Sunday, July 31, 2016

Luke in Limbo

Went to the Brewers game last night with a large group. Good times, great weather, and a nice win for the Crew. But obviously the bigger story is off the field, as the team agreed to trade All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy to the Cleveland Indians, only to see Lucroy veto the trade. Here are my thoughts on it.

1. Luke's decision to turn down the trade seems to be based on playing time and money. He's got a cheap (by MLB standards) $5.25 million contract for 2017, but then gets a chance to cash in as a free agent after that year. The Indians said that they weren't planning to have Lucroy catch full-time next year (when their younger, high-prospect catcher comes back from injury), and Luke felt his stats and playing time might suffer, which would hurt his desirability on the free agent market. When Lucroy couldn't get the Indians to then void the last year of his contract and make him a free agent after THIS year, he told them to fuck off. I can't blame him for thinking about what this trade would have done to his future earning ability, although it does blow up Luke's complaints this off-season about being OK with being traded out of Milwaukee because he wanted to play for a contender (the Indians are 4 1/2 games in first as I type this).

2. This is you build certain things into contracts when you negotiate them. Luke gave the Brewers a significant discount when he signed a 5-year contract extension in 2012, but he got the freedom to turn down trades to places he didn't want to go to (and/or have his family go to). He's got that leverage, even if you disagree with his choice to push it there. It seems like the Brewers get this (General Manager David Stearns seemed pretty cool with it, and indicated he would move on and see what happens from here), and it's probably less unusual than we think- we just don't often see it play out in public like this.

3. The Brewers don't need to take a subpar offer for Lucroy- keep him around if someone doesn't give you a huge deal. All-Star catchers don't exactly grow on trees, and while the Brewers aren't contenders this year, they're doing better than many of us thought. Why not keep Luke as a piece to build around for that future, or a piece to trade in the off-season when there should be a better market for him, (given that more teams will know their needs and the Brewers won't be pressured by the trade deadline)? Ryan Braun seems unlikely to be traded in the next 2 days, given that Braun is both hurt and is set to be paid big money for the next 3 years, so I think the off-season is the best time to re-evaluate where the team is, and to see what other teams might be willing to give.

4. The Brewers are in an entertainment industry, and I don't know how they could sell the last 2 months of the season to their fans if Lucroy (aka "The Face of the Franchise") and Braun were given away with no immediate help coming. Yes, they're playing good ball right now (6-3 in this current homestand), but I'd still anticipate a whole lot of small crowds the rest of the year if there were no major stars to come to see from the home team. I think Brewers fans have been remarkably patient and understanding that the Crew is in a long-term rebuilding project after last year's disaster, but you're going to have to start contending in the next 2-3 years, or else the fans will give up and stop coming.

I find the whole last 12-18 hours in Brewer-land interesting more than anything else. The team is holding Luke out of the lineup again today (so they don't get caught in a strategic disadvantage if he's traded during the game), and we'll see if Luke gets sent to the Dodgers or Mets in the next 24 hours. But if it doesn't happen, I have full confidence Luke will continue to be a pro and continue to play hard for the Crew.

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