By Nathan Petrashek
Jonathan Lucroy isn’t penciled in to start for the National League in this year’s All-Star Game, but it is nonetheless a nice showcase for baseball’s third-best catcher by fWAR (2.4). In addition to being highly skilled, Lucroy is tremendously affordable and under team control through 2017, so he’s not necessarily a one-shot rental for any team looking to acquire him as the Brewers rebuild.
There was speculation that the Brewers could lock up Lucroy to a long-term contract, but in light of Lucroy’s comments yesterday that there were no ongoing extension talks, that outcome seems unlikely. Although Lucroy doesn’t have much choice in the matter, he did reaffirm that he wants to play for a contender. As luck would have it, that’s likely to be the nature of the team to make a play for Lucroy. The Brewers are, by all accounts, demanding a king’s ransom for the 30-year-old catcher, so lets look at some possible landing spots.
- Texas Rangers. This has been the team most connected to Lucroy in the past few days. That’s no surprise; Houston is hot on the heels of the division-leading Rangers, who are middle-of-the-pack in terms of catcher fWAR and are currently leaning on journeyman Robinson Chirinos behind the plate. The Brewers reportedly had a cadre of scouts recently at the Rangers’ Class A affiliate. Probably not coincidentally, RHP Dillon Tate, MLB.com‘s #31 prospect, pitched in games on July 5th and 9th. The Rangers have another top RHP prospect, Luis Ortiz, in AA, but the Brewers will almost certainly check in on Texas’s top prospect, Joey Gallo, an MLB-ready 3B/OF whom the Brewers passed on in the 2012 draft in favor of Victor Roache.
- Boston Red Sox. The Brewers have already matched up with the Red Sox once this year, trading IF Aaron Hill for two mid-level Boston prospects. Boston is just two games back in the AL East, and has received terrible production from their catcher position, which currently consists of 27-year-old Sandy Leon and 35-year-old Ryan Hanigan. A rotation arm no doubt tops Boston’s want list, but if Boston is unable to improve its starting pitching through the trade market, it just might look to build on its offensive strength by adding Lucroy. Boston has plenty of highly ranked prospects that might interest the Brewers, including top-tier talent in IFs Yoan Moncada and Rafael Delvers.
If Boston is unwilling to offer up one of those elite prospects, the Brewers might consider RHP Anderson Espinoza (MLB.com’s #34 prospect), an international signee currently pitching in A ball who can hit 100 MPH with his fastball and is developing plus secondary pitches.
*UPDATE: Boston has since traded Espinoza to Oakland for Drew Pomeranz. The Red Sox have one other top-100 prospect, Andrew Benintendi, but being an OF (a position at which the Brewers are stocked), that may not be enough to move the needle. One other interesting player is Sam Travis, one of the 1B prospects in baseball. Travis is currently hitting .272/.332/.434 at AAA Pawtucket.
- Cleveland Indians. Despite leading their division, the Indians are dead last in baseball for catcher fWAR (-.9). The once highly touted Yan Gomes has been trending toward awful for a few years now, and this season he’s slashing just .166/.201/.315. The Indians’ offense hasn’t been terrible, but Lucroy certainly presents an upgrade at the plate. The Indians may be even more interested in pairing Lucroy’s elite pitching framing skills with their dominant rotation (Kluber, Carrasco, Salazar, Tomlin, Bauer). The top of Cleveland’s farm system is outfielder heavy, a position at which the Brewers already have ample minor-league talent. But there are some attractive options a bit further down on Cleveland’s prospect list, including the powerful lefthanded firstbaseman Bobby Bradley (MLB.com’s #83 prospect). The Indians’ system also boasts two high-end lefties pitching in the low minors: Brady Aiken, the unsigned #1 draft pick in 2014, and Justus Sheffield, a 2014 first-rounder.