It appeared that the Oakland Aâ€™s had made all of their moves this offseason, but the addition of catcher Jonathan Lucroy has given the team a mid-Spring Training boost.
This time last year we had Stephen Vogt as the main catcher with Bruce Maxwell and Josh Phegley competing for the back-up role.
After Vogt was DFA’d in June, neither Maxwell nor Phegley stepped up to claim the starting position, yet it looked like the Aâ€™s would go again with that duo to see if one or both could take a step forward at the second time of asking.
Lucroyâ€™s disappointing 2017 campaign came at the worst time for him as he headed into the off-season as a free agent who, just 2 years before, was seen by many as one of the best all-round catchers in the Majors. Add that to the strange free agent market this winter and it meant that rather than signing a lucrative multi-year deal, Lucroy was left waiting to sign whatever decent offer he could get.
That’s worked out well for the Aâ€™s. Although both Lucroyâ€™s offensive and defensive numbers went backwards last year, it would be a surprise if that’s a conclusive sign of terminal decline. There’s still plenty of talent there and, given that it’s just a one-year, $6.5m deal, well worth the Aâ€™s taking the risk that he will bounce back.
If he does then we shouldn’t be too surprised if heâ€™s playing for another team come August. As with the Rich Hill deal a couple of seasons ago, the second-best plan (after the Aâ€™s mounting a surprising challenge at the top of the AL West) would be for Lucroy to give us three good months or so and then be traded away to add another prospect or two into the system.
The initial suggestion is that Maxwell may be the odd man out. Maybe the idea is they want him to get more work in and that will be easier done in Triple-A rather than occasional starts in the Majors, but it would leave the Aâ€™s with two right-handed catchers and Phegley may find his chances to start against lefties take a hit, so weâ€™ll have to wait and see how that pans out.
Iâ€™ve written an Aâ€™s season preview for Bush League Ramble, which should be published later this week, and within that I note that it’s a shame there wasn’t a decent starting pitcher option on the market this winter to add a veteran presence to the Aâ€™s rotation. Signing a good catcher is the next best thing.
The advanced stats, such as pitch framing, showed Lucroy took a big backward step last year after previously having a very positive reputation behind the dish. To fall off so dramatically seems odd, making me think there is more to the story, possibly an undisclosed injury, which would provide an explanation.
If Lucroy can get his catching back on track then that should be a big help to the starting rotation that as a group – so far this spring – has not pitched as well as they would have liked.
I backed Lucroy last year by adding him to my main fantasy team. Hopefully this year heâ€™ll show that my confidence was well-founded, if one year too early (or late, depending how you want to look at it)
Patience (AKA calm the Puk down)
The pitcher who has impressed the most this off-season is top prospect A.J. Puk. His three appearancse so far have shown the rich talent he possesses and itâ€™s making some Aâ€™s fans impatient to see him on the Big League team.
His potential importance to the Aâ€™s future means that I wouldn’t want to see him rushed up. His 2017 season had much to admire about it, yet it also showed there were some rough edges to smooth off, not least improving his command and getting his walks down.
Eight Spring Training innings don’t change that picture. Let him work on his craft for a few months in Nashville, managing his innings pitched along the way, to give him the best chance of staying up when heâ€™s finally brought up.
Matt Chapman’s had a slightly disrupted Spring, so it was enjoyable to listen to him make his first hit a home run at Hohokam on Sunday against the Cubs.
One of the reasons I still like listening to ball games is the couple of seconds of suspense when you know the ballâ€™s flying, but can’t judge just how far until the crowd and commentator tell you. Donny Baarns has done an excellent job once again providing additional radio coverage on MLB.com for select Aâ€™s games this spring and he called that one perfectly, even if the crowd reaction was mixed with so many Cubs fans on hand at their old Spring Training home.