When the Chicago White Sox released backup catcher (and former Cub) Jonathan Lucroy yesterday, Brett immediately wondered if the Cubs would come calling given Austin Romine’s injury (knee) and the apparent reluctance to just hand the backup job to rookie P.J. Higgins.
As it turns out, he was right and then some.
Bruce Levine is now reporting that the Cubs have interest in not one, but two free agent backup catcher types here at the end of spring training. The first, as expected, is Jonathan Lucroy. The second is Tony Wolters. Levine takes the rumor a step further, adding that Wolters is “more likely to be signed” because of how his left-handed bat compliments the right-handed starter Willson Contreras. (UPDATE: Sounds like it’ll be Wolters. The rest of the original post follows.)
It’s not clear if that last part is Levine’s own speculation or something he’s actually hearing, though I would find it odd if any sort of long-term fit was part of the calculus here. Ideally, Romine shouldn’t be out that long, and you’d think Lucroy’s familiarity with the organization might otherwise tip the scales in his favor. Hopefully, that’s not a sign that Romine’s injury might keep him out longer than otherwise expected.
Wolters, 28, is going to be the better defensive catcher this season, but his offense has been about as bad as it gets in the big leagues … and he’s actually been split-neutral for his career, with a 57 wRC+ against both lefties and righties (so his lefty bat is … not really much of a factor). Lucroy, 34, is much older and didn’t really play in 2020, but he’s a probably a better bet to actually contribute with the bat whenever he does play and should be perfectly passable behind the plate. And, again, he should have some familiarity with the organization and some of the pitchers/coaches because of his stint here at the end of 2019.
As for the relative upgrade over Higgins, Brett had thoughts on that yesterday that still apply:
Is Lucroy a real upgrade over Higgins? Hard to say given that neither played in 2020 and Higgins is still a real unknown. I will admit that there have been moments this spring when Higgins simply did not look like a big league catcher behind the plate, but maybe that was just a matter of “spring training stuff” and getting to know the pitchers a bit more.
Either way, tomorrow is the last day of the “offseason” with Opening Day set for Thursday. If something is going to happen with a free agent, it’ll be very soon.
(Oh, and just in case anyone was wondering: There’s really no reason or chance that top prospect Miguel Amaya would fill this vacancy. Consistent at-bats in the minors is more important than the occasional start in the big leagues (even if that does, itself, have some value). His time will come soon enough, we’re just not there yet).