We're just over three weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training in Surprise, Arizona. While there is still potential for teams to make moves via trade or free agency -- Yovani Gallardo is still unsigned -- it would appear that Texas is mostly set.
Nonetheless, that hasn't stopped the wheels of fantasy from churning. On Sunday, Phil Rogers of MLB.com posited -- like many others have in recent months -- that Texas appears to be a good fit for Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
Lucroy, of course, is the highest-profile catcher to be openly available via trade. Texas hasn't had a "stable" player man the backstop since the heyday of Pudge, so it makes sense that the Rangers would be thought to be a fit, at least intrinsically.
Rogers goes on to mention the one sticking point: the return that the Brewers want for Lucroy. More specifically, that it would take someone like Joey Gallo or Lewis Brinson plus a piece or two in order to make a deal happen. This, I think, is where the two sides will (and should) differ.
Lucroy, 29, is coming off of a 2015 season that was plagued with injury and a dip in performance from his 6.1 fWAR campaign in 2014, posting only a 1.1 fWAR. The hope is, of course, that the dip in performance was solely due to injury. However, that 6.1 fWAR in 2014 was easily the highest of Lucroy's career. He had posted figures of 3.5 and 3.4 in 2012 and 2013, respectively, but when looking at the big picture, I'd be more inclined to think that 2014 is the outlier rather than 2015. The truth probably lies somewhere in between, but then you've got to ask exactly what Texas would be gaining.
In 2015, Texas used five different starting catchers through the course of the season: Robinson Chirinos (1.5 fWAR), Carlos Corporan (-0.2 fWAR), Chris Gimenez (0.8 fWAR), Bobby Wilson (0.1 fWAR), and Tomas Telis (-0.1 fWAR) for a combined fWAR of 2.1.
For our purposes, we can assume, for now, that Texas will head into the season with Chirinos and Gimenez splitting time behind the plate. Ideally, Texas would like Chirinos to be able to start 100 games behind the plate, with Gimenez taking the remaining 62. We'll assume that works out to about 400 plate appearances for Chirinos and 250 for Gimenez.
Chirinos, of course, battled injuries in 2015 that limited him to only 78 games and 273 plate appearances. Gimenez, at age 33, has never even reached 150 plate appearances in a season at the Major League level. Steamer projects Chirinos and Gimenez to log 311 and 130 plate appearances in 2016, respectively, with a combined fWAR of 1.6. Steamer, of course, is going to be a bit conservative in that it factors in age, injuries, etc. Regardless, if we extrapolate that over 650 plate appearances, we're looking at about 2.36 fWAR from the catcher position as it currently stands. I'd say it's probably realistic to think you could see something in the realm of 3-3.5, but that's just me.
So if you're bringing in Jonathan Lucroy, you're not only bringing in a player who was actually less productive than Robinson Chirinos in 2015 with more plate appearances, but you're replacing, most likely, Chris Gimenez. You would almost assuredly be looking at an improvement from a wins perspective, but at what cost?
Josh Hamilton, who logged 182 plate appearances in 2015 for 0.2 fWAR, is already having issues with his surgically-repaired knee. While the Rangers appear to be on the hook for exactly zero dollars of Hamilton's salary in 2016, I'm not exactly optimistic that he'll be able to put up too many more plate appearances than he did in 2015. That means you're going to need to get meaningful innings and plate appearances from someone else within the organization.
Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara are two players that come to mind. At some point in 2016, either player could get a look for Texas. Mazara projects to be a corner outfielder, so he would seem to be the more immediate fit. However, Brinson has risen a lot in the eyes of those within baseball, and he profiles more as a CF, which would end up likely shifting Delino DeShields over to LF to accommodate a player who projects to be better defensively in CF.
There's a better-than-decent chance that Texas has a superb outfield in the making, and I'm just not sure trading for Jonathan Lucroy is worth sacrificing that potential future asset. Not for the incremental gain he would provide.
Furthermore, a major problem in negotiations is going to be that Milwaukee is going to want to see Lucroy restore some of his value by coming out of the gates in 2016 strong. He's more likely to be a trade-deadline deal than anything. By that point, you're only getting a 1 1/2 seasons of team control versus 2 full seasons, at which point handing over premium prospects for such an incremental gain doesn't make nearly as much sense.
In the end, I think that at the current asking price, the Brewers will find themselves in a holding pattern. Should the asking price come down over the next few weeks, it would certainly be worth it for Jon Daniels to make a few phone calls. If/until then, however, Jonathan Lucroy just doesn't make much sense for Texas.