CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – The Cleveland Indians made two blockbuster trades at the Trade Deadline in 2016, one which propelled the team to the American League pennant. The other never happened.
There is still time for the trade acquiring Jonathan Lucroy to become more important that it did not happen than the acquisition of Andrew Miller going through.
Obviously, comparing the impact of Miller to potential impact of the four prospects included in the Lucroy deal will heavily favor the game’s best relief pitcher, especially given the likelihood that any or all of those prospects do not pan out.
The most important part of Lucroy’s decision not to waive his no-trade clause a year later is what the catcher has not been able to do.
Compared to the Indians’ catcher situation, Lucroy’s .267/.308/.381 split looks like a dream, but the now Rangers backstop is having his worst year at the plate since his rookie year. The 31-year old currently holds a putrid 23.6% of batted balls hit hard, his worst since 2011, and second-worst of his career.
Lucroy also went just 1-for-12 in the Rangers’ three-games against Toronto in the ALDS.
Considering Roberto Perez was 2-for-9 in the Indians’ ALDS sweep of the Red Sox, and hit one of the biggest home runs for the Indians in the World Series, Lucroy’s potential impact was not exactly missed.
Team President Chris Antonetti was reluctant to speak about the Rangers catcher, but remained reassuring about the team’s current backstops.
“As Tito (Francona) said, players more often than not find ways to get to their level, and when you give them enough time, they’ll play and perform to the level that you would expect most of the time,” Antonetti said. “I think what we’ve seen with Yan and Roberto, they’re both very capable major league catchers. Yan has been a silver slugger, and elite defender. Roberto led us to Game 7 of the World Series last year, so he did a pretty good job with that.
“This year both guys continue to do a great job defensively, they continue to lead the pitching staff, they continue to control the running game exceedingly well, control the strike zone well. They still do all of those things well, though their batting averages or their offensive output may not be where they hope or where we think they might be at the end of the year.”
As for the four prospects in the deal, C Francisco Mejia, OF Greg Allen, SS Yu-Cheng Chang and RHP Shawn Armstrong, all look destined to be a part of the team’s future. With the promotion of OF Bradley Zimmer, Mejia becomes the top prospect in the organization, Allen 7th and Chang 9th, while Armstrong has helped the team in spots since 2015.
All but Allen are having tremendous seasons, with the outfielder undergoing wrist surgery in early May that has kept him sidelined. Before the surgery, the 24-year old Allen was splitting .267/.362/.356 in 26 games, also turning in nine stolen bases.
Mejia, projected as a 70 hitter in the future on an 80 point scale, is again impressing in his first stint with Double-A Akron, splitting .346/.389/.574 in 49 games, good enough for a 162 wRC+. The catcher, projected as a 45 power hitter, is already one short of season-high in home runs at eight.
While the backstop is garnering call-up requests from fans through the struggles of Perez and Yan Gomes at the plate, Mejia is still far away from having a defensive impact like the team’s major league catchers. The 21-year old has already surpassed his 2016 total in passed balls, with seven, and is 10-of-36 on throwing out potential base-stealers.
With his production through the roof, Antonetti added that Mejia’s progression is not strictly merit-based.
“He only has a half a season at Double-A at this point, and he has some things he continues to work through developmentally and is continuing to work on,” he said. “Hopefully he can continue on the path, because if he is, he’s on the path to being a very good major league player. But it is not as easy as calling a guy up and expecting him to perform at the major leagues the same as he is in the minor leagues.”
Chang also earned his first promotion to Akron to start the season and is succeeding, albeit in a different manner than he had at other stops. Chang is batting .221, a career worst, with an OBP of .297, four points off of his career worst.
But the 21-year old middle infielder and his projected 40 power have turned in a career-high 17 home runs through 65 games, already four north of his previous high a year ago, on a career-high 51.9% fly-ball rate. He also has 12 doubles and 3 triples thus far, but is striking out at a career-high 29.8% rate.
Armstrong has pitched the most games in his big league career to this point, and despite his 5.02 ERA and 5.37 numbers through those 11 games, those numbers are at 2.93 and 2.98 in 13 games at Triple-A Columbus, along with an 11.74% strikeout rate.
The kicker of the situation is that the Rangers and Lucroy have tabled their contract extension talks, making it unlikely the bounty Texas gave up for the catcher will pay off.