Saturday night, everybody thought Jonathan Lucroy was on his way to Cleveland, dealt in exchange for four exciting young prospects. But come Sunday morning, Lucroy had exercised the no-trade clause in his contract, putting an end to a move to the first place Cleveland squad despite his repeated desires to play for a championship contender.
Reportedly, there were two main issues driving Lucroy’s desire to veto the trade. First of all, Lucroy wanted Cleveland to promise not to pick up his $5.25 million team option for the 2017 season, and secondly, he wanted a promise that he, not Yan Gomes, would be Cleveland’s starting catcher next season if that option was picked up. Cleveland declined on both fronts, and thus Lucroy remained a Brewer, at least for another day.
Beyond his obvious talent, Lucroy’s contract is one of the reasons he is such a sought after target in this year’s trade market. He will earn just about $2 million for the rest of 2016 and has a team option for next year at a bargain basement $5.2 million. Lucroy has already been worth 3.0 WARP this season and is projected to finish at 4.6, making him an All-Star level performer at a utility man price.
Lucroy signed a five-year, $11 million contract in spring training of 2012, after he hit an underwhelming .265/.313/.391 in 2011’s National League Central championship season. He had yet to develop into the MVP candidate we’ve seen him play like in 2014 and 2016, but his defense and youth combined to make him a valuable asset for the Brewers. The Brewers were betting on Lucroy to stay relatively healthy and continue improving. Lucroy, in exchange for his signature, received financial security and certainty at the expense of the chance to earn bigger contracts in salary arbitration over these past few seasons.
For roughly $9 million, Lucroy has provided the Brewers with 34.1 WARP, which even by the most conservative estimates comes out to over $150 million worth of value for the club. A big reason the Brewers — and the many teams who have profited in big ways off similarily negotiated pre-arbitration contracts — is the unbalancd stakes at play in the negotiation. Lucroy was under the Brewers’ control for six years no matter what happened. On Lucroy’s side, however, he had to weigh the possibility of injury or an otherwise unexpected sharp decline prematurely ending his career before he made it to his first arbitration season, his first chance to make substantially more than baseball’s $424,000 minimum salary in 2011.
The no-trade clause Lucroy negotiated into his contract — that he earned through his minor league and major league performance through 2011, and his potential for growth — was one of his only ways to exert control over his career. He needed that to ensure he was in the best possible situation not only to play for a winner, but to set himself up in the best possible way for the big payday he delayed by agreeing to that contract in 2012.
With all that in mind, knowing that Cleveland wasn’t willing to decline his option or guarantee him the starting job in 2017, I find it very difficult to argue with Lucroy’s decision to veto the trade. His talent is so obvious that there will surely be other contending suitors to make a compelling offer (perhaps before this post even goes live).
It’s unfortunate for the Brewers, who have a short window with which to complete another trade. But it’s not Lucroy’s job to look out for the future of this club, and David Stearns and company knew heading into negotations that Cleveland was on Lucroy’s no-trade list and that a veto was a possibility.
Given Lucroy’s obvious talent, though, I don’t think Brewers fans even need to worry about this decision hurting the club’s future. Somebody will almost certainly make the Brewers a great offer, and even if they don’t, they have the full winter and another summer with which to figure out Lucroy’s future, whether via trade or contract extension. Lucroy exercised understandable control over his future with this decision, and the Brewers still have ample opportunity to make the most of the situation.