This off-season they’ve focused primarily on improving their bullpen. The back-end of their starting rotation is pretty much no-man’s land, and their offense was just average last year. It’s entirely possible that the Brewers are closer to competing than they are. 1/5
Catching Situation: Oakland — and their fans — believe in Stephen Vogt.
But the numbers say that the A’s beloved catcher just might be better suited for life as, well, not a catcher. Only five catchers posted worse framing metrics in 2015, and he didn’t do anything positive to make up for it. All in all, his inability to frame pitches cost Oakland ten runs. Backup Josh Phegley put up plus defensive numbers through the minors, but these skills haven’t materialized in three years at the top level. The situation isn’t red-alert dire, but the A’s would be a much stronger team with a more skilled pitch-receiver. 4/5
Will They Meet the Asking Price? It’s not likely. Franklin Barreto is a future impact player and Sean Manaea has front-of-the-rotation upside, but the A’s acquired both within the past year, meaning it’s unlikely that Billy Beane even discusses either. Jacob Nottingham is the third-ranked prospect in the system, but he might be closer to Vogt than Lucroy, defensively. The A’s could probably put together an interesting package for Lucroy, but I’m not convinced that it would be a wise move on their part. 2/5
Overall: The A’s have inquired about Lucroy on multiple occasions this winter, and each time, they’ve come away aghast at Milwaukee’s asking price. It seems Billy Beane is interested in hustling the Stearns regime, and they seem to be having none of that. 7/15
8. Colorado Rockies
Contender Status: Like the A’s and Brewers, the Rockies lost 94 games last year. As a general rule, if you didn’t outdo the Brewers during that trainwreck of a season, you get a 1/5.
Catching Situation: The Rockies came into 2015 with Wilin Rosario as their first catcher on the depth chart and watched in amazement as he forgot how to hit. Before long, they had demoted Rosario and turned to journeyman Nick Hundley. To his credit, Hundley posted some of the best offensive numbers of his career, but he headed to the disabled list in July to be replaced by Michael McKenry, who is no longer on the roster. Prospect Tom Murphy is expected to push for the job in 2016 — the fact that he wasn’t able to force his way to any more than 39 plate appearances in 2015 as the Rockies ran out their motley crew of journeymen behind the dish is … less than inspiring. 4/5
Will They Meet the Asking Price? The smart money says “no chance.” But this is the Rockies, so that doesn’t mean much. This team traded for Jose Reyes last July and just recently signed our old friend Gerardo Parra. If they decide to enter the fracas, they will have plenty of worthwhile assets to bid with.
David Dahl and Raimel Tapia are two of the best-hitting outfielders in minor league ball right now. Jeff Hoffman and Jonathan Gray are young arms with lots of potential, and that potential is going to waste in such a volatile environment for pitchers. Ryan McMahon could be Milwaukee’s slugging third baseman of the future. And Murphy would probably come back as part of the deal. While he’s never going to be Lucroy defensively, he’s six years younger, comes with a full six years of team control, and his offensive ceiling is pretty similar. 3/5
Overall: The Rockies certainly have enough assets to acquire Lucroy. And it’s an intriguing thought exercise, especially when you factor in Colorado’s tendency to favor power and groundball pitchers. Lucroy’s elite pitch-framing skills would maximize the effectiveness of these types of playere. Because of that, he might bring more added value to Colorado than any other franchise in theory. But that’s all it is, an intriguing thought exercise. As far as we know, the Rockies haven’t even called to check up on Lucroy. 8/15
Odds: Longer Than Long
7. Miami Marlins
I’d really like to see the #Marlins trade for Jonathan Lucroy. A player or two away from being real threat.
— Sean Boswell (@Sean_Boswell1) January 18, 2016
Contender Status: It’s easy to look at the surface, see a 91-loss team, and write them off without a second thought. But underneath that veneer lurks a sleeper team for 2016. Last year’s Marlins were without Jose Fernandez for most of the season, and of their other pitchers only Carter Capps was worth more than a single win. Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton represent the best hope for the franchise right now, and they are in the major leagues. For them to go for it makes logical sense. Still, they lost 91 games last year. They’re fishing for miracles, even if they’ve got a little bit better bait than the prior two teams. 3/5
Catching Situation: J.T. Realmuto’s rookie season can be accurately described as halfway decent — the backstop accumulated exactly half a win. That was no thanks to his defense, as Realmuto was the second-worst catcher in the league by defensive runs. Since Realmuto is a converted middle infielder who didn’t catch until the professional ranks, you can expect that he’ll improve on that performance. And in the meantime, his bat is obviously enough to keep him employable. But the team’s pitching woes would be helped greatly by a more skilled pitch framer behind the dish. 3/5
Will They Meet the Asking Price? Can they meet the asking price? You’d be surprised. The Marlins have an admittedly weak minor-league system, but Realmuto — who will be 25 years old on Opening Day — and outfielder Marcell Ozuna are two young, affordable pieces with upside and big-league chops. The Marlins have shopped Ozuna for a starter this off-season, to no avail, and he would instantly slot in as the Brewers’ starting center fielder. Throw in a high-upside farm bat — Isael Soto or Stone Garrett would fit the bill — and you’ve actually got a pretty decent value package for Lucroy. The Fish are still really thin on the farm, though. 3/5
Overall: They’re a little bit closer to Earth than the Colorado possibility, but given their roster, the Marlins would probably be better served by waiting to see if they’re good enough to hang in the National League East before they decide to go for it, or sell it off and rebuild. 9/15
6. Kansas City Royals
Contender Status: Defending World Series Champions. If I was going to bust out a 6 out of 5 at any point on this list, it was going to be here. Regardless, they score a perfect 5/5.
