Jonathan Lucroy is one of baseball’s best catchers. Still, this hasn’t been the easiest of weeks for the 2016 All-Star. On Saturday, the 30-year-old was traded from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Cleveland Indians — a deal Lucroy rejected (the Indians were on his no-trade list) amid concerns he wouldn’t get enough time behind the plate in 2017. “I have to look out for me and my family,” he says. “I know Cleveland fans are mad at me right now, but my decision had zero to do with the quality of their team.” On Monday, Lucroy was moved to the Texas Rangers with reliever Jeremy Jeffress as part of a deadline trade that included several minor league prospects. Here, Lucroy discusses the failed Cleveland deal and the moments before and after his trade to the Rangers — a move he hopes will deliver him to his first playoff appearance in five years.
When you’re traded, you’re never sure what to expect. I’d never been dealt before, so this was a new experience for me. After our game on Saturday, against the Pirates, I was called into an office. Something was going down. The general manager, David Stearns, told me I’d been traded. David said he couldn’t say who got me because medical stuff needed to be cleared before it could be announced. I figured it must be a team that wasn’t on my no-trade list, just because of everything that goes into that. Based on what I’d seen online and what I heard from my agent, I knew the Mets, Indians, Dodgers and Rangers had shown interest. Cleveland was the only one of those teams on my no-trade list, so I ruled that out.
It was already pretty clear there wasn’t going to be much of a future for me in Milwaukee. They’re in rebuilding mode, and they wouldn’t want to pay to keep me there. I had a team option for 2017, and then that was it. It’s the reality of the situation. I grew up in the organization, spent nearly 10 years with it. I love the fans, but this is all part of the game. You hear — baseball’s a business — but it really is. They were figuring out their roster for the future, and I wanted to win now. That’s the landscape, and it’s something you have to deal with. So I got the news I was traded, and I was excited to know where I would play next. I knew it’d be a competitive situation. I like being part of something bigger, like a cog in an engine. In Milwaukee, I didn’t feel part of that because we weren’t winning. With a trade, I’d be on a team that was working toward the playoffs.
My agent, Doug Rogalski, found out it was the Indians that traded for me. I was surprised, but I wanted to keep an open mind. Great team. Competitive team. There’s a real chance to win. Doug called Chris Antonetti, the Indians’ president. There was one thing we wanted to know: What was my future with the Indians? We knew Cleveland already had a good catcher, Yan Gomes, who’s injured right now. He’s getting paid more than me, and he’s younger than me. We knew they’d probably want him catching almost every day next year. Heck, if I were the general manager in Cleveland, I’d want Gomes catching every day.
We were right. Antonetti told Doug that the Indians couldn’t make any promises on me catching next season. There was no way they’d drop the team option, either, because I’m pretty inexpensive in 2017. I don’t blame them. I would have been mostly at first base and designated hitter. In the end, that was the deal killer. Doug called me. He said, You’re not going there.
“You can say anything you want about what I’ve said in the past about wanting to get traded to a winner and then blocking the trade to Cleveland. Well, guess what? I did get traded to a winner.”
Cleveland fans don’t like that part, but it’s nothing against them. it wasn’t personal. If anything, I have even more respect for the Indians because of Antonetti’s honesty. He could have lied to my agent and said I’d play catcher every day next season. But he didn’t. He told the truth. I’m thankful for that. My decision not to go to Cleveland had nothing to do with the team, but it had everything to do with my future in this game. It was an economic decision. Period. I have to look out for my family’s best interests and my interests as a catcher who’d be going into 2018 not having played my position the previous year. I am a catcher. I’ve been catching since I was 12 years old. I love being behind the plate, being involved in the game from that perspective. I love every part of that. I’m not changing positions for anybody. I don’t care who it is. My value is as a catcher, and I know it.
So we blocked the trade. And then we waited.
Things weren’t dead. I knew I could still be moved. I was in a good position. If I were traded, it would be to a team that was in the playoff race. That was obvious. Doug knew there would be teams that would try to reengage with the Brewers. I was hoping the Rangers were still interested. Dallas was our No. 1 target. My wife is from Louisiana, I went to college in Louisiana, and we still live in that state, so this was really close to home for us. If we could pick a perfect spot to go as a family, and for competitive baseball, the Dallas area was the place. They know their sports in Texas. Great fans. Great facilities. Great team. We have a lot of friends there. We were hoping the Rangers were still interested.
