I’ve long been greatly interested in Jonathan Lucroy, so now I find myself greatly interested in his situation with the Brewers. The Brewers, as you know, are bad, and they’re prepared for being bad, and though Lucroy is decidedly not bad, he’s got just two more seasons of control, and he’s coming up on 30 years old. It makes sense for Lucroy to be on the market, therefore, and this is something I wrote about a month ago for Fox. It’s a complicated spot for Milwaukee, given Lucroy’s up-and-down year and concussion, but Lucroy should be able to bring back a haul.
The team I’ve heard connected most often is the Rangers, who are a clear contender, but who could use some more affordable help. Robinson Chirinos is a fine-enough catcher, but Lucroy is better, and he could also spell Mitch Moreland at first when there’s a lefty on the mound. The Rangers would love to have Lucroy on what’s left of his cheap contract. The problem to this point: from what I’ve heard, the Brewers have been asking for entirely too much. The ask has been a non-starter, so Lucroy remains where he’s been.
Yet, let’s make an assumption: MLB executives are reasonable people. So they can arrive at reasonable deals, and the Brewers surely understand there’s some risk in keeping Lucroy around into the year. What this post is about, then, is trying to find a fit between the Rangers and the Brewers. It’s not like the Rangers are the only interested team, but they might be the most interested. Let’s run through some possibilities, together. How might the Rangers and Brewers be able to pull something off?
As a quick review, there was a brief window in which it looked like Lucroy might be the best catcher in the game. Then 2015 happened, and though Lucroy didn’t come apart, his bat looked a little worse, and his health was worse, and for whatever reason the numbers say his pitch-receiving was worse. So Lucroy’s stock has surely declined, but he hasn’t turned 30 yet, and over the next two years he’ll make a little under $10 million combined. The fact that Lucroy sustained a concussion is worrisome, but it’s a question mark, not a career-ender.
I’ve been thinking about Lucroy going to the Rangers for weeks, and one idea I can’t get out of my head is Jurickson Profar. I think I love it for the mutual risk: it’s not clear how good Lucroy’s going to be in 2016, but it’s even less clear how Profar’s going to come back from all his time off. Profar has barely played the last two years because of injuries. That’s a lot of critical lost time, but Profar turns just 23 next month, and only a few years back he was Baseball America’s No. 1 overall prospect. He also doesn’t have a clear line to playing time in Texas, with those in front of him locked in.
The Brewers do already have Orlando Arcia, but rebuilding teams can’t worry about logjams of talent. Maybe Profar would end up at second, or third. Mitigating Profar’s value somewhat is that he’s already exceeded two years of service, so he’s qualified for Super Two. He’d come as a four-year player, not a six-year player. But that’s a lot of time, and Profar’s cheap since he hasn’t taken a big-league at-bat in years.
Alas, as much as I love this idea, it’s also hard to envision. You think the Brewers would have a tough time potentially selling low on Lucroy? The Rangers might feel even worse about doing that with Profar. And at the same time, from the other end, it would be difficult to justify moving a player as valuable as Lucroy for a centerpiece who’s barely played in two years. Every trade for prospects is a risk, but Profar is an atypical risk, and even when he was healthy there was talk he was being overrated. I think that, on paper, Profar would be a fascinating core of the return for Lucroy. That would just require two front offices to make extremely difficult decisions. There are alternate, easier paths.
So let’s look elsewhere for potential centerpieces. There was a report not long ago that the Rangers and Marlins were talking about Marcell Ozuna, and Chi Chi Gonzalez. Gonzalez counts as an interesting prospect, since he’s a former first-rounder who only today turned 24. He gets talked about because of his polish, but I can’t see the Brewers being that intrigued. Gonzalez was only okay in Triple-A, and then in the majors, he finished with the very worst K-BB% out of every pitcher with at least 50 innings. It’s not all about the numbers, but the numbers are hard to ignore. Gonzalez was hittable, and his stuff seems to give him a low ceiling. He might just be a peripheral piece, and if anything the Rangers have too little rotation depth as it is.
Move on to the minors. Even after trading for Cole Hamels, the Rangers remain pretty deep. At the very top, we’re looking at Joey Gallo, but Gallo is almost certainly off-limits. You don’t trade a piece like Gallo for two years of a non-elite player, unless you really don’t think Gallo will ever make enough contact. Remember that Gallo is 22 and stronger than a dinosaur. He has improvements to make, but teams pretty much never trade 80-grade power when it’s this close to the majors. Teams pretty much never have 80-grade power this close to the majors.
After Gallo comes Nomar Mazara. Mazara just reached Triple-A as a 20-year-old, and he showed some improvement in his plate discipline. The Rangers have probably taken plenty of calls on Mazara, but the most valuable prospects are the upper-level hitting prospects, and Mazara isn’t that far behind Gallo. Again, I don’t think the Rangers would go for this, although the Brewers might try to insist.
Moving on down the line, you see Dillon Tate and Lewis Brinson. One of them is a pitcher and one of them is a center fielder, but they probably occupy the same sort of prospect tier. Tate was just selected fourth overall in the last draft, so the Rangers obviously like him, but there are some questions about whether he’ll start long-term. Brinson, meanwhile, is 21, and he’s overflowing with tools. He should be a real center fielder, and he has power, with the biggest question concerning the presence of swing-and-miss in his future. He dominated in High Desert, but you — literally you — could dominate in High Desert, and the numbers got worse as Brinson advanced. Big progress has been made, but it’s still unclear whether Brinson will take a good batting approach into the majors.
I think this is where an agreement could begin. Assuming that something built around Profar is too crazy, I think the Rangers and Brewers could build something around Tate or Brinson as a centerpiece. They’re both top-100 prospects, and maybe it would just be a matter of the Brewers preferring a pitcher or a hitter. They have needs basically everywhere, and both Tate and Brinson are still some time off regardless. They’re not low-level teenagers, but they’re not knocking on the door. They’d require patience.
And they’d require more to fill the return package out. The Rangers aren’t going to get Lucroy for Tate or Brinson, straight up. Could be, this is where Gonzalez would come in, if the Brewers have sufficient interest, and if the Rangers have sufficient doubt. Alternatively, you’re digging deeper into the system. The Brewers could take a health risk on Michael Matuella. Maybe they prefer someone like Andrew Faulkner. Eyeing the Brewers’ depth chart, I’m sure they’d like someone better than Will Middlebrooks at third base, so maybe they’d be interested in Patrick Kivlehan. The secondary stuff is important, but the centerpiece is the most important. If the teams could agree there, they should be able to find a solution.
So this is where I’ve gotten to. The Rangers make obvious sense for Jonathan Lucroy. The Rangers have players the Brewers would like. Building around Profar might be nuts, so I’ll eliminate that as a dream, but I could see an eventual compromise around Tate or Brinson, if the Brewers are willing to give up hope for Gallo or Mazara. Perhaps the Brewers just won’t get to that point, but I don’t think they want to chance it with Lucroy entering the season in Milwaukee. Not as long as the Rangers offer enough to make a trade make sense.
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