Jonathan Lucroy and the Frustration of a Veteran on a “Rebuilding” Team

It’s a hard choice when a team folds the tents and goes all-in on a rebuild. It’s a monstrous amount of work for the front office, scouts, managers, and owners. It makes drawing fans and bringing in the revenue necessary to keep things rolling smoothly a nightmare – and for those fans, it’s a year of heartache, looking for something to get excited about. You wear your jerseys, and your ballcaps, and you go to the game, but you pretty much know what to expect, with the exception of flashes of greatness from the rookies.

Let’s look at the worst of it, though. If you are a veteran player, not old yet – not young either – and your team goes into rebuild mode, your world changes. A lot of guys go in the first wave, traded in the offseason for young pitching and rookies who showed promise as position players and future power bats. A few just happen to time things right and go into free agency in the right year, leaving the rebuild behind and cashing in on the hard work they’ve put in year after year. Those are the luckiest of the bunch.

The worst-case-scenario is what is currently facing Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy. He’s going to be thirty. He’s put up good, solid offensive numbers, and he’s a veteran behind the plate. He had a couple of injuries in 2015 that kept him from reaching his usual level of performance, but that happens to most players at one point or another in their career. Now he is stuck on a team where he’s one of only a few veterans remaining, looking at a several seasons without serious contention, and during his best years no less.

He recently made some comments in an interview that betrayed his frustration. He didn’t ask to be traded, but he was clear that he understands his position. He wants to play. He wants to contend. He knows his team will not be contending, but to improve his own value down the road, he has to manage to put up numbers and improve upon his 2015 season, when he was plagued by an injury to his big toe and a late-season concussion.

The Brewers would probably move him if the right offer came along, and I’m frankly baffled why it has not. Lucroy is a solid catcher. There are half a dozen teams out there who need him. Badly. His contract is affordable, less than ten million for two years. He has the slight health concerns associated with his 2015 injuries– but barring a failed physical – this is a starting catcher who hit .297/.359/.472 and averaged 18 homers per 162 games from 2012-14. One less than stellar year is hardly enough to discount this opportunity, and the team is ready to deal.

Lucroy is available, but that doesn’t really need to be said. When a team is looking to the future, everyone is for sale. The asking price so far has been too high for the teams showing interest, because he also offers a veteran voice to a young team, and leadership – invaluable assets on a growing team. Lucroy has said he’ll play that part, and he’ll work as hard as ever, to be the teammate they need him to be and try to erase the memory of his 2015 season. However, he would very clearly be happier on a post-season contender.

The A’s, Rangers and Nationals have shown the most interest, but the Mets could use him – D’Arnaud is a crowd favorite, and works well with their young pitching squad, but he hasn’t been exactly a terror throwing out base runners, and he has his own nagging problems with his thumb. His backup last season was less than stellar.

With a plethora of quality outfielders and hitters available, the availability of quality catchers is limited to a few prospects – and Jonathan Lucroy. He’s hungry to play, to win, and to reach the post-season – and as already mentioned, his contract is a bargain. He’s going to cost some young talent, but for a team expecting to contend in 2016, that is a price worth considering.

While the Brewers can’t be faulted for holding onto him and using him to help during their rebuild, it’s equally easy to understand Lucroy’s desire to succeed. In an interview with Tom Haudricort of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Lucroy said:

“…I’m going to be a 30-year-old catcher (in June). I can’t put numbers on how much longer I’m going to play, but as players we want to win. I don’t care about the money; I just want to win. That’s the bottom line.”

Players spend their entire lives building the skills to give them a shot at the kind of glory MLB teams can provide.  To be in a situation where you see that dream trickling away, your teammates dispersing to other teams and new opportunities, has to be one of the toughest positions a player can find himself in.

One thing is certain, the clock is ticking. If Lucroy isn’t dealt prior to pitchers and catchers reporting, the chances of a move grow slimmer by the day. It’s a slim possibility that someone will come up with a desperate need around the All-star break, but it’s very rare for a catcher to be traded in season. If nothing happens, Lucroy is going to have to take it as a challenge and up his ante in 2016, struggling to put up numbers and be a stand-out on a team unlikely to make much noise. The world of baseball will be watching closely to see which direction his career will take in 2016- new horizons, or building block. Hard as that might be, it’s the game we love.

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