Last Saturday afternoon, the Chicago White Sox fortified their pitching staff by acquiring James Shields from the San Diego Padres. Analysis of that trade can be found here, but to summarize, I really liked the deal for Chicago, as the cost was small from both a player and a financial perspective.
Unfortunately for the Chi-Sox, their roster still has some major holes to fill, most notably on offense. While many have assumed that the area to add to would be in Chicago’s outfield, I feel that their is another route that the team can take. That would be making a run at Jonathan Lucroy of the Milwaukee Brewers.
I will start with the big picture. Entering play on Tuesday, the White Sox sit tied for 3rd in the AL Central with the Detroit Tigers at 29-28, 3.5 games back of the Cleveland Indians. The team boasts one of the American League’s worst offenses, ranking in the bottom third of most major offensive categories, and doesn’t seem to have the pieces internally to bring a major shift in production moving forward:
- .243 AVG ranks 11th
- .313 OBP – 11th
- .381 SLG% – 14th
- 51 HR – 14th
- 217 RBIs – 11th
- 229 Runs – 12th
Furthermore, the team’s current catching tandem of Dioner Navarro and Alex Avila, each signed in the off-season to one-year contracts to improve offense at the position, just isn’t getting the job done. While White Sox catchers as whole rank middle of the pack in the AL in terms of batting average and on-base percentage (7th and 8th respectively), they have not done so well in other categories:
- .314 SLG% – 12th
- 2 HR – 13th
- 17 RBIs – 12th
- 19 Runs – 11th
Basically, Avila and Navarro have been decent enough at simply getting on base, but are providing nearly nothing in terms of power. Navarro, being the switch-hitter, has received a few more at-bats than the lefty-hitting Avila (124 PA versus 86 PA), but generally speaking, they are equally at fault thus far.
Bring in Jonathan Lucroy. The openly-rebuilding Milwaukee Brewers are currently 14.5 games back of the Cubs in the NL Central at 26-31. The team already attempted shopping Lucroy once this past off-season, but elected to hold onto him until he could rebuild his value following an injury plagued 2015 season. In his prime at the age of 29, Lucroy has done what the Brewers expected and more. Of 16 catchers in the majors with 150 or more plate appearances, here are Lucroy’s ranks in each of the previously mentioned categories:
- .316 AVG – 2nd
- .372 OBP – 2nd
- .539 SLG% – 2nd
- 9 HR – 1st
- 28 RBI – 2nd
- 30 Runs – 1st
Keep in mind, these are ranks in relation to the entire MLB, not just the NL. This is not something new with Lucroy either, as he owns a career .284/.342/.438 triple-slash over his career with 75 home runs in 763 games. If you remove his inconsistent, injury plagued 2015 season from the equation, then his career batting line rises to .288/.345/.445, good for a .790 OPS. It should go without saying that this type of production from the catcher’s position would be a major plus to any roster. Lucroy is no slouch defensively either, ranking just above average over his career with 6 defensive runs saved (DRS). Even if Lucroy didn’t maintain his current 2016 production (though he certainly could given what he did in 2014), he could still be counted on as a plus at the catching position for Chicago.
This brings us to what it would really take to pry a player like Lucroy away from the Brewers. On his current contract, Lucroy is making $4.35 million in 2016, and his team holds a $5.25 million option with a $250K buyout for 2017. Being on such a team-friendly deal, acquiring Lucroy would likely come at a hefty price. It is possible that the White Sox are moving towards their upper payroll limit, but this could theoretically be offset by moving Navarro to the Brewers in the deal, as he is on a $4 million salary this season. Lucroy is a right-handed hitter, so he could play first base or DH on days where Avila is behind the dish. As far as prospect packages are concerned, Milwaukee is almost guaranteed to ask about SS Tim Anderson or SP Carson Fulmer in any deal. It would be up to Chicago to decide whether or not they feel comfortable trading away one or both of their blue-chip prospects in order to upgrade at catcher. Maybe the Brewers could also include a relief pitcher in the deal, another need of the White Sox. This may make Chicago more willing to part with a pitching prospect like Fulmer.
Beyond their top two guys, I feel that the White Sox should be open to parting with any and all other pieces necessary to acquire Lucroy. This may mean pitcher Spencer Adams, outfielders Courtney Hawkins and Adam Engel, or third baseman Trey Michalczewski. The Brewers seem to have a long term need at the hot corner, so Michalczewski makes plenty of sense. With three of the top 50 picks in this year’s amateur draft, the White Sox should be able to replenish a decent amount of whatever they end up trading away. Ultimately, it may take a significant package to acquire him (think Navarro plus two to three of the above names, depending one who is included), but in the short term, it would be well worth it.