In the past week, the Chicago Cubs have been connected in rumors to Rangers starter Yu Darvish and catcher Jonathan Lucroy, so it should be no surprise to learn that the Rangers are getting the lay of the land in the Cubs’ farm system.
According to Evan Grant of the Dallas News, a “key Rangers evaluator” – aka a top scout/decision-maker – has been watching the Cubs’ AAA affiliate in Iowa. According to Grant, although the Cubs have shown at least some interest in Darvish, their greater focus on the Rangers might be Lucroy.
We certainly know that, in the pantheon of needs relative to costs for this Chicago Cubs team, a veteran back-up catcher probably slots in above another starting pitcher. Darvish would probably be of much greater than the impact of Lucroy, but the Cubs are arguably exposed to more risk on the catching side of things right now. Moreover, Darvish would cost a whole lot more.
But is Lucroy even the right fit for the Cubs?
Lucroy, 31, is in his walk year, and would thus be a pure rental for the Cubs. After five brilliant years in Milwaukee as a hitter and a receiver (Lucroy consistently rated as one of the top framers and defenders behind the plate), Lucroy was traded to the Rangers at the deadline last year, and, while he was good in the second half of 2016, he’s struggled mightily this season. Everything you’d fear about a catcher’s bat as he heads into his 30s has reared its head this year for Lucroy, whose groundball rate has exploded, hard contact rate has plummeted, HR/FB ratio has evaporated, and walk rate has plopped.
Every way you slice Lucroy’s offensive numbers this year, you get the same picture back: a guy who isn’t hitting the ball very hard. He’s making plenty of contact, mind you, but it’s terrible, terrible quality of contact.
And there’s no recent silver lining either – going all the way back to May 24, Lucroy has hit just .217/.271/.287. Yikes.
Here’s perhaps an even bigger problem: Lucroy rates at BP as the worst framing regular catcher in baseball this year.
What in the world is going on? Lucroy went from one of the most valuable overall players in baseball (not an exaggeration when you consider the catching skill and the contract) to one of the least valuable overall players in baseball (also not an exaggeration).
A one year blip or a catcher in serious decline? It’s hard to say, but if you were acquiring this guy, you’d be looking at him as nothing more than a light-hitting, defense-first veteran back-up. Unless, of course, you saw something that was causing the issue and felt a trade could somehow put him back on track.
For me, given the stark decline that has not been specifically attached to an injury, I’d be fine with the Cubs acquiring Lucroy as the veteran back-up, so long as the acquisition cost was minimal. At AAA Iowa there are a number of pieces the Rangers could be looking at who might work in a Lucroy deal, but given how truly awful he’s been, I’d be a little concerned if the Cubs parted with, say, a Jeimer Candelario or Mark Zagunis for him.
The Cubs have also been attached – quite frequently and loudly, if the industry is to be believed – to Tigers catcher Alex Avila. For a variety of reasons, Avila is at least as good of a fit as Lucroy, and probably offers more upside (and should cost more in trade). At least the Cubs can hold Lucroy out there as an option.
For now, Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini will continue to hold down the fort. You just don’t want to see Contreras get too beat up in the interim – remember, adding the veteran back-up is not about wanting to displace the two guys in the mix right now. Instead, it’s about depth and rest and protection.