With Victor Caratini currently holding down the backup catching role for the Cubs, it’s no secret that they want to upgrade to a veteran presence at the position. Catchers won’t be in hot demand at the deadline, so the Cubs should be able to pick up quality backstop for a reasonable price.
C Jonathan Lucroy for 3B/1B Jeimer Candelario
While the Texas Rangers are just 18 games behind the Houston Astros for first place in the AL West, they’re only 4½ games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the American League’s second wild card spot. However, there are five teams also in contention for that second wild card spot, and while no one team is running away with either of those, the Rangers would have to surpass the Orioles, Angels, Mariners, Twins, and Royals before they can reach the Rays or Yankees for a wild card spot. The Rangers finish up a series in Tampa Bay later Sunday, then will host the Marlins and the Orioles before deadline day. The Rangers have lost five of their last six, and unless they turn things around this next week, I’ll bet that they’re sellers come deadline time.
And that brings us to Jonathan Lucroy. A once familiar foe in the N.L. Central with the Brewers, Lucroy has had a disappointing year with the Rangers in 2017. With a slash line of .248/.297/.351, Lucroy’s been anything but himself this year. However, Lucroy is a former top-5 MVP finisher, and he would certainly be a welcome veteran presence in the Cubs clubhouse. While his offensive numbers don’t suggest it, Lucroy is still a starting caliber catcher defensively, having thrown out 31 percent of runners trying to steal, four percent better than league average. Lucroy is also one year removed from a .292/.355/.500 line with 24 home runs, while also owning a career OPS+ of 108. Lucroy is a free agent at the end of the year, but adding him would give the Cubs a guy who has been to multiple playoffs, someone who has proven to be able to handle a pitching staff, and it would easily give the Cubs the best catching tandem in all of baseball.
In this scenario Jeimer Candelario finally gets his chance to flourish after being blocked by Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant while with the Cubs. The Rangers have three very capable corner infielders in Adrian Beltre, Joey Gallo, and Mike Napoli, but two of them are over 35, and Gallo is hitting .192 on the year. Napoli is 35, with a team option next year for $11 million. Napoli has hit 21 home runs this year, but he carries a .207 batting average, an on-base-percentage south of .300, and an fWAR of -0.2. Adrian Beltre is 38 and isn’t getting any younger, so adding Candelario makes perfect sense for this Rangers team. A cost-controlled, switch-hitting corner infielder with above-average power would look good in a Rangers uniform, as Candelario could suit up at third, first, and DH for the Rangers. The Cubs deal someone who isn’t in their future plans to shore up one of the few remaining holes on this team.
C Alex Avila for OF Mark Zagunis and RHP Duane Underwood
Avila is having a career year in Detroit as a 30-year-old, batting .286/.411/.502 for the middling Tigers. Like the Rangers, the Tigers find themselves within shouting distance of both wild card spots, but it may be time for a rebuild in Detroit. Avila has recorded 2.2 fWAR in 2017, good for fourth among all catchers in baseball, just behind Willson Contreras, who ranks second among catchers with a 2.4 fWAR. Avila’s career year has been fueled by a career best .388 BABIP, but it isn’t too far off from his career BABIP of .324. The true revealing statistic about Avila’s year is his hard-contact percentage. With a 51.5 hard-contact percentage, Avila leads baseball in that category, above names like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Miguel Cabrera. Avila is barreling up balls more than ever this year, with more than 96 percent of his contact being of either the medium or hard variety. Avila has thrown out 32 percent of runners this year, and he owns a career CS% of 29 percent. At this stage of his career Avila is purely a platoon player, owning just two hits in 15 at-bats against southpaws this year and a lifetime .209 career batting average against lefties. Like Lucroy, Avila is a free agent at the end of the year, so he won’t command a lot.
With Miguel Cabrera and Nicholas Castellanos entrenched in the corner infield positions for the foreseeable future in Detroit, Candelario won’t get this deal done. Having just traded J.D. Martinez, the Tigers would have an immediate opening for Mark Zagunis to play. Zagunis doesn’t have as much power as you would hope to have out of a corner outfielder, but he makes up for that with his terrific on-base skills. Zagunis owns a career .399 OBP in the minors, something that should translate well at the major league level. Duane Underwood is another name that Cubs fan have been hearing for a couple years. A former Top-10 prospect for the Cubs, Underwood has faded a bit as of late, owning a 5.01 ERA at the AA level. Underwood has a live arm with a mid-to-upper 90s fastball, and he flashes signs of a plus curve, but I think he’ll end up as a reliever if he makes it to the majors. Underwood and Zagunis are both former top-10 prospects in the Cubs organization, but Zagunis won’t be able to find much playing time in Chicago, and Underwood is expendable with the emergence of Adbert Alzolay and Jose Albertos.
C Nick Hundley for OF Yasiel Balaguert
Hundley has done an ample job backing up Buster Posey, slashing to the tune of .257/.282/.432, while throwing out 28 percent of runners. Hundley is also a free agent at season’s end, and will cost far less than either Lucroy or Avila. Hundley has 11 years of experience behind the dish at the professional level, providing a veteran presence for the Cubs if he were to be acquired. Balaguert is a 24-year-old outfielder in AA with a 11 home runs and an OPS of .704. Balaguert strikes out too much, so he probably won’t ever see time on a major league roster, but he’s a mid-level lottery ticket for the Giants, enough of a return to surrender Hundley for two months.
Other possibilities at catcher include A.J. Ellis, Josh Phegley and Rene Rivera. All three of those guys would be quality backup catchers for the Cubs, and could be acquired for a similar price to Nick Hundley.
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