I have a list of outcomes that I hope for from each Brewer game. This season, “winning the game” is further down the list than you might think. It’s behind things like “young players playing well” and “Martin Maldonado gunning someone down on the bases.” That’s the nice thing about rebuilding. The games are stress-free because they really don’t matter. When the Brewers are contending, I live and die with every pitch, critique managerial decisions, and put myself through a great deal of stress (my friends and family will tell you that’s an understatement). Now, if the Brewers lose, I just shrug and think about receiving a higher draft pick. Ironically, watching a rebuilding team can be quite enjoyable.
Back to that list, though. Undoubtedly, number one on that list right now is “Jonathan Lucroy does not get injured.” The Brewers playing in close games doesn’t worry me this season, but Lucroy still being on the team does. I’ve already discussed the gamble of not trading him this off-season. To this point, the gamble has paid off, but it could lose big at any moment. They have already lost one smaller gamble with Will Smith’s injury (although they may end up gaining a trade chip if Jeremy Jeffress continues to pitch well as the closer). Catchers are injured at a high rate; in fact, a few have already suffered long-term injuries in just the first week of the season.
Interestingly, this was likely part of David Stearns‘ gamble. Injuries to other catchers around the league can only increase the interest in Lucroy. Three catchers were injured in the first week, and all three play for teams hoping to contend. Let’s take a look at each vacancy, starting from the least likely destination for Lucroy and moving toward the most likely.
Kyle Schwarber had the worst luck of these three players, tearing up his knee in an outfield collision. He is likely out for the season. While he is a big bat to replace, he was likely only going to catch fewer than 25% of the Cubs’ games this season. That doesn’t leave as big of a hole as the next two teams, but it doesn’t mean the Cubs couldn’t make a play for Lucroy, who would still be an upgrade over Miguel Montero. They don’t have the farm system they once did, but they could try to build a package around a younger major league talent like Javier Baez or Jorge Soler (although with Schwarber out, the Cubs may have more of a need for Soler). I don’t expect Lucroy to end up in Chicago, but it wouldn’t be shocking.
The Detroit Tigers lost their starting catcher in James McCann, who is out with what is currently being called a sprained ankle. If it is a moderate sprain, McCann may only be out a few weeks, which would obviously decrease any interest in Lucroy. The team is currently waiting on an MRI. If the Tigers would make a play, it is likely they would need to include 22 year-old starting pitcher Michael Fulmer, as he is their only prospect on any top 100 list (the Tigers rank 26th in Baseball America’s farm system rankings).
By far the most impactful injury from the Brewers’ perspective has been to Robinson Chirinos of the Rangers. Chirinos was already one of the weaker starting catchers in the league, and now the Rangers are down to Bryan Holaday and Chris Gimenez as their catching options–certainly less than ideal for a team who is squarely in win-now mode. Texas was arguably the most talked about destination for Lucroy even before this injury, so it’s easy to assume they may have renew their interest they seemed to have over summer. The reason this is so intriguing for the Brewers is the Rangers have a wealth of talented, highly rated prospects.
The possibilities with Texas are endless. The Brewers could target either of two players whose star has fallen a bit (but was sky-high at one point) in middle infielder Jurickson Profar or third baseman/left fielder Joey Gallo. Profar was the number one prospect in baseball a few years ago, but he’s suffered season-ending injuries in two seasons and now seems to be blocked at both shortstop and second base. Profar would be a risk for sure, as it’s possible he ends up as a total bust. It’s also worth mentioning that, unlike prospects with a full amount of service time attached to them, Profar would only be under team control for four seasons. Gallo is a boom-or-bust type who is known as much for his struggles to make contact as he is for his light tower power. The Rangers may be willing to part with Gallo, as rumors persist of an extension to Adrian Beltre, but I personally would not be comfortable with Gallo as the top prize of a Lucroy deal. It seems too risky, but it’s certainly possible Stearns feels differently.
In the off-season, strong targets would have been either Lewis Brinson or Nomar Mazara, both projected to be very good hitting outfielders, but it is quite likely those players are off the table. If Texas would have been willing to trade one over summer, Lucroy would probably be a Ranger. Now with the injury to Shin-soo Choo, they are even less likely to deal either talented outfielder. Mazara is already making waves in his first few days replacing Choo in the lineup, so he is likely no longer attainable.
If we’re saying any of Profar, Gallo, Brinson, or Mazara are unlikely to be dealt, then how likely is a deal? Still quite possible, actually. The Rangers are just that stocked. Pitchers Luis Ortiz or Dillon Tate would look nice as headlines of a package, and pitchers like Michael Matuella and Ariel Jurado would also look great in the Brewers’ system. I imagine the Brewers would have interest in either third baseman/shortstop Ryan Cordell or Josh Morgan as well.
An important thing to remember here is that Lucroy is a pretty unusual case. It is rare for a rebuilding team to hang on to a player like him. While it’s uncommon for players to be traded before June, that is generally because rebuilding teams have already traded their chips, and everyone else at least tries to contend for a few months before some throw in the towel. The Brewers, however, should have no delusions of contending this season. Therefore, nothing is stopping them from trading Lucroy soon, even in April yet. If Texas has elevated interest in Lucroy (and they probably should, to be honest; that catching situation is ugly), this could come together sooner rather than later.
I’m hoping it does, anyway. Then I can return to my completely stress-free season of Chris Carter bombs and Jimmy Nelson breaking balls.