For some, 2016 Spring Training marks the start of a brand new Major League Baseball season. For others, this time of year marks the height of the presidential primary elections. While many pontificate over who is best suited to lead the country, The Sports Fan Journal fam decided to take a look at which player, manager, or front office member is the best candidate to lead their team to the top of the baseball mountain.
Having an elite catcher is something like having a phenomenal quarterback or a top tier point guard, it can completely change the entire way the game is played on an everyday basis. And in Jonathan Lucroy, the Brewers have just that: a player who can change everything about their collective fortunes on an every day, every inning and every pitch basis.
Yet despite this (or even perhaps because of this), Lucroy could stand to be the highest profile trade chip available this summer. And why not? He is a 29-year-old backstop that is just two years removed from a top 5 MVP finish after a summer where he set an MLB record for doubles by a catcher with 53, hit to a .301 overall average while still providing a superb defensive and leadership presence as well.
Such was Lucroy’s impact on a game that it literally could not be completely understood with the metrics of the time it was occurring in. For one thing, it was noticeable that Brewer pitchers were having more success that most at getting strikes looking, but why? For one thing, Matt Garza and Kyle Lohse did not inspire memories of the strike zone mastery of a Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine prior to reaching Milwaukee, so there had to be something more to the equation.
The answer ended up being not in the hand of the pitcher themselves, but rather in that of the receiver. Lucroy’s ability to grab and frame pitches behind the plate (essentially pulling pitches back into the strike zone to create most strikes for his pitchers) was so substantial that all catchers effectiveness began to be reevaluated by this ability.
It was discovered that Lucroy has ‘stolen’ 121 strikes in 2014 alone and over a 1,000 in his career. This is a calculable value that launches his Wins Above Replacement into the upper tiers of MVP-level production on a daily basis, albeit a figure that does not show up in a box score as easily as other metrics. On this basis alone, Lucroy is perhaps the most intangibly value player in all of baseball.
Yet Lucroy’s availability is also somewhat self-created as well. There is an evident displeasure with his current contract status, as he may be the most underpaid player in the game today. He will have earned an average of $3 million per year since it came into effect before the 2014 season, which is criminally low in light of the extensions and free agent deals that his contemporaries Buster Posey, Brian McCann, Russell Martin and Salvador Perez have received during the same time span. Conversely, the gradually deconstructing Brewers see this deal as an asset and a way to hold onto one of their best players at a manageable rate while instead dealing others away in the meantime.
Lucroy has gone on the record as being open to being moved to a contender, as he correctly understands the timetable for a player to stay behind the plate as a full-time catcher is drastically lower than it is for other aging position players. And his 2015 ailments, which included two trips to the disabled list due to foul balls, prove an absolute reason why this concern is justified.
But while his current contractual situation and placement stands firm in what it is, it is also an underlying blessing for Lucroy’s future prospects as well. Armed with a team option at a mere $5.2 million in 2017, he is an even greater target for teams looking to upgrade their catcher situation. The Texas Rangers and Washington Nationals have already inquired into his availability and are two teams capable of supplying the type of young talent the Brewers will be looking for in return. Any team that acquires Lucroy would also have the security of a year of guaranteed control and the knowledge of a player that is both looking to compete and has the ability to instantly upgrade the entire offering of their defensive capabilities, pitching effectiveness and lineup capacity
Lucroy’s status with Milwaukee has more time behind it than it has ahead of it. However, while he is still in tow he will continue to make the day-to-day prospects of the Crew much better than it could be, while at the same time being a guaranteed magnet to lure even an even quicker turnaround than is currently expected.
Because is that not how the MIVP (Most Intangibly Valuable Player, of course) should leave has his Brewer legacy anyway?
I’m a firm believer that the closest I’ve gotten to Heaven is Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. In the meantime til we cross paths again, I’ll pass along the gospel of the Field of Dreams here, Cheap.Seats.Please, I70 Baseball, and ‘Live From The Cheap Seats’.