With a little more than 24 hours until MLB’s trade deadline on Monday, one of the most highly sought-after targets has been taken off the market. FOXSports MLB insider Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Brewers have agreed to a deal that would send all-star catcher Jonathan Lucroy to Cleveland, in exchange for a package of players. Rosenthal notes however, that Lucroy still needs to approve the trade, as the Indians are one of seven teams that are on his no-trade list. If the deal is approved by Lucroy, the reported return includes shortstop prospect Yu-Cheng Chang, outfield prospect Greg Allen, and top catching prospect Francisco Mejia.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 31, 2016
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 31, 2016
It also appears that there’s a fourth prospect in this deal. There are conflicting reports on the identity of said prospect, however, as some reports say that it is Cleveland’s fifth-best prospect, southpaw Justus Sheffield. Others claim that it is right-hander Triston McKenzie. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan tweeted out that one of the pitchers in question could be involved.
(Editor’s Note, 9:01 AM ET: According to Buster Olney, Justus Sheffield will be headed to New York in a deal for Andrew Miller, and is therefore not a piece in the Jonathan Lucroy deal.)
Indians get Jonathan Lucroy, as @ken_rosenthal reported. Industry loves pitchers Justus Sheffield and Triston McKenzie. One could be in.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 31, 2016
Lucroy, 29, is enjoying a huge bounce-back season at the plate in 2016, hitting .300/.360/.484 with 13 home runs and 50 RBIs in 94 games. In comparison, Lucroy hit .264/.326/.391 with seven home runs and 43 RBIs in 103 games over the 2015 season, as he battled injuries all year. For his career, Lucroy holds a solid .284/.342/.436 triple-slash with 79 homers and 387 RBIs in 809 games. His combination of offensive and defensive play are what makes Lucroy so coveted.
In return for Lucroy, the Brewers got quite the return, netting Cleveland’s sixth, 12th, and 22nd rated prospects according to MLB Pipeline.
Mejia, 20, is the clear centerpiece of the deal. The Brewers had been linked to him as soon as the Lucroy-to-Cleveland rumors began. Currently ranked as the sixth-best prospect in Cleveland’s system, Mejia is hitting .344/.374/.524 with nine home runs and 67 RBIs in 77 games between Low-A Lake County and High-A Lynchburg. Mejia just extended his MiLB-best hitting streak to 40 games earlier this evening. Some scouts have described him as having “one of the best arms” they’ve ever seen.
Allen, 23, is an interesting prospect. Allen is in his third season with the Indians organization, currently residing with Double-A Akron. Through 97 games this year between High-A Lynchburg and Double-A Akron, he’s hitting .295/.415/.401 with five home runs, 34 RBIs, and 38 stolen bases. He’s also got 58 walks compared to 57 strikeouts. Scouts praise Allen for his big-time speed, and his ability to get on base, as evident not only by his OBP but also by the fact that he has more walks than strikeouts.
Cheng, 20, was the final piece of the deal. In three seasons of minor-league ball, Cheng is sporting a career batting line of .268/.337/.449 with 27 home runs, 146 RBIs, and 21 stolen bases in 241 games. Cheng is on pace for arguably the best season of his career this year, hitting .273/.347/.493 with 12 home runs, 69 RBIs, and 10 stolen bases in 419 plate appearances. His defense isn’t perfect, but it’s solid enough. The most valuable aspect of his game appears to be his bat.
No matter which pitcher they acquire, Milwaukee will be getting a good one.
Sheffield, 20, was selected with the 31st overall pick in the 2014 MLB draft. Since arriving in the minors, Sheffield has gone 19-10 with a 3.55 career ERA in 243.1 innings of work. He started out 2014 in Rookie ball, graduated to Low-A Lake County in 2015, and advanced to High-A Lynchburg this season. Thus far, Sheffield is 7-5 with a 3.59 ERA in 19 starts for Lynchburg. Scouts are said to love Sheffield, and he projects as a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.
Meanwhile, McKenzie, 18, was the 42nd overall pick in the 2015 MLB draft out of Vanderbilt. Many scouts, including SBNation’s Minor League Ball have deemed McKenzie as “highly projectible.” In his first two professional seasons, McKenzie has gone 5-3 with a 0.64 (!!) ERA in 56.1 innings of work. That’s right, McKenzie has only surrendered four earned runs over 11 career starts. McKenzie also sports a very nice K:BB ratio of 64:17. He’s a high-rising prospect, with one of the highest ceilings among anyone in Cleveland’s system.
For the Indians, this fills a major need. The Tribe have been a big-time surprise this season, currently sporting the best record in the American League. The Indians pitching staff has played a big part in their success this year, currently owning the fifth-best team ERA in the majors, behind only the Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals, New York Mets, and Los Angeles Dodgers. Their offense has also been great this season, averaging 4.91 runs per game, good for sixth-best in baseball.
As good as Cleveland has been playing this year, the man behind the dish has been a problem for them. Yan Gomes has spent the past two weeks on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, and it appears that he’s not ready to make a return yet. Even if Gomes was ready to return, the Indians were still in search of an upgrade. On the year, Gomes is hitting .165/.198/.313 with eight home runs and 32 RBIs in 249 plate appearances.
With Cleveland strengthening one of the few areas of weakness on their team, it establishes them as (arguably) the favorite to represent the American League in the Fall Classic. As we all know, the games are played on the field, not on paper. Just because you’re a favorite, doesn’t mean that it’s a guarantee.
The Indians may not be done though, as they’ve also been rumored to be in pursuit of relief pitching before Monday’s deadline. One of the names most frequently associated with the team was Milwaukee reliever Will Smith. Smith isn’t involved in this specific deal, although a separate deal is not out of the question. As Monday’s deadline approaches, the Indians will remain a team to monitor.
Editor’s Note: As of 9:00 AM ET Sunday, the deal has not been completed and the identity of the fourth prospect (speculated to be McKenzie or Sheffield) remains unknown. Ken Rosenthal speculated on Twitter this morning that the deal may be on the verge of falling through.