For the second straight season, the Brewers seemingly had an agreement in place to move their best offensive player just before the deadline. And for the second straight season, that trade fell through after it appeared to be a done deal. Also for the second straight season, they regrouped, paired their star with a pitcher and got another deal done. Most importantly for my local nine, it appears that the failed trade was a blessing in disguise, as the subsequent trade appears to have netted them more value.
Milwaukee traded All Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy and closer Jeremy Jeffress to the Rangers less than an hour before the non-waiver trade deadline on Monday in exchange for a pair of top-100 prospects in Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz and a player to be named later. For the Rangers, they answered two of the three questions they had, getting a massive upgrade behind the plate and bolstering their bullpen as they try to hold off the Astros from doing to them exactly what the Rangers did to Houston last season.
Lucroy, trapped in a rebuild that he made clear he didn't want to be a part of, has been the subject of trade rumors for months, not only because of his talent level but also because of his contract status. He's owed what's left of his $4 million contract this season, and he has a $5.25 million club option that will certainly be exercised barring a catastrophic injury. For comparison's sake, Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin, owner of a .686 OPS this season, is three years older and owed $75 million.
Rangers catchers combined this season have a .231/.285/.419 hitting line this season, an 80 wRC+, and have added just a single win above replacement level by fWAR, good for 16th in the league. Lucroy is hitting .299/.359/.482 with a 120 wRC+, and his 2.8 fWAR ranks third among qualifying catchers – he immediately becomes the best catcher in the American League (don't @ me, Royals fans). Lucroy slides into the middle of a very formidable Rangers lineup that also features a new designated hitter in 39-year-old Carlos Beltran.
If you're the type that considers the "closer" role to be a real thing that matters, Jeffress will probably lose that coveted position – incumbent closer Sam Dyson is performing admirably this season, though he has hit some bumps in the road lately, surrendering an .853 OPS against over his last 11 outings. Still, Jeffress is a significant upgrade in the bullpen, however he is deployed. From a human standpoint, perhaps Jeffress, who overcame drug use issues early in his career that threatened to derail it before it truly began, can be a positive influence on Josh Hamilton, who's struggles with substance use are well documented. Hamilton is, of course, out for the remainder of the year after having knee surgery last month.
In Milwaukee, the preposterous transformation of their farm system continues, and they are now solidly among the five best systems in the league no matter who you ask. They now boast eight players in MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list, more than any other team. Most remarkably, just one of those players – shortstop Orlando Arcia – was with the team prior to the 2015 draft. Brinson and Ortiz are co-headliners in this deal; the former is a 22-year-old power-speed center fielder, the latter a husky 20-year-old right handed pitcher with a plus fastball and a developing slider.
The moves made by Rangers have put the AL West on notice, and the rest of the division responded by doing... nothing. The Angels and Athletics aren't anywhere near contention, and while the latter made some moves for the future, Los Angeles stayed in place, as they don't really have any assets to sell other than Mike Trout. The Mariners were connected to some names, including Reds shortstop Zack Cozart, but ended up doing nothing – they're probably not good enough to climb back into the race, but they aren't bad enough to sell off without starting a riot in a city that's waiting a decade and a half for a playoff appearance. The Rangers' closest contenders, the Astros, were also rumored to be in talks for Lucroy and others, but they also came up empty once the deadline rolled around.
The Rangers entered play on Monday with a six game division lead, the second-highest in baseball. There's plenty of games yet to be played, but after Monday, that lead looks a lot more daunting.