Last night, it appeared all but assured that Milwaukee Brewers All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy was headed to Cleveland to provide some much-needed offensive production at the position for the Indians. Lucroy would need to waive his no-trade clause to head to join the Tribe, and as his right, the catcher made a few, seemingly reasonable demands in exchange for waiving his contractually-negotiated right. Chief among those demands, Lucroy wanted a guarantee that he would be the primary starting catcher for the Indians in 2017, the final year of his extremely team-friendly contract.
Apparently, that was too much to ask.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 31, 2016
Without a guarantee that he would receive maximum playing time in his walk year, Lucroy sought to have the team option for 2017 voided. At a cost of $5.25 million, Lucroy would have been a huge bargain for the Indians. Shockingly, Yan Gomes and his continued presence on the Indians’ roster complicated things in the eyes of Cleveland management.
After winning the Silver Slugger award in 2014, Gomes has been terrible the last two seasons. Injuries have complicated things, and Gomes is currently on the disabled list. Over his past 166 games, Gomes is just a .204/.240/.359 hitter. Before his injury this year, the Brazilian had registered an OPS+ of 30.
Gomes makes things complicated for the Inidians because he is under contract through 2019 with two more team options. Cleveland is a team that must be conscious about how much money it spends on salary, but both Lucroy and Gomes are relatively cheap players. Combined, their salaries for 2017 would come in below the value of one All-Star catcher. There’s a time and a place to be committed to homegrown talent like Gomes, but this was not that time.
At his best, Lucroy is arguably the second-best offensive catcher in the league, behind only Buster Posey. Salvador Perez is also in the conversation. Gomes is nowhere close based on the past two seasons, and has shown no signs of figuring things out. It certainly would have been wise on the Indians’ part to guarantee Lucroy the starting job and make Gomes the backup. In reality, that is likely what would have happened, but without a guarantee, there was no reason Lucroy should put himself in a position to risk losing at-bats and starts heading into his first taste of free agency.
This bungled trade is not a case of a player being unreasonable. Lucroy’s no-trade right is very valuable, especially when he must think of his future beyond 2017. This is not about a player not wanting to do whatever it takes to win, as Lucroy tried to get himself traded prior to the season. The Cleveland Indians had their chance to significantly upgrade their roster at one of their weakest positions, and they blew it.