The 2015 season has been nothing short of a nightmare for the Milwaukee Brewers. Outside of a recent eight game winning streak, the team has dealt with ineffectiveness at the plate and on the mound, poor defense, and a rash of injuries to key players that has led to a 37-50 record, last place in the National League Central and the third worst record in all of baseball.
Jonathan Lucroy is one of many players who have dealt with their share of adversity this season. After posting 13.4 rWAR over the past three seasons (including 6.7 WAR in his MVP caliber 2014), the Brewers’ All-Star catcher has posted a meager .246/.312/.330 line through 199 plate appearances thus far this season. He was one of several players that got off to horrendous starts to the season, managing just a .393 OPS through the first two weeks of the season before suffering an broken toe on a foul ball on April 20th. Lucroy would miss more than a month while recovering.
While Lucroy has been much better since his return (.284/.345/.381 in his last 34 games), the team is still mired in last place and looks to be in the beginning stages of what could be a long rebuilding process. With that in mind, Luc recently appeared on the Bill Michaels’ Show on the statewide radio network, and was asked a number of questions about the team, this season, and his future in Milwaukee.
“Coming to the field and getting your butt kicked everyday is terrible…for a veteran player,” Lucroy vented about the team’s trying season so far. “It’s hard not to lose confidence (when the team is losing). I’ve been spoiled…I know what it’s like to dominate people as a team, but the last three or four years have been a battle.”
When asked how far away the team was from being a true playoff contender again, Luc also seemed a little irritated. “We can’t afford these huge free agents…we have to rely on our farm system. The system has been depleted because of trades (for CC Sabathia and Zack Greinke), and we haven’t drafted well either…You look at the guys we traded away, guys I came up with…there’s a long list of guys…For me, Ryan Braun was the last first rounder we had to have an impact in the big leagues. That was what, 2005? (S)o hopefully we have some guys coming up soon who can help us out.”
Finally, Milwaukee’s “face of the franchise” was asked about the trade rumors surrounding him and if his future lies in Milwaukee. “You can’t help (and pay attention) when your name is thrown out there,” Lucroy said. “It’s a part of this game. Players switch teams all the time. Whatever happens is going to happen, but I can’t control that…I want to win, and I play this game to win…This game is a business, it’s about making money.” Jonathan was asked about the possibility of retiring in Milwaukee, and his answer was not likely what Brewers’ fans would hope to hear. “I haven’t thought about that (leaving Milwaukee). If that happens, it just means my time is up here. The game is about winning to me, and I want to win, bottom line. We haven’t won…since 2011. I don’t know what the future holds, and we’ll have to see what happens.”
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Immediately after the interview, I was hit with plenty of feedback on Twitter from fans saying that Lucroy clearly wants out of Milwaukee. While I wouldn’t go that extent, it’s pretty clear that Lucroy is frustrated with the way things have gone for the Brewers this season. Winning seems to be a big priority for Lucroy, and the fact is that Milwaukee hasn’t fielded a postseason team the last five seasons. Under contract through 2017, Luc does not appear to be interested in waiting around through a rebuild process. The Brewers signed Lucroy to what might be the most team-friendly contract in all of baseball back in 2012, and he has risen to become one of the game’s best players behind the plate, offering a combination of offensive and defensive prowess rarely seen from a backstop. This should leave Lucroy in line to sign a mega deal when he hits free agency at age 31, likely surpassing the $80+ mil guarantees handed out to Brian McCann and Russell Martin in recent seasons.
With this knowledge in hand, it would be best for the Brewers to be open to listening to offers to move their star catcher. I have not been secretive about my desire for a full Brewers rebuild, and I believe that moving a player of Lucroy’s caliber could bring back a franchise-altering return to Milwaukee. Luc has already been the subject of some trade rumors (recently linked to the Atlanta Braves), but it appears unlikely that GM Doug Melvin is willing to move Lucroy during the season (and as our friends on Disciples of Uecker have pointed out, he could probably bring a bigger return in the winter). It would not be a very smart decision for Milwaukee to pursue a longer-term extension with Lucroy, as any deal would be more than likely to overpay for decline seasons after age 31, especially given the physical toll playing catcher takes on an individual. More than likely, Lucroy will have to take more and more reps at first base in the coming seasons, similar to the path of Joe Mauer. Mauer’s deal with Minnesota should serve as an immediate warning for anyone who thinks high dollar extensions to aging catchers are a good idea.
Does Jonathan Lucroy want out of Milwaukee? No, not necessarily. What he wants is to play for a winner, and he has earned that right. The Brewers, however, appear to be at least a couple years away from being providing Lucroy the winning environment that he craves, and once his contract is up he is free to play for whatever club he chooses (and ponies up the most cash). Whether it’s by July 31 or not until after the season, perhaps the time has come for Milwaukee to sell high on their franchise catcher.