With the trade deadline now exactly two weeks away, it’s pretty clear as to what the Red Sox will be targeting before the end of the month. They are going to go hard after a third baseman, which makes sense because the production they’ve gotten at the hot corner has been nearly nonexistent. Todd Frazier appears to be the most likely target in that spot. It also seems very possible they will seek out help in the bullpen, and Joe Kelly’s injury probably made that more likely. It doesn’t appear there is a frontrunner there at this point. Those are the only two positions around which there have been rumors with the Red Sox as of now, unless you count the stories saying they are scouting Sonny Gray or Alex Rodriguez’ absurd idea of targeting Miguel Cabrera.
The more I think about this Red Sox roster and their needs heading into the deadline, though, the more I think there is another target who could be ideal. His presence on the roster would make things a little complicated, though, and it may not be worth it. I’m going to try to work through the possibly implications of such a deal below.
The player in question is Jonathan Lucroy, who was one of the top trade targets in all of baseball just one year ago. Fast Forward twelve months and all of a sudden the catcher is on the block again and is much less sought after. The Rangers catcher is having the worst year of his career, losing all semblance of power while also showing less patience than ever before. Furthermore, the generally elite pitch framer has actually cost his team runs behind the plate in 2017.
Despite all that, I feel as if he could be one of the best buy-low trade targets potentially on the market this season. The 31-year-old catcher has alternated between being solid and near-elite throughout his career prior to this season, and one bad half-season isn’t enough to completely ruin him. Furthermore, he won’t cost much money against the luxury tax since he’s making only $5.25 million this season and is a free agent this coming winter. Plus, since he is having a down year and is only under contract for a few more months, he wouldn’t cost all that much in a trade. I won’t try to guess on an exact package, but Boston certainly wouldn’t have to touch any elite prospects to get Lucroy.
While there are merits to the deal, there haven’t been any rumors that I have seen to connect the Red Sox to the Rangers catcher, though there have been plenty of reports that say he is available in a deal. It would make sense if the Red Sox did look for catching help, though. Despite a hot start from Christian Vazquez and a recent encouraging run from Sandy Leon, Boston’s catchers have been worse than all but six teams with the bat by wRC+. It’s even worse if you look at the last 30 days, as they fall down to 28th in baseball in that span. Getting little offense from the catcher position isn’t a rarity around the league, but the Red Sox are pushing the boundaries on that idea. Lucroy hasn’t been great at the plate this season, but it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t have significantly more upside than either Vazquez or Leon.
It’s not quite as simple as Lucroy representing a possible upgrade, though. The roster implications of adding another backstop are relatively complicated and would leave the Red Sox in a strange spot moving forward. Both Leon and Vazquez are out of options, meaning one of them would have to go unless the Red Sox want to carry three catchers. It is very unlikely they would want to carry three catchers. It’s complicated, though, because both Leon and Vazquez are bad enough that it’s possible the team wants an upgrade but too good to simply designate for assignment and move on. If this were to happen, the most likely next step would be to flip one of the current catchers for help elsewhere, probably in the bullpen.
Ideally, the Red Sox would probably try to flip Leon. He has seemingly less upside than Vazquez and has always seemed to be a smaller part of the future. The Vazquez/Blake Swihart catching tandem we’ve dreamed of for years is still on the table in the future, albeit with a much lower probability. The issue, however, is that a rebuilding team probably wouldn’t be all that enthused to trade for Leon, and a contending team isn’t going to trade a bullpen piece — or anything else useful for 2017 — to the Red Sox. Boston could probably get something very useful for Vazquez, but it’s not hard to see them regretting that move as soon as next spring.
I’m still kind of confused on where I stand on this issue. On the one hand, I think Lucroy is an underrated trade target who could be looking at a strong second half and would represent a massive upgrade over what Boston has gotten from the catcher position all year. On the other hand, there’s no guarantee that would be the case and it would probably mean getting little value for Leon or selling too early on Vazquez. In the end, I believe it would be worth it to deal Leon for very little, assuming you can get Lucroy for a relatively insignificant prospect package. I’d be surprised to see any of this come to fruition, but it’s at least worth looking into from Dave Dombrowski’s perspective.