While some of you were sleeping, word spread like wildfire across social media platforms that the long-rumored discussions between the Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Brewers had bred a deal, with All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy tentatively dealt to the top team in the American League Central for a pile of prospects.
The deal is believed to be contingent on Lucroy waving his no-trade provision, as the Indians were one of eight teams listed in the terms of his contract. The trade is also pending review of as many as five different physicals, with three to four minor leaguers potentially heading to Milwaukee’s franchise as part of the transaction.
Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported the rumored deal.
BREAKING: #Brewers, #Indians in agreement on Lucroy. He still must approve trade.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 31, 2016
The big sticking point appears to be the compensation for Lucroy, who is drastically underpaid for the level of performance he has provided the Brewers throughout his career, and certainly this season. He is making $4 million this season and has a team option for $5.25 million for next season. It is believed that Lucroy is looking for an extension or some financial compensation from Cleveland to complete the deal.
The 30-year-old Lucroy would be an upgrade to a drastically underperforming catching position for the Indians, who have had little offensive support in the lineup from the backstops on their roster.
Indians catchers this season have hit just .169 with a .215 on-base percentage, both the worst combined contributions in Major League Baseball. Their .289 slugging percentage is better than just Pittsburgh’s .269 mark across the game and their 62 hits are two better than Tampa Bay’s catchers.
Prior to his right shoulder injury, Yan Gomes had hit just .165 with a .198 OBP for the Tribe in 2016 with eleven doubles, eight homers, and 32 RBI. Last season, he was limited to 95 games, hitting .231 with 12 homers and 45 RBI, just one season after hitting .278 with 21 homers and 74 RBI while winning the Silver Slugger Award for AL catchers.
Gomes was expected to miss six to eight weeks with his separated shoulder.
Roberto Perez has played in just eleven games this season and has one single to his credit (.043 average), but he drew six walks prior to landing on the disabled list at the end of April with a fractured right thumb that required surgery after a play at the plate in Philadelphia. Since his return, he is 1-for-15 (.067) at the plate with one run batted in. He may have returned prematurely to the Indians lineup, as he was still working his way through his rehab assignment when Gomes’ injury created an immediate need at the catching position on their Major League roster.
Chris Gimenez was added to the club when Perez was hurt. The eight-year pro, drafted by Cleveland in the 19th round of the 2004 draft, made his third trip to the Indians organization after stints with the club in 2009-2010 and 2014. In 42 games this season for the Tribe, he has hit .202 with a .238 OBP, hitting one double, two homers, and driving in six runs. While he has provided the team with three sacrifices and one sacrifice fly, he has also grounded into seven double plays.
Lucroy, by comparison to the Tribe’s three catchers and their combined “production”, is hitting an even .300 this season with a .360 OBP, 17 doubles, 13 homers, and 50 RBI. He made his second National League All-Star team this season (also in 2014). He was named the Brewers’ “Good Guy Award” winner in each of the last three seasons and was the MLBPAA Brewers Heart and Hustle Award nominee in 2014, 2015, and 2016.
In addition to 82 games behind the plate this season, he has spent parts of six games at first base and was a designated hitter three times during Interleague games.
He was not in the lineup for the Brewers on Saturday night as trade talks were progressing. Several other teams had been linked with Milwaukee for his services, including the New York Mets, Texas, and Detroit.
He was a third round pick by the Brewers in 2007 out of Louisiana-Lafayette. He reached the Majors in 2010, hitting as high as .320 in 2012 and hitting as many as 18 homers and 82 RBI in 2013. He more than doubled his previous career high in doubles in 2014 when he led the Majors with 53.
Last season, he was limited to 103 games, hitting .264 with 20 doubles, seven homers, and 43 RBI while missing nearly six weeks with a broken left big toe suffered on a foul tip early in the year. He had found his groove at the plate at the end of August and early September, hitting in 13 of 14 games with three homers over two games before suffering a concussion after taking a foul tip off of his mask against Miami.
Lucroy has said that he desires to play for a contender, something the Brewers have struggled to be during his time with the club. They have finished higher than third in the NL Central just once in his seven seasons at the Major League level, when they won the division with a 96-66 record in 2011. That season, they lost in the NLCS. They have finished just two other seasons with winning records while he has been on the roster.
The Indians are rumored to be sending three or four players to the Brewers to acquire Lucroy’s services. Among the names more frequently mentioned in the rumor mill are catcher Francisco Mejia, shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang, and outfielder Greg Allen.
Mejia extended his hitting streak to 42 straight games with a single on Saturday at Winston-Salem. The 20-year-old switch-hitting catcher has appeared in 18 games at High-A Lynchburg, hitting .329 with a .338 OBP. He played in 60 games for Class-A Lake County in his second season with the Captains, hitting .347 with a .384 OBP prior to his promotion. He was a Midwest League All-Star for the Captains and participated in the All-Star Futures Game in San Diego earlier in the month.
Chang, a 20-year-old shortstop, was also a minor league All-Star this season in his first season at the High-A level. In 95 games for Lynchburg, he is hitting .272 with a .346 OBP, 28 doubles, eight triples, 12 homers, and 69 RBI. He was named the Carolina League’s Player of the Week in early June, made the league’s All-Star Game, and participated in its Home Run Derby with teammate Bobby Bradley. The right-handed hitter is in his third professional season of play after 42 games in the Arizona League in 2014 and 105 games with Lake County last season, where he provided a .232/.293/.361 slash line with 16 doubles, four triples, nine homers, and 52 RBI.
Allen, 23, is also in his third season of professional ball after being drafted in the sixth round of the 2014 draft out of San Diego State. He is on pace to set new career highs in nearly every offensive statistic and was promoted from Lynchburg to Double-A Akron when Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer were promoted to Triple-A Columbus last Monday. Allen, who had appeared in three games for the Hillcats last season, played in 92 games for Lynchburg this season, hitting .298 with a .424 OBP. He hit 16 doubles, four triples, four homers, and drove in 31 while scoring a league-leading 93 times. He has stolen 38 bases in 45 attempts. In six games for the RubberDucks, he is hitting .259 with a homer, four RBI, two runs scored, and a stolen base.
There had been speculation that left-hander Justus Sheffield (Indians’ first rounder in 2014) could also be in the deal, but Rosenthal was reporting that the possible fourth player was a ‘lesser prospect’, and Sheffield is one of the top pitching prospects in the organization. The 20-year-old out of Tullahoma, Tennessee, is 7-5 this season with a 3.59 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in 19 starts. He has struck out 93 and walked 40 over 95 1/3 innings. He is scheduled to start for the Hillcats on Sunday night.
The details of the rumored deal and any remaining obstacles will likely surface over the course of the day Sunday, but those complications should resolve themselves as the day progresses and the Indians may have filled two big club needs without parting with either of their top two prospects, Frazier and Zimmer.
Photo: AP Photo/Benny Sieu