Lucroy On The Block As Rangers Limp Into All-Star Break
The Rangers beat the Red Sox 8-2 on Wednesday night, giving their fans a brief reprieve from what has been a dismal ten days for the club. The Rangers have won just three of their last ten ballgames; they now sit 17 games back of the Astros in the AL West and 3.5 games back in the Wild Card (with 5 teams ahead of them in that race).
The series against the Red Sox was synonymous with the Rangers season . On Monday night, the Rangers trailed the Red Sox late before Mike Napoli hit a dramatic, game-tying home run on the first pitch thrown by Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel. It was a great moment for Rangers fans—but instead of that moment defining a great comeback win, it was simply a nice moment in another heartbreaking loss. The Rangers could not score again in the bottom of the ninth, and the Red Sox scored twice off Ernesto Frieri in the top of the eleventh to continue their roll with a 7-5 victory.
Tuesday was the game the Rangers were supposed to win. After all, they had their ace, Yu Darvish, on the mound. Sadly, the fireworks came early, and courtesy of Boston’s big bats. On the whole, nothing went right for Darvish and the Rangers on the 4th of July—just as not much has gone right this season over all. Yu lasted just 4.1 innings and gave up seven earned runs. It was 11-0 before the Rangers plated a run, and they went on to a deflating 11-4 loss.
Wednesday night, although the Rangers earned a win, there was still a moment in the game that had “2017 Rangers” written all over it. Andrew Cashner, who has been one of the few bright spots for the Rangers this year, took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, with an 8-0 cushion with which to work. Cashner was dealing, and had an extremely manageable pitch count as well.
In the sixth inning, the Red Sox first two hitters went in order, then Cashner then induced a ground ball to shortstop that should’ve ended the inning. Jurickson Profar, playing short in place of Elvis Andrus, fired to first base (a little low and a little wide, but reachable). Pete Kozma, who had been inserted at first base to start the sixth in place of an ailing Joey Gallo, simply dropped the ball; in reality, it was a very easy play to make—and Kozma simply failed to make it.
While the no-hitter was still intact, it gave the Red Sox and extra out.
Nothing makes the Baseball Gods angrier than giving away outs; They made that clear, as Xander Bogaerts proceeded to break up the shutout and the no-hitter in the very next at-bat with a two-run home run. That’s simply it: the Rangers just can’t have nice things in 2017.
So here the Rangers sit, 3 games from the All-Star break with the reality that 2017 just isn’t their year making itself ever-present in the mirror. With that reality come other realities, the most notable being that the trade deadline could look somewhat different for the Rangers this year.
In the past two seasons, the Rangers have made big splashes in July. In 2015, it was Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman, and Sam Dyson who became Rangers. In 2016, it was Carlos Beltran, Jonathan Lucroy, and Jeremy Jeffress who joined the fold. In each of those instances, the Rangers acquired their trade targets with future building blocks they’d stocked in the minor leagues. Jorge Alfaro, Nick Williams, Alec Asher, Luis Ortiz, and Lewis Brinson were just some of the big name youngsters that the Rangers parted with to acquire “win-now” pieces at the Big League level.
You can’t blame the Rangers for opening their youth warehouse to acquire big name talent. Good teams make those decisions.
In 2016, the Rangers were a very good team. They were arguably the best team in the American League all season long and acquired pieces at the deadline that could have propelled them to the World Series; it just didn’t work out.
Of those acquisitions in 2016, perhaps none was bigger than the trade for All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
Lucroy was the catcher the Rangers had long been missing. He was extremely talented defensively, able to make the pitchers he worked with better, and provided a significant amount of pop offensively.
The Lucroy move seemed to pay off at first. In just 47 regular season games with the Rangers, Lucroy hit 11 home runs and drove in 31 runs, with a .276/.345/.539 slash line. Lucroy also provided stability behind the plate—which allowed the Rangers, who had been struggling, to finish the season with a 33-22 record.
As with most of the Rangers pitching, however, Lucroy disappeared in the playoffs. Lucroy had just one hit in the Toronto series, and we all know enough about that weekend to not rehash it here.
Before the 2017 season, Lucroy still seemed to be very much in the Rangers plans. Would the Rangers try and work out a long-term deal? Would they negotiate an extension during the season? Did the Yadier Molina extension price the Rangers out? These were all legitimate questions that were being asked as the 2017 season commenced.
Those questions seem silly now.
With just over three weeks to go until the trade deadline, it seems clear that the Rangers are more than willing to deal Lucroy at the deadline. Several local and national writers have made it clear that the Rangers don’t intend to extend an offer to Lucroy in the off-season. Their best option? Get something for him in return at the deadline.
So, what has happened?
Simply, Lucroy just hasn’t been the game-changing catcher the Rangers hoped they were getting at the trade deadline last year.
His defense and framing skills are much deteriorated (other than his ability to throw runners out, which is a less valuable skill in a league where stolen bases are a less and less deployed weapon).
He hasn’t developed a strong relationship behind the plate with Rangers pitchers the way Robinson Chirinos has and his offense game seems to have regressed as well. Chirinos, meanwhile, has improved his defense and become one of the unquestioned leaders of the clubhouse—all while hitting home runs at an astronomical pace (basically one every 10 at-bats) when he gets opportunities to start.
This is why the 2017 deadline is going to be different for the Rangers. While the Rangers are unlikely to going into full-on “sell mode”, since they are still technically within striking distance in the wild card, you are unlikely to see them give up any of their prized prospects in return for “win-now” players.
Instead, they are dangling veteran guys like Lucroy. Their hope is that they can trade off a few players who can help contenders while acquiring talent that can help them stay alive in the wild-card race while also making them stronger for the future. Let’s call it “soft selling”.
It’s never fun to lose a trade like the Rangers seem to have done with the Lucroy deal. Lewis Brinson has been successful this year with Milwaukee’s Triple-A squad and is likely to become a very productive outfielder in the Majors. The Rangers, meanwhile, have a depleted farm system almost completely devoid of Major League-ready talent—and are in a place where their biggest need is to replenish their system.
Baseball can be a cruel game sometimes. Just eleven months ago, Rangers fans were dreaming of the World Series and giddy about acquiring the catcher that was going to put the team over the top.
Now that same catcher is likely to be traded and the team is very likely to miss the playoffs and enter the offseason with a very murky future to look forward to.
Here is the good news, though. Whatever you may think about Jon Daniels, I believe he has earned the right to see the Rangers through these uncertain times. Few baseball teams have enjoyed the run of success that the Rangers have for the better part of a decade. Daniels was the primary architect behind that. Daniels has also shown the bravery to make big splashes at the trade deadline, which is what you want your GM to do.
Raise your hand if you were unhappy that the Rangers were the winners of the trade deadline last season? That’s right; there’s not many of you. Daniels did the right thing; it just didn’t work out. That happens anytime the series is best three of five or even four of seven.
It’s hard to develop a team for a 162-game stretch. But that’s nothing compared to building a team that can shift gears and have momentum plus roster composition on its side for October. Regardless, though, Daniels should at least be given the opportunity to right the ship.
That process will likely start with saying goodbye to Jonathan Lucroy in, at most, a few weeks’ time.