The Texas Rangers have slowly slipped away from playoff contention, meaning the market to sell off their veterans has grown. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy becomes a free agent at the end of the season, so can the team do with him?
When the Texas Rangers made a deal to acquire catcher Jonathan Lucroy in the middle of last season, the thought was that he’d come to stay a while. However, the Astros have a strangle-hold on first place in the AL West and hopes of a wild card berth have grown slim.
Lucroy’s contract ends after this season, so Texas has some options with him. They can try and re-sign him, let him walk at the end of the year, or trade him now for some club-controlled prospects. All three options come with their own risks and rewards, so which looks like the best move?
Keeping him around
Obviously, the first option the Rangers have is to keep him around. With another 60+ games to go on the schedule, Texas could still get a lot out of the 31-year-old. He works well with pitchers and (usually) brings solid offense to the plate.
Lucroy’s power numbers have been a bit down this season, but he’s a two-time all-star and one of the game’s better backstops. He’s an influential veteran for the club and could still do some great work in leading the younger guys.
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They could try and make a deal with him in the offseason, but he is going to ask for way more than his current $5.25 million that he makes this year. For comparison’s sake, Giants catcher Buster Posey is a year younger than Lucroy and has a contract for $21.4 per season through 2021.
Lucroy is still a notch or two below Posey, but he’ll probably ask for something in that ballpark. I’m betting his asking starts around $17 million per year for five years. He’ll get it, too as a proven ballplayer that still has a some good durability left in him.
If the Rangers can get some high profile prospects in return for them, then they may want Lucroy to stick around.
Of course, the big risk comes with him walking at the end of the year. If the Texas Rangers front office doesn’t bring in a few pieces that would mean competing this year or next year, I’d say the odds are pretty high he bolts for a contender.
Letting him walk
In this scenario, the Rangers lose. That is, unless they find a way to win the World Series this season. Short of that, getting nothing for Lucroy in the offseason would be a waste.
So, there really isn’t much to discuss about keeping him around without re-signing him. At this point, the odds show that they’ll trade him before this season’s deadline. So, what can Jon Daniels and company expect in return?
Trading him away
Any trade talk this season should begin and end with pitching. You can’t build a successful team in the majors without a solid pitching staff. Whether they get some close-to-big-league-ready starters or a young hard-throwing closer, they need pitching. You can never have too much.
So, this means the Rangers need to look at contending clubs that A) need a catcher and B) have a pitcher that’s ready to take to the bigs. Which teams does that leave them with?
The Indians could use a catcher immediately. Yan Gomes has under-performed for them and with their great relief staff, Lucroy would come in and work easily with them. Progressive Field is pretty similar in build to Globe Life Park and he’d find himself back up in the northern midwest like he was with Milwaukee.
In return, the Rangers should ask for right-handed pitcher Triston McKenzie. The 19-year-old is only about a year or so from being MLB-ready and has a nice fastball with a really great curve. Most scouts have him pegged as a frontline starter, making him very valuable to a team like Texas. The Rangers likely couldn’t get him with Lucroy alone, but I believe there’s a deal to be had there. Never mind the irony, either of him ending up in Cleveland, where he nearly wound up last season.
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Arizona finds themselves a game up in the National League Wild Card race, holding down the first spot. Jeff Mathis currently starts at catcher for them, but they’re not very pleased with how he’s played. He has batted just .196 with an awfully low .243 OBP. As much as Lucroy has underperformed with Texas this season, he’d be a gigantic upgrade for the Diamondbacks.
As for what they have to offer, left-hander Anthony Banda is their number one pitching prospect. He’s had a rough season with AAA Reno this year, but some experts believe that there’s a high ceiling for Banda. He has a pretty good curve and he doesn’t give up many long balls. Under the right tutelage, he could turn into a reliable and crafty innings-eater.
Boston Red Sox
As the Red Sox go back and forth with the New York Yankees for the top AL East slot, they’re in the market for a solid catcher. They have a bigger need at third base, but I believe they’d take Lucroy for the right price.
Boston has an embarrassing wealth of pitching prospects, which works in the Rangers’ favor. At the top of that list sits lefty Jay Groome. The 18-year-old has drawn comparisons to former Red Sox great Roger Clemens. The biggest question mark with him revolves around his maturity, which is not unfamiliar territory for Texas. They tend to help those type of players pretty well a la Josh Hamilton and Mat Bush.
They also have some quality bullpen prospects in power righties Mike Shawaryn and Jake Cosart. While Shawaryn still has starting pitcher aspirations, his mechanics and power make him an ideal closer candidate. Meanwhile, Cosart has a great build to take on a setup role in the future.
What’s even better is that all three pitchers are projected as big league-ready by 2019. All three arms could bring great value to the Texas farm system, which badly needs pitching.
As nice as it would be to build a team around Lucroy and make him a defensive anchor, there is good market out there for him. If the Texas Rangers could grab a quality young arm and perhaps a guy with some really high upside, they could set the franchise up for success sooner rather than later. And as Texas continues to fall further back, each loss makes this season more and more about that future.