The Miami Marlins briefly saw their name emerge in the Yoenis Cespedes sweepstakes earlier this week, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Such a move would seemingly depend on the slugger accepting a short-term deal, something that seems extremely unlikely given the unfortunate news that the Nationals have stepped to the plate with a legitimate five-year offer to land the All-Star outfielder. While it’s certainly disappointing that he will both not be a Marlin and not even be leaving the NL East, all is not lost if you’re looking for a way to add an available impact bat to the lineup. Milwaukee Brewers All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy is apparently sick of rebuilding and wants out. The Marlins should take a hard look at what it would take to oblige him.
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Now it’s possible you’re thinking that the Marlins already have a catcher in J.T. Realmuto. And if you are an avid reader of Marlin Maniac, you might have even heard from someone that he’s a promising young player. But so was Juan Lagares– a 2014 Gold Glove winner that found himself relegated to a fourth outfielder role as soon as Cespedes became available. A survey of the sports landscape will find plenty of examples of young, developing talent either taking a backseat or being shipped out of town to allow an established star to fuel a championship run; in short, this is by no means unprecedented. The addition of Lucroy would allow for a veteran, All-Star bat that finished two spots behind Giancarlo Stanton in the 2014 MVP vote to add some pop to a lineup that finished 29th in runs scored last season. That seems well worth either forestalling or foregoing Realmuto’s development.
Naturally this is not without risk, as Lucroy is coming the second worst season of his career, and is a year removed from a significant injury- not what you want to hear about a catcher entering his 30s. As great as 2014 was, his 2015 found him out-producing Realmuto in terms of batting average by a miniscule five points- .264 to .259. Realmuto projects to improve, while it is possible that Lucroy has already entered his decline.
But on the other hand, J.T. would have to improve dramatically just to reach Lucroy’s career average of .282. Furthermore, Lucroy is significantly ahead in terms of on-base percentage, and light years beyond when it comes to the Marlins’ Achilles heel- runners in scoring position. The OBP edge comes out to just shy of forty points (.326 to .290), but RISP…. Even in that nearly career worst 2015, Lucroy was .283 in that respect, while J.T. managed just a dismal .215.
Lucroy would be a gain by virtually every hitting metric. He walks more, he hits better with men on base, he has more power, he’s a better clutch hitter. He has a track record of success in multiple spots in the order, hitting no worse than .288 between 3rd and 6th. And despite some recent Fangraphs work demonstrating a decline in his famed pitch framing ability, he’s still savvy enough in that department to have warranted a full ESPN feature chronicling his talent in that department just last season. This is the kind of move that allays some of the concerns your once-in-a-generation staff ace has about sticking around. Plus he’s cheap- dizzyingly so, topping out at just over $5 million for the remaining two years on his contract. That’s cheap even by Marlin standards. Oh, and he spent some of his time last year not playing catcher at all, but holding down first base. Jonathan Lucroy is a career .307 hitter against lefty pitching- not a bad occasional platoon option for Justin Bour.
Of course, the big question is whether or not Miami has the chips to get the deal done. This is the kind of move that only makes sense for a 2016 or 2017 run, so dealing from the big league roster would be out of the question. The only possible exception to that caveat would be Marcell Ozuna, but that’s only if the Marlins do sign another veteran starter to bolster the rotation; Ozuna remains the most disposable quality trade chip, and starting pitching remains the biggest weakness. Would Milwaukee consider a swap of catchers, along with acquiring a couple top prospects though? It’s worth asking. Maybe prospects alone can swing it, if the farm is completely blown up, and Realmuto could even be retained. That could be huge, especially if these NL DH rumors become more than rumblings.
This team has a two to three year window anyway when you stop and think about it. The 2018 season will be the last year before Fernandez reaches free-agency, and the first year Stanton’s salary will cease being team friendly, counting for $25 million against the payroll. If fully decimating a nearly decimated farm system allows the team to maximize the collection of talent they presently have, they might as well roll the dice. If Lucroy returns to even his career average, Miami is at worst a .500 or better team the next two years. If he flops, it’ll be a dramatically cheaper mistake than Jarrod Saltalamacchia was, and you could do worse than Tomas Telis at catcher.
If nothing else, it’s fun to think about.