Late Friday night, following the team’s 6-3 win over the Brewers, the Braves signed 34-year-old Jonathan Lucroy to a minor league contract.
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) May 15, 2021
As shown in the tweet above by The Athletic‘s David O’Brien, Lucroy will report to Triple-A Gwinnett today and could even be in the Stripers lineup for their 6:05 PM (ET) game against Louisville, where he’ll slot in behind another recently-signed catcher Jeff Mathis — currently the big league back-up — on Atlanta’s organizational depth chart.
The Braves have dealt with some unfortunate luck when it comes to its catchers this season as its big league starter — and one of last season’s main contributors — Travis d’Arnaud is currently on the IL with a torn ligament in his thumb. Atlanta is also without d’Arnaud’s backup, Alex Jackson, for he too is on the IL with a strained hamstring. The team did bring back former Brave Tyler Flowers a few weeks ago, but he decided to retire on Friday, leaving the Braves with only prospect William Contreras (the current starter) and Mathis as viable options before last night’s Lucroy deal.
Lucroy, who finished fourth in the NL MVP voting while with Milwaukee back in 2014, is a familiar name within Braves Country, given several years ago many were pushing for Atlanta to sign the career .274 hitter. As one of the top-25 free agents of his class following the 2017 season (and the no. 1 catcher, per FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agents), having played on an ultra team-friendly five-year, $11 million contract with Milwaukee, Texas and Colorado that featured a yearly average of 4.3 fWAR in that span, Lucroy was at least on Atlanta’s radar; although with a then 32-year-old Flowers coming off a solid 12-homer / .281-AVG campaign in ’17, not to mention one more year to go on his also-cheap two-year, $5.3 million deal, the Braves stayed pat and the Athletics wound up with Lucroy for just $6.5 million.
However, choosing to stick with Flowers appears to have perhaps been the right move. Starting with that 2018 campaign in Oakland (.241 AVG / 0.7 WAR), Lucroy’s performance at the plate has taken a dramatic dip, and over his last two seasons (2019-20) the former 3rd round pick from the 2007 draft has been worth below replacement-level, with a -0.6 WAR season with the Angels and Cubs in ’19, followed by zero WAR while with the Red Sox last year (albeit he played in just one game during the ’20 season).
As far as what Lucroy could potentially bring to the Braves in 2021, it’s probably best to keep the expectations to a minimum. And though he’s hitting below .250 entering Saturday’s game versus Milwaukee, the current trial with Contreras has at least provided the 23-year-old prospect with some valuable big league experience. Hell, Contreras is even holding his own, having already hit two homers in just nine games so far, to go with a 50% caught-stealing rate (3 for 6) behind the plate.
But regardless, big league clubs usually like to carry at least three options at catcher throughout a given season (two in the majors and one in Triple-A), and at least with Lucroy the Braves know they have a veteran who has plenty of experience with major league pitching staffs.
I’m afraid this isn’t some sneaky or savvy move, but only a safety net in the event Contreras was to suffer an unfortunate injury. It’s a solid depth move by GM Alex Anthopoulos… even if it’s a pretty insignificant one.