DENVER — Just over a calendar year ago, Jonathan Lucroy was an All-Star who could have become a Cleveland Indian.
He didn’t. Then, anything that could go wrong did go wrong.
He’s a Colorado Rockie, and it appears to be a near-perfect fit. Lucroy is happy to be with a contender, and just wants to contribute to the cause.
“I’m excited for the opportunity to play every day again and get back into the form I’ve been at for a long time, and to be back on a team that is trending upward, really grinding it out with a lot of young players,’’ Lucroy said. “My primary job right now is to help out these young pitchers as much as I can.’’
The Rockies recognize the immediate upgrade to their catching situation.
“We’ve talked about this already… where this fellow has been in the last four, five years when you rank the (MLB) catchers,’’ manager Bud Black said after Lucroy’s debut. “This guy still has some productivity left with us.’’
The question is, how long will Lucroy be around? The more he is, the more you get the feeling his stay could extend beyond two months. The fit is that good.
How did a recently minted All-Star fall into the Rockies’ laps in an almost under-the-radar move in light of other pre-deadline deals involving Yu Darvish, Sonny Gray, Jose Quintana, and others?
Whether it was the pressure of impending free agency, or a less-than-ideal relationship with Rangers manager Jeff Banister, Lucroy’s time in Texas was a disappointment to say the least.
He obviously struggled offensively — way below levels that made him a two-time All-Star with the Brewers. At .242 in Texas, he was 38 points below his career batting average. The slugging and OPS gaps were even worse: .338 and .635 with Texas, as opposed to .433 and .772 career marks.
With the offensive struggles came reduced playing time, and with the Rangers below .500, Lucroy became an obvious “sell” part. The Rockies got him for a player to be named later — expected to be a mid-level prospect, since they are picking up all of Lucroy’s remaining salary this season.
Lucroy didn’t get out of Arlington in time to escape getting hit with a bug that had gone around the Rangers’ clubhouse — “one final parting gift” is how Lucroy jokingly referred to it. That cost him two games as a Rockie before he made his debut in a win over the Mets on Thursday.
Lucroy’s new task isn’t without its challenges. He has another pitching staff to learn — his fourth in the last year, if you count the WBC experience for Team USA, where he conveniently caught Rockies setup men Pat Neshek and Jake McGee.
But other than facing Adam Ottavino and Tyler Chatwood as a hitter, Lucroy has come in cold with a very young and inexperienced staff. There has been a lot of catching up to do in a short time.
“I had a lot of info I needed before I even walked into the clubhouse (for the first time),’’ Lucroy said. “I had it in my e-mail. I like to get on that stuff early, so I can familiarize myself with it.
“It’s about communication. You have to know what (pitches) they have, what they want to do. I’ve told them if you want to do something, shake me off. I’m just trying to figure out a way to get these guys through games.’’
The Rockies have veteran Ryan Hanigan around to do that. What they also need is more offense. They rank in the bottom five in production from the No. 8 spot — which almost exclusively has been where their catchers have batted this season.
Lucroy knows he’s in the right place to make that happen. He just turned 31 in June, and his previous six seasons included three with a .292 or better batting average, and an average of 14 HRs and 65 RBIs.
“It’s a good place to hit, I’m not going to lie,’’ Lucroy said of Coors Field. “I’m a doubles guy. I’m an alleys guy. With the big alleys here, that’s going to play into my strength a lot.’’
There’s a stretch run and an almost-certain first postseason appearance since 2009 to play out this fall for Lucroy and the Rockies. This winter promises to be a pivotal one: Carlos Gonzalez and Jake McGee can be free agents, Jose Reyes comes off the payroll (except for a $4 million buyout payment), and Greg Holland likely will opt out of his half of a mutual option and put himself on the market. How all that plays out will affect a Lucroy decision.
That said, the club’s catching situation screams for a Lucroy re-signing, especially now that Dustin Garneau was lost to the Oakland A’s on waivers:
Hanigan — veteran backup catch-and-throw guy.
Tom Murphy — He is potentially a future regular, but a broken bone in his arm suffered in spring training has turned 2017 into a lost developmental season. Plus, legitimate questions surround his defensive abilities.
Tony Wolters — His limited catching experience, heavy usage and concussion problems detracted from his performance enough to cause a return trip to Triple-A Albuquerque to make room for Lucroy.
Dom Nunez — Currently at Double-A, he’s ranked 16th among the club’s prospects by MLB.Com Pipeline — the only other catcher besides Murphy who is in the top 30.