USA Today Sports writer Bob Nightengale profiled two players dealing with the same problem on Wednesday: Jay Bruce and Jonathan Lucroy are in limbo.Both expected to be traded at some point during the 2016 season.
While Bruce isn't relevant for the Astros, Lucroy is. Nightengale sights the same report that Fox Sports reporter Ken Rosenthal noted in February:
The connection is easy to make. Former Astros assistant general manager David Stearns is the man in charge now for the Brewers. The Brewers have a player that can help solidify a spot for the Astros.
The new wrinkle presented by Nightingale is the inclusion of the Braves as part of a three-way trade. Could the Astros have been sending Jason Castro to Atlanta, who currently has 39-year-old A.J. Pierzynski as a backstop?
To break down Lucroy as option for the Astros:
Lucroy is under contract through 2016 ($4,250,00) with a club option for 2017 ($5,250,00). One year of extra control over Castro.
The Astros have repeatedly shown that they value years of control in trades of the major deals the Astros have pulled off over the past few seasons, the majority of players have at least three years of control remaining -- including Evan Gattis, Mike Fiers, Dan Straily, Jake Marisnick, Colin Moran and Ken Giles. The only exceptions to this rule are Luis Valbuena and Carlos Gomez.
One extra year of control doesn't seem to fit the Astros mold for a trade target.
Lucroy could easily be an upgrade at the plate for the Astros at catcher. He was a National League All-Star in 2014, Lucroy batted .301 with 13 home runs, 69 RBI, and 53 doubles.
In 2015, he batted .264 with 20 doubles, seven home runs and 43 RBIs.Lucroy played in 153 games in 2014 and 103 in 2015 after dealing with broken toe.
Jason Castro batted .211 with 19 doubles, 11 home runs and 31 RBI in 104 games in 2015.
Indeed, the catcher position is a place that looks like a glaring place to improve with rest of the Astros lineup improving. But Fangraphs compares Lucroy (-7.8) and Castro (-10.3) rank as 14th and 15th in offensive rankings (batted runs+base running runs) among catchers with at least 350 plate appearances in 2015.
Both catchers, Castro and Lucroy, are considered above average defenders. Fangraphs ranks Castro as the seventh-best catcher in defensive ranking (10.6) while Lucroy is ranked 23rd (6.9). Castro was a finalist for the 2015 American League Gold Award.
A single stat of course doesn't tell the story but the point to show is Lecroy as vast improvement enough to make a move for the Astros? What will be the cost?
The Astros have made deals left and right since Jeff Luhnow took over as general manager of the Astros. The high volume of deals have shown the value of trade assets for the Astros. The cuts into the Astros depth have gotten deeper and deeper with each deal.
Evan Gattis required right-hander Mike Foltynewicz, Rio Ruiz and Andrew Thurman. Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers required Brett Phillips, Domingo Santana, Adrian Houser and lefty Josh Hader. Ken Giles required Vincent Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer, Thomas Eshelman, Mark Appel and Harold Arauz. That is 12 prospects for four players and it is easy to guesstimate that more than half the players will at least appear in the majors this season.
What is the cost for an all-star catcher that swing the bat? If you think it wouldn't include a player of A.J. Reed, Lance McCullers or Alex Bregman's claber, think again. David Stearns knows the value of the Astros system, no valuble piece is going to come cheap*.
My entire point is Jonathan Lecroy is a player that the Astros should take a look at but there is a reason they haven't pulled the trigger for trade. The vast improvement without a high cost simply isn't there for the Astros. Houston should focus more on adding a veteran backup catcher this offseason instead of pulling out all of the stops for Lucroy.
*Editor's Note: Story updated to note the fact that David Stearns wasn't Brewers GM at the time of the Carlos Gomez/Brett Phillips trade.