Back in 2016, the Milwaukee Brewers had an initial agreement to trade star catcher Jonathan Lucroy to the Cleveland Indians, but was never finalized. What would’ve happened if that deal went through?
The Brewers knew that it was time to trade Jonathan Lucroy heading into the summer of 2016. The team was smack in the middle of a rebuild and Lucroy had 1.5 years remaining on his contract, the prime time to get a huge prospect haul back in return for a star player at a premium position.
In the final few days before the trade deadline, which was pushed to August 1st that year, the Brewers held Lucroy out of the lineup, not wanting to risk injury. On July 31st, the Brewers reached an agreement with the Cleveland Indians.
The reported trade had four players coming back to Milwaukee for Lucroy, headlined by star catching prospect Francisco Mejia. Mejia has been one of the top catching prospects in baseball over the past few years and is known as a great hitter. At the time, Mejia was in the midst of a 50 game hitting streak down in the minors.
At the time, Lucroy had an 8-team No-Trade Clause and the Indians were one of those teams, so he had to approve the deal. As we all remember, Lucroy slept on it, and vetoed the trade in the morning. That meant the Brewers only had a few hours left to trade him elsewhere.
Later that day, GM David Stearns found a trade partner in the Texas Rangers and sent Lucroy along with Jeremy Jeffress to Texas for Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz, and Ryan Cordell. But what if the first deal was approved by Lucroy? How would things be different?
Lucroy To The Indians
The Indians were a very good team in 2016, and went to the World Series that year before falling short to that team that plays in Miller Park South. Yan Gomes was the starting catcher that year but was injured and they needed someone like Lucroy to fill that offensive void. It seemed like a perfect fit.
But Lucroy had another year left on his contract and didn’t want to get pushed to first base in his final year before free agency in a battle with Gomes.
Let’s say Lucroy goes to Cleveland and thrives just like he did in Texas. Perhaps the Indians do win that World Series and they end their drought and we no longer have to hear Cubs fans talk about their one World Series title in the last 108 years like they’re the New York Yankees.
The Prospect Return
When Lewis Brinson joined the Brewers organization after the real trade that went through, he immediately became one of the Crew’s top prospects. The same would’ve been said of Francisco Mejia. He immediately would’ve been termed the Brewers “catcher of the future”, and he could’ve been to Milwaukee in short order.
Mejia likely would’ve made his debut in 2017 and there’s a good chance the switch hitter would’ve had more success with his debut in Miller Park instead of Cleveland.
Shortstop Yu Chang has seen power increases over the past few seasons but that has come at the expense of a lower batting average and on-base percentage. There’s a possibility that Chang would’ve been able to challenge Orlando Arcia for the shortstop position over the last year or two, but given his lack of big league success so far, it might not have been a close battle. Still, Chang would’ve had a better chance to make the big leagues in Milwaukee than he has being stuck behind Francisco Lindor in Cleveland.
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Brewers GM David Stearns loves acquiring outfielders and Greg Allen would’ve been another, but he had a lesser pedigree than Lewis Brinson but has a similar amount of big league success, which is, well, not much. Allen has been up and down the past three seasons, unable to secure a starting job in that Cleveland outfield.
Shawn Armstrong has bounced around the last few years as a reliever and has a 4.34 ERA in 108 appearances in his career.
Domino Effect Trades
From the official trade with the Rangers, the Brewers received three prospects and traded all three of them away within two years. Ryan Cordell was traded to the White Sox for Anthony Swarzak. Luis Ortiz was traded along with Jonathan Villar and Jean Carmona to the Orioles for Jonathan Schoop. Famously, Lewis Brinson was the headliner in the Christian Yelich trade in January 2018.
If the Schoop trade never goes through, most fans probably wouldn’t be too upset, but the Yelich deal is the one that’s going to weigh on everyone’s minds.
Obviously, the trade would have to look different. At the end of the 2017 season, MLB Pipeline had Lewis Brinson ranked as the 13th best prospect in baseball. Francisco Mejia was the 14th ranked prospect. For all intents and purposes, the two players have even trade value.
At the time, the Marlins had J.T. Realmuto at catcher, whom they wanted to hold on to, and did for the 2018 season. Perhaps if the Brewers had Mejia to throw in instead of Brinson, they would’ve been willing to trade Realmuto elsewhere that winter. That wouldn’t have changed things much from the Brewers perspective, but it would’ve been important for baseball in general.
Maybe the Marlins wouldn’t have wanted to trade Yelich if they weren’t getting a high level outfield prospect in return, maybe the would. It’s impossible to fully know for sure.
If Lucroy had gone to Cleveland, there’s a chance Cleveland wins that World Series. If the Brewers received the Indians’ trade package, they would either have their catcher of the future, or they would’ve traded him for Yelich. There’s a lot of different ways things could’ve turned out had Lucroy accepted that trade.
There was such a short amount of time for Stearns to pivot after Lucroy vetoed the trade. The Rangers were really the only other team in the market for a catcher at the time, and everyone they received in that deal has been traded already to different organizations.