Now that we know that there’s an offer on the table and we wait for an answer overnight to the question of whether or not Milwaukee Brewers star Jonathan Lucroy will accept a trade to the Cleveland Indians, let’s consider what everybody involved potentially gets out of the trade.
For the Indians, the benefits are fairly transparent: an immediate upgrade on the offensive side of the slate — as David Schoenfield suggested earlier, perhaps as much as two wins’ worth via WAR over the balance of the season alone. The 30-year-old makes consistent hard contact, but his walk rate, just under 9 percent now, has been an asset for years. He’s putting up arguably the best power numbers he has ever cranked out over a full season, with a .184 ISO. He’s having a great season controlling the running game (throwing out 40 percent of opponents); and as far as game-calling skills go, he has been useful, as well as durable.
Because the decision to accept the trade is in Lucroy’s hands as a function of his contract, there are several selling points on why he should want to go to Cleveland. He’d be going to a first-place team, with the Indians leading the American League Central. He’d be going to play for Terry Francona, a manager with two rings won with the Boston Red Sox and who has led the Tribe to a winning record in all four seasons there since he returned to the dugout. He’d be taking on the privilege of arguably catching the best rotation in the American League, a staff that has cranked out the best ERA in the league (3.68), with the lowest wOBA allowed (.304), while ranking second in quality starts (58 in 101 games) and strikeout rate (22.6 percent).
If your gig involves catching, this is one staff any backstop worth his salt would want to, in a pennant race, with a track record for success. If you wanted to pick a place to play for this season and next, Cleveland is one of the best perches to land on.
The price in prospects might seem steep if the names mentioned so far are the ones that get moved, but that’s what makes this deal work for the Brewers, as general manager David Stearns makes another move to accumulate young talent that might make Milwaukee baseball something to see in 2018 or 2019. Both catcher Francisco Mejia and left-hander Justus Sheffield ranked in Keith Law’s preseason list of top 10 Indians prospects. Mejia’s 40 percent rate for throwing out opponents’ steal attempts is only slightly less impressive than his 42-game hitting streak as a 20-year-old backstop. Sheffield’s whiffing a man per inning in Low-A as a live-armed 20-year-old picked in the first round in 2014. Infielder Yu-Cheng Chang earned touts before putting up an .840 OPS as a 20-year-old in High-A Lynchburg this season. Center-field prospect Greg Allen recently earned a promotion to Double-A, and his career .382 OBP and 80 percent success rate on steals makes him a pretty handy fourth.
If that really is what the Brewers get, it’s a solid package, one that represents a win-win offer for both teams, not just in terms of the talent exchanged. But that wouldn’t be all that the Indians net from the deal. It would also mean that president Chris Antonetti and the Indians’ front office addressed the biggest weakness on the big league roster: catching. They would do so in a bid to win now, while acquiring more than just a stretch rental, because Lucroy is under contract (cheaply) for 2017, thanks to a $5.25 million club option. And they would have managed to swing this deal without having to part with either of their best position-playing prospects — outfielders Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier.
The other fun thing to think about? This trade would arguably make the Indians one of the strongest teams up the middle in baseball, because adding Lucroy to shortstop Francisco Lindor, second baseman Jason Kipnis and rookie center fielder Tyler Naquin gives them a quartet of players with tremendous value on both sides of the ball.
Put all of those considerations together, and the price is most definitely right for the Tribe. The Brewers certainly seem ready to reap considerable value as well, even if they had to accept an offer that didn’t bring them Zimmer or Frazier. But will the attractions of the offer appeal equally to Lucroy? We’ll have to wait and see, but if he wants to win now and next year, he can’t do much better than Cleveland.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.