by Paul West
I must admit that my initial response to rumors of the New York Mets trading for Jonathan Lucroy was that doing so would be an overreaction. But this week alone has seen Jeurys Familia finally succumb to being overworked during a heat wave, Juan Lagares finally succumb to a season-ending thumb injury, Yoenis Cespedes felled by a resurgent quad injury, Jose Reyes felled by an intercostal strain, and the Mets once again losing ground in the standings. All is not lost; the Miami Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals, and Washington Nationals are all teams with potentially fatal flaws, and they all face tough matchups in the coming weeks while the Mets’ stretch-run schedule looks on paper to be favorable. But if they’re going to defend their National League East title, the Mets will have to solve their most glaring problem: their stupefying, historically bad performance with runners in scoring position. Even on days when they rack up double-digit hits, the Mets seem like a failed rally waiting to happen; they remain a homer-or-bust offense, and they’re increasingly reliant on roleplayers to act as offensive centerpieces.
This would call change with the addition of Jonathan Lucroy.
Jonathan Lucroy is a career .284 hitter, who’s currently batting .300 in his age-30 season. He’s gained renown for his improved leadership skills, and he’s a solid defensive catcher who can hit for both average and power. He’d immediately slot into the middle of the Mets’ lineup, providing cover for Cespedes–and perhaps even Michael Conforto, should he ever regain the form that had so many of us excited for his future. Should the Mets have to surrender Travis d’Arnaud, this no longer seems as daunting a proposition as it once did; d’Arnaud still shows signs of being a dangerous middle-order bat, but he doesn’t seem to be able to withstand the wear and tear of being an everyday catcher. A move to first base, in a hitter’s ballpark like Miller Park, might serve him well. Of course, the Mets would have to surrender a prospect, perhaps even one with whom they’re loath to part–for example, high-upside first base prospect Dominic Smith. But countless fans can attest to the fact that championship windows can open and close with alarming quickness–and the Mets’ window might snap shut just as suddenly as it sprung open over the course of 2015. The Big Four, once viewed as the makings of baseball history, has begun to show its humanity in the ways that always seem to bedevil the modern power pitcher–serving as a reminder that, while pitching is always good to build around, it’s also frighteningly variable. There are concerns about whether Cespedes will stay with the team for the long haul, whether David Wright will ever recover from his career-threatening ailments, and whether Matt Harvey will ever be the ace he once was. All of this lends support to the notion that the Mets, still technically the defending National League champions, are still one move away from regaining last year’s prominence and perhaps finishing last year’s journey.
Another thing worth noting is the impending return of Lucas Duda. Duda, who’s begun taking swings again and is reportedly optimistic about his return from a fractured lower back, would inject yet another dangerous presence into the lineup. Duda, Lucroy and Cespedes in the middle of an order that also included Conforto, Wilmer Flores and Neil Walker would be formidable indeed; this would be a lineup that could produce runs both with and without sending the ball over the fence. Lucroy would also be a defensive upgrade over d’Arnaud–who, it’s important to note, is no longer the preferred battery mate of two of the Mets’ best starters–and his acquisition would erase two of the Mets’ most fatal flaws in one move. It would also put them back on the short list of teams to beat in the National League.