March 26th, 2012 was a banner day for Milwaukee Brewers’ team president and general manager Doug Melvin. On that day he outdid even his own handiwork of four years earlier when he signed Jonathan Lucroy to one of the more remarkably team-friendly deals in recent memory. Lucroy signed away all of his remaining team control years for $11 million dollars guaranteed, and also gave the Brewers a team option for his first free agent season at a very reasonable $5.25 million.
Lucroy was still five seasons from free agency and had a career .674 OPS to that point, so he wasn’t in the greatest bargaining position in the world but managed to set himself and his family up for life with that deal. Still, the deal was viewed as outstanding at the time and has only grown in it’s bargain nature since then. Here’s how it broke down by year:
* team option ($250 K buyout)
As good as the deal is, though, it’s probably going to present the Brewers with something of a dilemma in a few years. The deal expires after Lucroy’s age 31 season. The Brewers may have locked up his prime, but it is very likely that he’ll still be quite the productive player at that point. Add in the fact that he has become something of a “face of the franchise” over the past few seasons, and there is going to very likely be significant pressure to sign him to a long-term extension and make him a Brewer-for-life.
That’s a dangerous proposition for catchers already into their 30’s who command the kind of money he’s likely to be looking for at that point. The last thing the team needs to do is feel trapped into giving him a massive extension that carries him into his late 30’s around the same time that Ryan Braun is likely to be causing salary pains himself.
One thing that the Brewers could look at, if Lucroy and his agent are up for the idea, is working out a big money extension now that could significantly raise the amount of guaranteed money he has coming to him, without having to give out a five or six year contract when Lucroy is already 31 years old.
It could look something like this:
|Age||Old Contract||New Contract||Added Money|
|Bonus||$5 M||$5 M|
|2015||29||$3.0 M||$5.0 M||$2 M|
|2016||30||$4.0 M||$6.0 M||$2 M|
|2017||31||$5.25 M||$7.25 M||$2 M|
|2018||32||FA||$14 M||$14 M|
|2019||33||FA||$14 M||$14 M|
|2020||34||FA||$14 M||$14 M|
|Total||$17.25 M||$70.25 M||$53 M|
The Brewers would get Lucroy for an additional three seasons for a total new commitment of $53 million of “new” dollars. It could work for Lucroy because it puts the total right around the five year, $75 million dollar deal that was signed by Cardinals backstop Yadier Molina before the 2012 season. He’s also three full seasons away from being able to hit the free agent market, which is a long time for catchers. He can’t be sure he won’t get hurt or see his production fall off drastically before he can hit the market and cash in big time. Much like the first deal, this would give him a lot of money well before he would be able to guarantee it for himself.
It works for the Brewers because it gives them a way to lock up likely productive seasons of a popular player without having to commit big money to a 35+ year old Lucroy, an age when nearly all everyday catchers are showing significant wear and tear. It also doesn’t drastically undermine the the value they received on the current deal. Finally, it probably makes Lucroy quite a bit happier with his contract situation than he might become should he finish high in the MVP voting this year only to return to a $3 million dollar contract in 2015.
Ultimately, these numbers may prove to be high or low and one or both sides might not have any interest in this sort of thing at this point anyway. If both sides were interested, though, it would make an awful lot of sense from many different angles to be able to get this looming issue out of the way now instead of letting it slide to a point where neither side may be able to deal with the demands of the other.