Cubs feel they lucked out by signing Lucroy

August 8th, 2019

CHICAGO -- The moment that All-Star catcher was lost to injury over the weekend, the Cubs went to work on searching for external help.

On Wednesday, Chicago reached an agreement on a contract with veteran catcher , who officially joined the Cubs on Thursday in Cincinnati for the opener of a four-game series against the Reds. He'll bat eighth and catch Cole Hamels in his Chicago debut.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon said the team was thrilled to add a veteran player like Lucroy given the circumstances and the elimination of August waiver trades.

"To get a player of that caliber right now," Maddon said after Wednesday's 10-1 win over Oakland, "with everything that's going on for us, the misfortune, we're pretty fortunate with the new rules. If you just put everything in a box and talk about them all, it's pretty fortunate."

Lucroy, who has suited up for five teams over a 10-year Major League career, was designated for assignment on Friday after the Angels acquired Max Stassi from the Astros at the July 31 Trade Deadline. Lucroy was under contract for $3.35 million, but Los Angeles remains responsible for that salary after the catcher cleared waivers and was granted his release.

The Cubs are only required to pay Lucroy a prorated portion of the MLB minimum salary.

Contreras injured his right hamstring during Saturday's win over the Brewers, and the expectation is that the catcher will miss at least four weeks with the issue. With Contreras sidelined, Victor Caratini has moved into the starting role for Chicago. Taylor Davis was called up from Triple-A Iowa to serve as Caratini's backup, but he was optioned back to the same affiliate after Wednesday's win.

"He's a great catcher," Cubs lefty Derek Holland said of Lucroy, who caught the pitcher with Texas in 2016. "He's done a great job of getting the low target, keeping the ball down and a great job of controlling the game-calling. He's a good clubhouse guy, too. He's going to bring a lot to the table."

The 33-year-old Lucroy not only has experience with Holland, but he also caught Cole Hamels with the Rangers, and he has familiarity with the Cubs and the National League Central from his years as the Brewers' starting catcher.

The addition of Lucroy comes after the Cubs previously shuffled their catching situation prior to the Trade Deadline.

Chicago acquired veteran Martin Maldonado on July 15 from the Royals in exchange for lefty Mike Montgomery. At the time, Contreras needed to go on the 10-day injured list with a right foot issue. After Contreras returned, the Cubs carried three catchers until the team dealt Maldonado to the Astros on July 31 in order to acquire utility man Tony Kemp.

"We had Maldonado traded away," Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks said. "So yeah, to kind of just fall into that, have a guy available of [Lucroy's] stature, I think it's unbelievable. To have him be able to come in, obviously, it's going to be a pretty easy transition, I think. He's a guy that's been around, knows what he's doing and he knows some of the guys on this team."

In 74 games this season, Lucroy has hit .241 with seven home runs, 30 RBIs and a .681 OPS. Per Fangraphs, the catcher was below average in terms of pitch framing (minus 4.7 Framing Runs) with Los Angeles this year. He missed time after the All-Star break with a concussion and a fractured nose sustained in a home-plate collision with Jake Marisnick on July 7.

Maddon said all the reports on Lucroy's health were positive, but the manager was looking forward to sitting down and talking to the catcher in Cincinnati. Maddon also noted that this does not mean Caratini will be relegated to a backup role.

"Victor's done well. This doesn't put Victor on the shelf," Maddon said. "They'll both play. I'll just try to figure out the best way to do that. I've not been around Jonathan a lot. I know he's had that pretty severe injury this year. But apparently everything is well, but I want to talk to him and see how he's doing and keep an eye on all of that stuff. It definitely makes us deeper again."