What Kind Of Free Agent Contract Will Jonathan Lucroy Receive?
What kind of contract will former UL baseball great Jonathan Lucroy receive this offseason?
The 31-year old Lucroy, who will be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his Major League Baseball career, will be the top catcher available on the open market this offseason.
A member of the UL baseball squad from 2005-2007, before being drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the third round of the 2007 amateur entry draft, Lucroy, a two-time National League All-Star selection (2014 & 2016), began last season with the Texas Rangers, before being traded to the Colorado Rockies in late July.
Last season was a disappointment for Lucroy, hitting only a .242 with 4 home runs and 27 runs batted in, before bouncing back a little, hitting a .310 with 2 homers and 13 RBI's over the final two months with the Rockies.
So, between stints in Texas and Colorado last season, Lucroy hit a .265, to go along with 6 homers and 40 RBI's.
After hitting 24 homers in 2016, Lucroy's drop in power numbers is a little concerning. As a matter of fact, the drop in power will likely cost Lucroy at least one season on his deal, along with a decent amount of money.
Still, Lucroy has earned, and should expect, a really nice multi-year deal.
First, even in a down year, Lucroy was able to hit a .265, which ranked 6th, behind only Buster Posey (.320), J.T. Realmuto (.278), Gary Sanchez (.278), Yadier Molina (.273), and Salvador Perez (.268) among catchers with at least 400 at-bats.
Also, you have to keep in mind how good Lucroy was from 2012-2016. In 641 games over that span, Lucroy hit a combined .291, while posting a .353 on-base percentage, as well as a .465 slugging percentage. For a catcher, especially one regarded as one of the best, defensively, those are monster numbers.
Because of those numbers, a lot of people thought that Lucroy would get a contract similar to the 5-year, $82 million deal that Russell Martin signed with the Toronto Blue Jays prior to the 2015 season.
Due to the slow start with the Rangers in 2017, Lucroy likely won't get that kind of deal, but anything less than $30 million over three years would be incredibly surprising.
And that's the low end. I'm expecting more.
The Minnesota Twins signed catcher Jason Castro to a 3-year, $24.5 million deal last offseason, while the Pittsburgh Pirates inked Francisco Cervelli to a 3-year, $31 million extension prior to last season.
No offense to Castro or Cervelli, but they haven't come close to doing what Lucroy has done, so anything less than $30 million over three years would be criminal.
Now, Lucroy, a native of Eustis, Florida, could always elect to sign a one-year deal with someone, and gamble on having a big year, allowing him to maybe get a bigger deal next year, but after spending time with three franchises over the last three years, he likely wants to sign with a place that he can call home for at least the next two years.
Defensively, Lucroy doesn't rate as an elite framer of pitches like he did back in 2014, but he's still very good behind the dish, and organizations couldn't ask for a better human being.
I truly believe that he'll get a three-year deal, with maybe an option year, averaging around $12 million a year. I also believe the organization that gets him will get a bargain.
So, where will Lucroy end up playing next year? Well, the Rockies are an obvious choice. He played well after being traded to them, and he said he'd welcome a return to Denver.
Another possible suitor would be the Baltimore Orioles, as Welington Castro is likely to decline his player option.
As for contending teams, not many have a great need for a catcher, unfortunately. The Washington Nationals may be a possibility, but I fully expect Matt Wieters to sign his $10.5 million player option.
Chris Iannetta is a free agent, so the Arizona Diamondbacks, along with the Rockies, may be the contending teams that seem like the best fits for Lucroy.
I'd love to see Lucroy in a Houston Astros uniform next year, but truthfully, I don't see it happening. Houston still owes Brian McCann $11.5 million for next year (Yankees are paying $5.5 million), they added Justin Verlander's big contract in their trade with the Tigers in late March, and they will have to address the future of a lot of their young core, such as Dallas Keuchel, who can become a free agent after next season.
But you never know; the Astros have had interest in Lucroy in the past, get to take Carlos Beltran's $16 million deal off their books, and may decide to trade Evan Gattis, who is arbitration eligible, and is due a hefty raise.
Predicting free agency is almost impossible. You never know how the market is going to shape out. There's likely going to be a team or two interested in Lucroy that nobody is expecting.
One thing that will help Lucroy is that he will not be subject to a qualifying offer since he was dealt in the middle of the season. That makes him more attractive, as teams won't have to give up a draft choice to sign him.
We'll see how it plays out, but as an early prediction, I'm saying that Lucroy signs a 3-year, $36 million deal to remain in Colorado.
That's good money, more than doubling his salary from 2016, but I'm hoping he gets more.