DENVER -- Catcher Jonathan Lucroy didn't hesitate to express his appreciation for the Rockies when they acquired him in a trade with the Rangers just before the non-waiver Trade Deadline. The Rockies expressed exactly the same about him. Now, will the Rockies find a way to make this mutually beneficial
DENVER -- Catcher Jonathan Lucroy didn't hesitate to express his appreciation for the Rockies when they acquired him in a trade with the Rangers just before the non-waiver Trade Deadline. The Rockies expressed exactly the same about him. Now, will the Rockies find a way to make this mutually beneficial relationship last longer?
"It's always great to be involved in a team that's hunting the same goal, hunting the same thing -- a championship ring," Lucroy said before the Rockies' 11-8 National League Wild Card Game loss to the D-backs.
After the game, not knowing what his future holds, he was still bullish on the Rockies: "The positive side for this club is, it's just going to make them better for next year, and for years after that."
Lucroy is headed for free agency, but the Rockies are expected to attempt to turn his "them" into "us."
The team that earned a National League Wild Card berth with young pitching could use veteran guidance from behind the plate, as they will be young on the mound again in 2018.
The Rockies arrived at Spring Training stunningly young at catcher, with second-year man Tony Wolters and rookie Tom Murphy the projected tandem. Murphy suffered right forearm and wrist breaks in Spring Training. Dustin Garneau (now with the Athletics) joined Wolters in a tandem of catchers who were rookies in 2016. They were to catch a rotation that, because of injuries, would include two first-year and two second-year pitchers.
To reduce the learning curve, the Rockies signed veteran Ryan Hanigan toward the end of Spring Training and had him in the Majors by early May.
Wolters had a solid offensive start, but struggled in the middle of the season. Going on 37, Hanigan was more suited to backup duty. Still, the Rockies managed to stay in the race, and general manager Jeff Bridich acquired Lucroy for Minor League utility man Pedro Gonzalez on July 30.
Bridich said before the NL Wild Card Game that Lucroy experienced an expected adjustment period, "especially with the starters … they get to know each other better and he gets more and more comfortable. It's been great."
Pitch-framing stats that uncovered him as a star with the Brewers from 2010-16 were unkind to Lucroy this season. But those numbers didn't sway manager Bud Black.
"[Lucroy] has credibility -- two-time All-Star, good blocker of the ball, good receiver, knows the National League being in Milwaukee all those years," Black said late in the season.
After slumping offensively with the Rangers, Lucroy surged with the Rockies, hitting .310/.429/.437, with 11 extra-base hits in 46 games after hitting only 19 in 77 games with Texas.
Additionally, Lucroy was a boon to an offense that at times struggled with patience. His 3.96 pitches per plate appearance with the Rockies tied him with leadoff man Charlie Blackmon for third-highest on the team (175 or more plate appearances). And according to Statcast™, Lucroy swung and missed at just eight pitches outside the strike zone (he saw 175 out-of-zone pitches) from debuting with the Rockies on Aug. 3 to season's end. No Major Leaguer whiffed at fewer pitches outside the zone in that span.
With Wolters having received positive reviews after a trip to the Minors and time watching Lucroy, and Murphy still in the fold, the Rockies are candidates to sign an experienced backstop. Hanigan also is a free agent who could be signed for depth.
The offseason will determine how Lucroy's skills and performance fit within the market. It is widely assumed that Lucroy will not command the deals of Brian McCann (five years, $85 million) or Russell Martin (five years, $82 million), but he should do well in a market that includes some catchers coming off good years -- Welington Castillo (Orioles) and Alex Avila (Tigers and Cubs), who were regulars; and Chris Iannetta, who was part of a tandem with the D-backs.
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and** like his Facebook page**.