My manager, Craig Counsell, put me in as a pinch hitter on Sunday. It was a day before the trade deadline, and no one knew if I was wearing a Brewers uniform for the last time. I got a standing ovation, and it meant a lot to me. I dug into the batter’s box, and I was in limbo. I figured if this is my last at-bat here, it’s my last at-bat. If not, we’ll see what happens. I flied out. It wasn’t much of a storybook ending.
Afterward I felt a little sad, a little excited. Honestly, I was scared because I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I was thinking about my wife, Sarah, and our young daughter, Ellia. If I got traded, how would it impact them? How would we get our stuff to our new city? They’d be by themselves, sorting things out, and I wouldn’t be there to help. But I had to keep going like nothing was going to change in our lives. My general manager had told me I wasn’t going to be dealt unless the team liked what it was getting in return. They weren’t just going to give me away.
I decided to take a flight out of Chicago for San Diego, because that’s where the Brewers were playing next. It was Monday, just before the trade deadline. If I wasn’t traded, I’d have to be in San Diego, ready to go. I was in a parking lot at O’Hare International Airport when Doug called. It was 2:50 p.m. Central time. Ten minutes before the deadline. Doug said Ken Rosenthal tweeted that I’d been traded to the Rangers. I was totally calm about it. I said, I’ll stay here and wait for confirmation from David. Five minutes later, I got the call. It was really straightforward: Hey, we just traded you to the Rangers. It’s official. I left Chicago and headed for Miller Park.
I called my wife and told her what was happening. She’d been a nervous wreck leading up to this point, and now I heard the excitement in her voice. I called my parents. I called my agent. Jon Daniels, the Rangers general manager, called me and said he was glad I was joining the team. Less than an hour earlier, I didn’t know what was happening, and now I wound up getting traded to the team with the best record in the American League. You can say anything you want about what I’ve said in the past about wanting to get traded to a winner and then blocking the trade to Cleveland. Well, guess what? I did get traded to a winner.
Finally, I got back to Milwaukee and went into the Brewers clubhouse. I grabbed some catcher’s equipment. It was royal colored. I grabbed some spikes that matched, and I got some clothes. The Brewers would have to box up the rest of my locker and ship it to me. David knew I was at the park, so he came down and met me at one of the stadium’s entrances. We shook hands. Then I was gone. I went home, kissed my wife, grabbed some more clothes. My daughter was off playing with friends, but I had to leave. Texas was playing in Baltimore on Tuesday, and I had to get to the airport. I kissed my wife again and said, I’ll see you in a couple weeks. That’s the life of a baseball player.
The last time I was in a playoff race was 2014, but we fell apart in mid-August and blew it. The last time I was in the playoffs was 2011, my first full season as a major leaguer. I still remember Mark Kotsay, one of our veterans, standing up and telling us we didn’t understand how hard it was to make it to the playoffs. He told us that guys played their entire careers without making it to the postseason. He said it might not happen for any of us again. I heard that, and I was like, C’mon. No way that’s happening. I thought we could go every year. I was spoiled. I was also dead wrong. I learned a lesson from that. Don’t take things for granted.
Texas made a sacrifice to bring me in. They gave up some good prospects. By making that sacrifice, they’re telling me they need me here to win. When a player’s on a team, wherever it is, you want to have that wanted and needed feeling. It makes you feel like you’re part of something. We aren’t in the playoffs yet, but we have all the pieces. I’m already falling in love with this roster. We have two players in our lineup who are Hall of Fame guys: Adrian Beltre and Carlos Beltran. Those two dudes are unbelievable. I’m honored to play with them, and I know I’m going to be a better baseball player being around them. I’ve only played on the road for Texas, but I can’t wait to play a home game.
When I step to the plate there, I’m going to take it all in. I’m going to take all of this in. I know I had nothing to do with the Rangers getting to where they are now, but I want to have a lot to do with finishing the job.