At some point this offseason. the A's checked in on Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, reports Ken Rosenthal for FOX Sports, "The Rangers, Athletics and Nationals are among the teams that have engaged in trade discussions with the Brewers about catcher Jonathan Lucroy, only to back off when they perceived the price to be too high, according to major-league sources."
Lucroy is coming off a year where he missed time due to a toe injury, missed 14 games in September to a concussion, and does not turn 30 until June, is probably at as low a trade value as he will ever be. He's on a team-friendly deal through 2017 that bought out one of his free agent years for a $5.25 million club option.
I can envision two alternatives where the A's inquiring on Jonathan Lucroy makes sense.
Hypothesis 1: The A's checked in before acquiring Yonder Alonso
Rosenthal is not specific as to when each of these teams checked in with the Brewers. With thanks to the excellent collection of Lucroy rumors from MLB Trade Rumors, rumored interest from the Texas Rangers dates back as far back as December 7, during the Winter Meetings, according to Tom Haudricourt the Milwaukee Journal. There was "plenty of action on Jonathan Lucroy" to that point, too.
Milwaukee's initial ask from the Texas Rangers began with third baseman Joey Gallo, Haudricourt reported later, who was Texas' top prospect and received an A- grade from John Sickels in the 2015 preseason. The Brewers were generally reportedly open to hearing offers on Lucroy from October 25, according to ESPN's Buster Olney, so the A's could have made inquiries, only to back away when they asked for Franklin Barreto or Sean Manaea.
This would have made sense for the A's at the time because the club was looking for a left-handed hitting first baseman to replace Ike Davis, who ended the season injured and underwhelmed on offense. The A's could have moved Stephen Vogt to first base and replaced him behind the plate with Lucroy, hoping to take advantage of Lucroy's superior framing skills (though those fell off in his injury-plagued 2015). Josh Phegley, with the same handedness, would be more of a backup catcher instead of platoon partner.
A three-way platoon of sorts also could have worked, if Lucroy was the first baseman against left-handed pitching with Phegley behind the plate while Lucroy went behind the plate when the A's faced righties (Mark Canha would be in left field). Lucroy only played 43 innings at first base in 2015, as it turns out, but things could be different if whichever club takes him wants to help protect him from the particular concussion dangers of being the backstop.
Hypothesis 2: Trade a catcher
But the A's do have Yonder Alonso, and so it seems like the only way for a post-Alonso acquisition of Lucroy would even make sense for roster construction would be to trade a different catcher away. This might make some sense if one takes a strictly asset-building approach to club construction. I could see the Rangers accepting either one of Oakland's catchers as a consolation prize if they did not acquire Lucroy.
2A: Trade Stephen Vogt
Stephen Vogt, coming off an All-Star campaign and turning 31 last November, is probably at as high a trade value as he will ever be. He's still earning the minimum in 2016 before reaching arbitration for the first time in 2017. Steamer projects his on base percentage will fall 15 points and slugging by 31, resulting in a wRC+ drop from 115 to 105.
By retaining Josh Phegley, I would see the A's playing Jonathan Lucroy most days behind the plate against right-handers, with him going to first base against left-handers to let Phegley play. Yonder Alonso would strictly play first base against right-handers, and this would make Mark Canha the everyday left fielder.
The trouble would be the need to retain a backup center fielder on the roster. I'd say the A's are probably not going to return Coco Crisp to center field, so they'd probably have to release him to let Sam Fuld stay on the roster as the fourth outfielder.
And in the end, you've traded or released two fan favorites and positive clubhouse influences to buy into a bounceback candidate. I can see the Billy Beane effigies being prepared.
2B: Trade Josh Phegley
Josh Phegley performed well as the catcher on the short end of the platoon, hitting left-handers to a .276/.323/.466 line (119 wRC+) in 2015. He turns 28 in February and is under team control through the 2020 season. I'm not sure whether he's got enough of a track record to be a significant present value to acquire prospects right now.
Stephen Vogt would move into the role of backup catcher, getting plate appearances whenever Lucroy takes a day off or by becoming the primary designated hitter.
But then you've given up on a lot of Stephen Vogt's value, which is to be an average or below average defensive catcher, which is really hard to do! Plus, I think the A's still have hope they can salvage something out of Billy Butler in 2016.
Just too much
Considering what the Brewers have asked the Rangers for Lucroy, the risks inherent in Lucroy, and the limited value of acquiring Lucroy due to how plate appearances and defensive opportunities would shift around, I just don't see a significant upgrade that would be worth it, whether the A's asked back in October or closer to now.