With Willson Contreras out for a month, the Chicago Cubs are fortunate that the experienced Jonathan Lucroy became available for them to sign.
The Chicago Cubs could have done a lot worse.
When All-Star catcher Willson Contreras hit the 10-day injured list Sunday with a right hamstring strain, the Cubs were left with little to no catching depth. Suddenly, a position of strength held down by Contreras, and reliable backup Victor Caratini was left thinner than ever.
Confidence in incumbent catchers
Sure, the Cubs could have gotten by with Caratini carrying the bulk of the catching workload while Contreras recovers. And although incumbent backup Taylor Davis has caught just 47 1/3 MLB innings, he’s an experienced catcher (2,785 2/3 minor league innings caught).
The Cubs expressed confidence in Davis as the backup catcher after Contreras hit the shelf:
"“But we’ve moved this whole thing along knowing that Taylor would be next in line,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s done a nice job here before. The pitchers like to throw to him. Analytically speaking, the guys upstairs love him. So if it plays out this way, we’re fine.”"
Of course, it didn’t play out that way, as veteran backstop Jonathan Lucroy fell into the Cubs lap after the Angels released him on Monday. And boy, the Cubs must feel fortunate that he did.
This is meant as no slouch to Davis as much as it’s meant to be praise for Lucroy. It’s not every day that a veteran catcher, a former All-Star in his 10th MLB season, becomes available ahead of the stretch run.
Confidence in experienced Lucroy
Lucroy isn’t the hitter he once was (.284/.342/.436 in seven seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers), but he still holds a decent .242/.310/.371 slash line in 240 at-bats this season. The Cubs aren’t expecting him to be the hitter he once was, however.
Instead, the Cubs are expecting him to be the serviceable backup with experience catching a chunk of the team’s pitching staff. Lucroy has caught each of Cole Hamels, Tyler Chatwood, Derek Holland, Brandon Kintzler, Yu Darvish, Steve Cishek and Craig Kimbrel in his career.
The counterargument to this, Davis has caught the majority of the pitchers currently on the Cubs active roster. However, without Lucroy, the Cubs were at risk of facing extreme consequences, should another injury happen.
Tuesday, Victor Caratini faced a scary moment when Oakland A’s third baseman Matt Chapman slid into his glove during a play at the plate. Caratini went down in obvious pain, with one wondering if he broke his hand, in a worst-case scenario.
Caratini wound up staying in the game and is seemingly fine, but that play exemplified why the Cubs needed to get Lucroy. If Caratini went down with an injury, the Cubs would have been left with Davis as the only healthy catcher on the 40-man roster.
So, while Lucroy isn’t necessarily the difference maker that he once was, he should be a solid No. 2 catching option for the Chicago Cubs in Contreras’ absence. Plus, when Contreras returns in September, Lucroy’s presence will allow the former to spare his legs and play a few games in the outfield/at first base.
The Cubs felt Lucroy’s presence in his first game with the team on Thursday, with the 33-year-old going 3-for-5 with two RBIs in a 12-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds.
It never hurts to have plenty of depth. It only hurts not to have any, and the Cubs almost faced that reality. With Lucroy in the fold, they avoided that possibility.