Catching Situation: Salvador Perez is established as the starting catcher in K.C. He’s a good power hitter and has always had a reputation as a sterling defensive catcher. Indeed, when it comes to blocking pitches and throwing out would-be basestealers, Perez is a competent backstop. But his pitch-framing leaves much to be desired. Lucroy would undoubtedly make a great team even better. The problems are that Perez would not willingly take a demotion, his bat isn’t good enough to play at first base/DH, and he’s not the type of player the Brewers would target. Though he’s the same age as Realmuto, he’s got far less projectable growth at this stage of the game. For the Royals to acquire Lucroy would necessitate a three, or four-team trade. This isn’t impossible, but do the Royals want to upgrade their catching defense badly enough to spearhead something like that? 2/5
Will They Meet the Asking Price? Kyle Zimmer and Ashe Russell are both potential front-line starters, but since Raul Mondesi would be a redundancy for the Brewers, the rest of the options are pretty limited. Teenage catching prospect Chase Vallot or reliever Miguel Almonte could work to round out a deal. Again, all signs point towards a three-team deal making the most sense here. 3/5
Overall: Are Lucroy and Kansas City a perfect fit for one another? Absolutely. But when you add in a third, and even fourth, team to the equation it becomes much harder to get everyone to agree. This deal sounds great in theory, but making it work isn’t exactly an easy task. 10/15
T-4. Boston Red Sox
With Dombrowski taking over in Boston, I have to wonder if a Lucroy for Swihart+ deal could be worked out. — RD Topp (@RDTopp) August 20, 2015
Contender Status: It doesn’t quite seem fair to give them a different score than the Marlins. Both teams are in the same boat. Even though last year’s record wasn’t inspiring, the pieces are in play to turn 2016 into a renaissance year. Boston’s problematic bullpen has been completely rebuilt, and David Price is on board to anchor the starting rotation. Last year was bad, but the Red Sox are better than they showed. 3/5
Catching Situation: Blake Swihart had a nice little rookie year, and he’s capable of doing quite a bit more. But behind the plate, Swihart was only marginally less bad than Salvador Perez — negative 6.3 defensive runs against negative 6.5. Most teams would be more than happy to sit around and wait for Swihart to finish developing, but the Red Sox doing something grand here would not be out of character. 3/5
Will They Meet the Asking Price? If they decide they want Lucroy, there’s not a shadow of a doubt. Swihart represents arguably the best young catcher the Brewers could start over with. Plus, the Red Sox have one of the best farm systems in the game. They could pair Swihart with third baseman Rafael Devers and it would be impossible for David Stearns to say no. 5/5
Overall: Boston is the first club that really looks likely to make a run at Lucroy. Their 2015 season was a disaster of epic proportions. In hindsight, it’s easy to see how discontinuity combined with subpar performance behind the dish could have played a major role in last season’s collapse. Lucroy instantly makes the new-look pitching staff much, much better. 11/15
T-4 Tampa Bay Rays
Contender Status: The Rays beat the Red Sox by two games last year, but the Red Sox signed onetime Rays ace David Price. If there’s an edge here between them, it’s slim. Too slim for a five-point scale to reflect. 3/5
Catching Situation: Well, there’s Rene Rivera. He hit .178 after the Rays traded for him. Curt Casali, acquired in the David Price trade from Detroit, hit ten home runs in limited action. Plus there’s the newly acquired Hank Conger, who has never caught 100 games in a season but posted three wins for the 2013 Angels. Squint really hard and Casali looks like he might continue to provide power and defense without making an offensive number of easy outs, but even at his best, you’d rather have Lucroy. And it isn’t even close. 5/5
Will They Meet the Asking Price? Well, there’s certainly options within the Tampa farm system. Blake Snell, Brent Honeywell, and Taylor Guerrieri are all future big-league starters. Jacob Faria fits into that group too, just a few years back on the aging curve. Richie Shaffer is a promising young power hitter. But if it comes down to it, and they both lay their cards down on the table, the Red Sox have more to play with. 3/5
Overall: For Tampa, it is partially about getting better and partially about keeping the Red Sox from getting any better. Because the division rivals are competing against one another for a fininte resource, it’s not a stretch to say that one (or both) will be willing to overpay. 11/15
