With the unfortunate developments on first baseman Lucas Duda not looking rosy for the New York Mets for the next several weeks, the talk has been on whom among the in-house options could fill in during his absence.
The usual suspects have been mentioned, Eric Campbell, Wilmer Flores upon his return from his own DL stint later this week, recent call-up Ty Kelly, and the potential for even Michael Conforto and or David Wright to get reps there as well.
It makes some sense to see how Wright would fare at first base, given his spinal stenosis and how long it takes him to prepare each game he plays. Maybe shifting to the opposite corner would help with his back, not having to make those long throws across the field. With Conforto, I’d rather the 23-year-old continue to focus his attention at the plate, and play in left-field, at least for the remainder of 2016.
With that being said, it looks like the Mets are in some agreement with me, as David Lennon of Newsday tweeted out a quote from assistant GM John Ricco before the Mets got underway in Washington to face the Nationals.
“We are not going to be able to replace Lucas Duda internally”. The Mets could look to trade for Lucas Duda’s replacement at first base, Ricco told reporters.
This could also mean that the Mets wont be able to duplicate what Duda offers the club, but I think the Mets realize that their in-house options aren’t so great. So where does this leave the team going forward?
One possible solution is Milwaukee Brewers’ catcher/first baseman Jonathan Lucroy, who’s in his final year of the 5-year $11 million contract he signed back in 2012. The good news is, he wouldn’t be a rental player, as he has a team option for 2017 at $5.25 million, a bargain for an All-Star caliber player still in his prime.
The Mets and Brewers talked last summer before the trade deadline about a blockbuster trade involving Wilmer Flores and Zack Wheeler for center-fielder Carlos Gomez, however the framework fell apart when the Mets didn’t like what they saw from Gomez’s medical reports. So needless to say, these two teams might need to let bygones be bygones, and work towards a new deal involving Lucroy.
Lucroy, 29, has been a solid catcher for the Brew Crew for the past several seasons. From 2011 to 2015, he’s put up a solid line of .286/.345/.443, which amounts to an OPS of .788. He’s amassed 68 home runs during that five-year period, with 311 runs batted in and averaging an OPS+ of 114 in that stretch.
And so far in 2016, Lucroy’s enjoyed a solid bounce back season after a down year in 2015. To date, Lucroy has put up a stat line of .287/.352/.473 for an OPS of .825. He’s hit 6 home runs, with 17 runs batted in, putting up an OPS+ of 120. As of Monday night, Lucroy ranked second among Major League catchers in OPS, slugging, home runs, and extra base hits.
His defensive abilities have also been highly praised throughout his 7-year career, notably for his pitch framing and his improving arm behind the dish. In 2012, he had a caught stealing rate of 21%, well below the league average of 27%. In 2013 he went up one percentage point to 22%, followed by 26%, 28% last season, and now is up to 36% this year.
Of course, Lucroy would be brought here to be the permanent stopgap at first base while Duda is recovering from his stress fracture in his lower back. Lucroy has seen a little time at first base during his Major League career, manning the position in 43 games in his career, posting a .988 fielding percentage.
Before the Brewers asked Lucroy to play first back in 2013 for a few games, he last played the position during a stint in a college summer league back in 2006. But he looks like he’s been able to handle first in the limited time he’s been there, and would be a better option than moving Neil Walker over, whose never played first before professionally, or sticking with Eric Campbell, who has done a good job defensively, but provides little at the plate.
Two questions arise if the Mets were to trade for Lucroy: 1. What would the Brewers want in return for him? 2. What would happen to Travis d’Arnaud?
In trying to answer the first question, teams this past off-season repeatedly asked the Brewers about Lucroy and his availability, but held off due to the “high cost” the Brewers were asking for in return. Teams that were reportedly interested in trading for Lucroy were the Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, Oakland Athletics, and Houston Astros.
Considering that the Brewers don’t have a viable option to replace Lucroy at catcher in the Majors, they do however have 28-year-old Manny Pina in Triple A Colorado, who currently has a .960 OPS. But he’s more of a journeyman minor leaguer, amassing over 750 minor league games since 2005. Could a swap with the Brewers include a Met catcher and young pitcher? Could the Mets swing a deal that would include d’Arnaud? This would also answer the second question on what would happen to the 27-year-old right-handed catcher upon his return from the disabled list.
While fans have been split on d’Arnaud for years, loving the potential he offers with his bat, yet unable to play a full season due to injuries, it seems we might never see d’Arnaud live up to his full potential due to what seems to be a perennial injury or two. In d’Arnaud, the Brewers are buying high on a young, affordable, under contract player while they rebuild their club. His earliest arbitration year would be in 2017, and the earliest he could be a free agent would not be until 2020, so the Brewers would be gaining several years of control, compared to the year and a half left on Lucroy’s deal. And of course there would be additional pieces added to such a trade, but d’Arnaud would be a major centerpiece.
The Mets could keep playing Kevin Plawecki and Rene Rivera at catcher, while Lucroy plays first. Once Duda is cleared to play and ready to return, the Mets could slide Lucroy back at catcher, and keep Plawecki as his backup.
All of this is obviously just posture at this point, and the Brewers might be asking for a heck of a lot more than what the Mets are willing to give up in a trade. However, Sandy Alderson should make a note of dialing Brewers’ GM David Stearns, and initiating some dialogue that might prove to be an upgrade offensively, and health wise for the immediate future for the Mets.