John Lucroy wants to win. The Nats want to win, too. They've talked about liking Lucroy. A perfect fit... if it was 2015 again.
We mentioned just yesterday again the Nats' less than ideal catcher situation. You can blame injuries or you can blame talent but Ramos has never developed as they thought he might. He has had continuous trouble staying on the field and last year, in his first healthy season in years, he was awful. He hangs on to average usefulness through his defense. He may be ok this year, if the Nats are lucky. Then he hits free agency meaning the Nats would have to pay for a catcher to replace him.* Going into the offseason with an outright NEED is not the Nats way.
Lucroy should solve the production problem. Even in an off-year caused by concussion he was close to average. It's reasonable to expect some bounceback to an average season which would be a huge improvement over the last 2 years of Ramos/Lobaton. And it shouldn't be at the expense of defense. Lucroy's D has been good across the board for years and was above average again last year. So what's the problem?
The problem is which Lucroy do the Brewers think they are trading and which Lucroy do the other teams think they are trading for. From 2012-2014 Lucroy was an all-star level catcher. He could field and he could hit and combining that with his relatively young age (28 at the end of 2014), health (played full 2013 and 2014) and contract situation (2 more controlled years) made him arguably the second most valuable catcher in baseball going into 2015 behind Buster Posey. That Lucroy was worth your best prospect. Maybe not Giolito, but a Ross+ or a Turner+ definitely. (at least to those of us that don't overvalue prospects). That Lucroy was never on the table.
2015 Lucroy got injured and put up a much worse offensive season than he had in the past. He was barely average with more than half the league providing more offense than him. He also saw some major defensive declines biting into his other value. He seems like he could be a one year rental if he wants to test FA and he could be a coin flip on playing a full season.This Lucroy is worth a decent prospect but nothing more. Something sitting at the bottom of the Top 100, something like pre-2015 AJ Cole straight up.
The Brewers want to deal the 2012-2014 under the assumption the 2015 Lucroy was an anomaly. The teams want to give up talent equal to what the 2015 Lucroy is worth, acting like 2012-2014 is mostly ancient history. Can they meet in the middle?
The easy thing would be for the Nats to offer something in the middle, like a Cole+ deal. But the Nats have a particular problem with trades like this, because of an issue that has dogged them for years now. They have no "2nd tier" to their minor league. Rizzo bets big on his picks, often going for guys who should
be great if they are healthy. Occasionally he hits and the Nats have a
big time prospect on their hands (Rendon, Giolito) occasionally he
misses and the Nats have nothing (Purke). Overall this works pretty good
but it leaves the Nats devoid of those "next best" minor leaguers, the
ones made for deals like this. You might have been tricked into thinking they did last year but that was only because Rizzo dealt for them, bringing in Ross and Turner. The rest of those touted propects were probably overrated as evidenced by the fact they are going to fall off the list. Cole's timed out not making that next step in 2 years. Difo hasn't put up a good AA year. Lopez was bad. Unfortunately no one is joining them. Any previous Fedde ranking was all hope and he didn't justify it last year. Victor Robles has potential but hasn't played a game outside of low A. Andrew Stevenson, the Nats highest pick last draft, is just a guy in A ball right now.
So there is no "Cole+" available to the Nats. They could step it up, but a Turner or a Ross straight up now seems like an overpay for a potential one-year rental who didn't perform last year**. They'd love to step it down but a Difo plus a couple whatevers seems like an underpay for a potential all-star at a bargain price.
The middle point then is in a group of these other guys Difo and Cole and Lopez or At least two and something not terrible. But that guts the farm. It's a tough call.
This would all be easier if Lucroy had just had another very good year or if he wasn't that good to begin with. We'd all have a good idea on what the price should be. Then it's just a do they want to do it. With the price fluctuating it becomes harder. I'm saying it should be around Difo/Cole/+ but the Brewers may not agree, or the Nats may not agree. That's even before getting into the "should" part.
What do I think? I think you do offer Difo/Cole/+ and you do try to sign Lucroy to an extension because we're at the end of something here. There may be a new beginning, there may not be but I don't see Difo/Cole as keystones to any new beginning and we know there is a chance in 2016. Take it.
*Lobaton is no better and is older. Nats catching prospects are not good or close.
**Yes, I said Lucroy was worth these guys PLUS other stuff going into 2015. Things change. Lucroy was unexpectedly injured/bad. Ross went well past expectations skyrocketing his value and Turner kept on his, raising his value as he got closer to majors. It happens. Works the other way too. You might have said Lucroy was worth Cole, Difo, Lopez going into last year. Let's say Lucroy had a 2015 like 2014. Even with one less year of control it'd be hard to say he was worth the same as those guys this year given they've all disappointed in one way or another.