One of the big names in baseball dealt before the trade deadline this year was Jonathan Lucroy, who was acquired by the Colorado Rockies from the Texas Rangers for a player to be named later in late-July. Lucroy, 31, has been solid both at the plate, but more importantly behind it, for the contending Rockies. On Tuesday, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post reported that the catcher was open to returning to Colorado once he becomes a free agent at the end of the season. Will the Rockies be open to reuniting with the veteran backstop, and would it make sense?
Lucroy has been a welcomed addition to the club, and whatever chunk of the $5.25 million remaining on his contract the Rockies are paying is a bargain. Viewed as more of a rental player than a long term solution to Colorado’s catching problem, he may stick around a few more years after all. The Rockies have had a need at catcher all season, with Tony Wolters still homerless with a .237 average and .337 OBP. Ryan Hanigan owns a .311 OBP in 29 games, while Tom Murphy has begun the year 1-24 at the plate, and Dustin Garneau lasted only 22 underwhelming games before being claimed by the Oakland Athletics in August. Lucroy’s .392 OBP with the Rockies would rank as the second-best on the Rockies if it was extrapolated out into a full season. This is despite the fact that he has only homered once in his 31 games with the club.
Saunders’ article brings up the fact that the ERA’s of the Rockies’ pitchers have collectively lowered since Lucroy arrived in Denver. Maybe that’s due to his veteran leadership and ability to call a game successfully, maybe it’s a testament to certain pitchers finding their groove as the season has progressed, or maybe it’s just a coincidence. Anyway, if he has had a sizable positive impact on the Rockies’s arms, that value can not be overlooked.
Lucroy struggled once the regular season got underway, slashing .242/.297./338 with Texas and owning a -0.5 WAR through 77 games. The Rockies probably weren’t sure which version of Lucroy they were getting. So far in Coors Field, he’s played more like his peak years with the Milwaukee Brewers, just without the power numbers. From 2012-2016, he averaged 15 homers, 67 RBI and a .291 average with a .353 OBP with both the Brewers and Rangers, finishing fourth in MVP voting in 2014. He will likely never fully return to his glory years offensively, as he’s now on the other side of 30, which is reason enough alone for the Rockies to be hesitant about re-signing him.
With the numbers he’s put up down the stretch this year, and his track record of offensive and defensive prowess, Lucroy will likely land a multi-year deal somewhere. Let’s say he gets a four-year contract, which would take him until his age 35 season. It’s not unheard of for a contending team to employ a starting catcher at that age, but if your banking on him remaining healthy and productive for the entirety of that deal, don’t bet on it. Wherever he winds up, that team should have a few reliable backup catchers at their disposal to give Lucroy days off when necessary. The Rockies don’t really have that right now. If Lucroy does return to Denver, he can’t be the only backstop that the fans care about. Hanigan, Murphy and Wolters haven’t gotten it done, Lucroy needs to be backed up by steadier receivers.
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