3. Washington Nationals
Wilson Ramos should be better than a .258 OBP but still think that #Nationals will attempt to acquire someone like Lucroy to start at C
— Sam Alaska (@SAlaskaBarstool) January 13, 2016
Contender Status: The Nationals were supposed to win the NL East without a challenge. Instead, they barely topped .500. But they hung tight in the divisional race until September, and they’re certainly good enough on paper to contend in 2016 — just like they were a year ago. 4/5
Catching Situation: Given a career-high 504 plate appearances, Wilson Ramos posted an on-base percentage of .258 in 2015. Ramos’ approach has fallen apart since 2013, and the isolated power mark of .128 he gets for it isn’t particularly great, either. The last thing a National League team needs is a catcher who essentially serves as the second dead spot in the lineup. 5/5
Will They Meet the Asking Price? Now that they’ve been spurned by Yoenis Cespedes, they just might have no choice. David Stearns should try his absolute hardest to get Lucas Giolito, but the odds of that happening are not favorable. Giolito’s ceiling is as high as any pitcher in baseball, and he has shredded the minor leagues since returning from Tommy John surgery. In the end, Washington might be another team that benefits from adding a third party to the mix. 3/5
Overall: The Nationals couldn’t quite get Yoenis Cespedes, and with that Lucroy likely slides to the top of Washington’s wish list for the offseason. Boy, if they could be talked into giving up Giolito… 12/15
2. Chicago Cubs
Contender Status: Arguably the World Series favorite coming into Spring Training. Of course, the Cubs are also an in-division rival, and we really don’t want Lucroy to be hurting the New Brewers by the time they’re contending. I’m assessing a one-point penalty for divisional familiarity. 4/5
Catching Situation: Kyle Schwarber was a rookie phenom, but he’s more “emergency catcher” than anything. Miguel Montero and David Ross are journeymen who aren’t going to kill your team, but could be easily replaced if something truly competent came along. In fact, finding that “something” might be the key to winning the first World Series in over a century of franchise history. 5/5
Will They Meet the Asking Price? Keep in mind, due to the divisional proximity, the Brewers are going to be asking for the moon here. They’ve been asking for a lot with everybody else, but that will get dialed up to eleven with Chicago.
Still, the Cubs’ farm system is among the best and deepest in all of baseball. Dan Vogelbach, CJ Edwards, Billy McKinney — just south down I-94 is a treasure trove of farm-system riches. Even with the raised in-division pricing the Cubs can put together an acceptable offer. 4/5
Overall: It’s not entirely rare to see Brewers/Cubs trades, but this would take the cake as the biggest since Milwaukee joined the National League. With Lucroy behind the dish, the Cubs would be heavy National League favorites — all the more reason to overcharge them, if you ask me. 13/15
1. Texas Rangers
Crank up the Lucroy-Rangers rumor mill again: ESPN says Texas is top five destination for Brewers catcher https://t.co/vunSN3Jrt2
— Milwaukee Daily (@MilwaukeeDaily) January 21, 2016
Contender Status: Coming off of a playoff berth, with the talent to do it again and again, over and over. 5/5
Catching Situation: Chris Gimenez and Robinson Chirinos are back from 2015. Neither of these guys are bad, but they probably shouldn’t be starting any playoff games. The Rangers also signed Michael McKenry, a quad-A backstop from Colorado’s roster, and who will make the cut is yet to be determined. 5/5
Will They Meet the Asking Price? The Brewers have insisted that Texas include Joey Gallo in any Lucroy deal — Gallo’s power tool might be on par with Giancarlo Stanton. The Rangers have been hesitant to include Gallo, but might instead be able to construct a deal centered around outfielder Lewis Brinson. Long thought to be a “high ceiling if he hits” type of prospect, Brinson slashed .337/.416/.682 at High-A, then held his own to the tune of .291/.328/.545 at Double-A despite being merely 21 years old. Don’t get me wrong, I love Joey Gallo, but I love Brinson too, and either way I think the Brewers would be getting a true star. 4/5
Overall: There’s a reason that such a plurality of the Lucroy rumors up to now have centered around Texas. They’re a playoff team, looking to improve. Their farm system is flush with talent. They want to win now. The catcher position is a huge black hole. The Rangers remain the most sensible destination for Jonathan Lucroy. 14/15