Without waiver trades available this year, the Cubs nearly ran into the perfect storm nightmare scenario that everyone fretted about when the Trade Deadline change was made: what if you suffer a serious injury just a day or two after the Trade Deadline?
To be sure, I say “nearly” for two reasons: (1) although no one can replace Willson Contreras, who injured his hamstring, the Cubs did have one of the best back-ups in the game available in Victor Caratini; and (2) a solid veteran back-up became available as a free agent just as the Cubs needed him.
That’s some good luck right there, even as we wish Contreras a speedy and healthy recovery (plausibly by mid-September).
So, Jonathan Lucroy is now a Cub, and although he comes with a big name, I’d expect him to see not more than two of the five starts through the rotation, if both he and Caratini are healthy.
You are reminded how hard it can be for a catcher, in particular, to come late into the mix and get up to speed with the individual pitchers, the pitching infrastructure, the scouting reports, etc., and the Cubs have been twice lucky on that front: first, with Taylor Davis being able to slide in, and now with Lucroy.
“We had Maldonado traded away,” Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks told Cubs.com of the good fortune. “So yeah, to kind of just fall into that, have a guy available of [Lucroy’s] stature, I think it’s unbelievable. To have him be able to come in, obviously, it’s going to be a pretty easy transition, I think. He’s a guy that’s been around, knows what he’s doing and he knows some of the guys on this team.”
Thanks to the Rangers connection, for example, Lucroy has already worked a good bit with Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, and Derek Holland. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him right there starting tonight and catching Hamels.
Maddon says Lucroy will be with the team tomorrow in Cincy. Went on to say He’s done this division in the past, been an All Star, can swing the bat, Hamels played with him in Texas & speaks very highly of him…we’re excited to get a guy like that. #Cubs
— Kelly Crull (@Kelly_Crull) August 7, 2019
Add in the fact that Lucroy has been a member of several teams – this will be his third time changing teams midseason in the last four years – and he should be fairly accustomed to this adjustment.
For what it’s worth, if you’re remembering that horrible home plate collision that broke Lucroy’s nose and concussed him (and got Jake Marisnick suspended), Lucroy is apparently suffering no ill-effects. That said, he’s played just one game – a week ago – since the early-July injury, thanks to the recovery and then DFA limbo. Hopefully he’s rested, refreshed, and not rusty.
What to expect from Lucroy? Well, again, you can’t expect the great bat and elite framing like in his younger days with the Brewers. Instead, Lucroy is now an average bat for a backup catcher, which is to say about 15-20% worse than league average – he won’t absolutely kill you, but it’s not going to be a boost (and certainly not when compared to Contreras). He doesn’t strike out much, so at least he can give you some contact, and a little different look for the opposing pitcher.
Defensively, he’s now below average back there, rating pretty darn poorly in the non-framing aspects of catching, and significantly worse than Contreras. As for framing, again, Lucroy used to be super elite, and now he’s solidly below average. He’s not nearly as bad as Contreras has rated, but both BP and FanGraphs have him among the bottom tier. Still, though, it’s technically an upgrade on that side of things.
Overall, Lucroy is probably a touch better for the Cubs than Davis would have been, particularly when you factor in some of the unseen value in getting a guy in the door with as much experience as Lucroy. But even if it were just a lateral move, it still would be worth picking up Lucroy so that the Cubs have three usable catchers instead of just two.
Hopefully, mostly, you just don’t even notice Lucroy is here. He calls a good game, works well enough back there not to stand out, and gets a few hits.
Just for fun:
#Cubs catchers under Joe Maddon:
Welington Castillo, Taylor Teagarden, David Ross, Kyle Schwarber, Tim Federowicz, Willson Contreras, René Rivera, Miguel Montero, Alex Avila, Chris Gimenez, Taylor Davis, Victor Caratini, Martín Maldonado & now Jonathan Lucroy
— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) August 7, 2019