The Cubs have secured the backup catcher they’ve desperately been seeking since it was announced that starter Willson Contreras will miss a month with a hamstring injury, as they’ve agreed to terms with two-time All-Star Jonathan Lucroy, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman:
Sources: Lucroy goes to Cubs— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) August 7, 2019
Lucroy, 33, was officially released by the Angels on Monday after being designated for assignment on Friday. The veteran backstop returned to a catching mix that was quite different than he left it on July 18, when he hit the injured list after sustaining a concussion and broken nose after being steamrolled by the Astros’ Jake Marisnick. By the time Lucroy returned, the Angels had acquired 28-year-old Max Stassi from Houston to serve as Kevan Smith’s new timeshare partner and had already parted ways with Dustin Garneau — a catcher they liked who was behind the plate for last month’s combined no-hitter. Equipped with a new catching tandem that is more likely to be impactful beyond 2019, the Angels designated Lucroy for assignment just two days after activating him from the injured list.
Lucroy, who was one of the best offensive catchers in baseball for most of this decade and showed signs of life at the plate as recently as 2017, when he posted an .865 OPS over 46 games down the stretch for the Rockies, is in the midst of his second bad offensive season. Over 268 plate appearances with the Angels, Lucroy posted a .242/.310/.371 slash line with seven homers. He’s also had a rough defensive season, ranking second-worst among major-league catchers with at least 100 innings caught in defensive runs saved (-13), ahead of only Seattle’s Omar Narvaez. Unlike Narváez, who is having his second straight elite offensive season, Lucroy wasn’t hitting enough to overshadow his shortcomings behind the plate, so it’s understandable why the Angels chose to move on.
With that said, all he has to do in Chicago is perform better than Taylor Davis, who has spent most of his career as a minor-league backup but has ended up on the Cubs’ major-league roster this year due to Contreras’ hamstring injury, the front office’s poorly-timed decision to trade Martín Maldonado at the deadline, and the organization’s general failure to build up adequate catching depth over the offseason. Davis, who pitched a scoreless ninth inning to usual left fielder Kyle Schwarber on Tuesday night, has a .167/.250/.333 slash line with a homer in 20 plate appearances this season.
In Chicago, Lucroy is expected to back up (or perhaps split starts with) Victor Caratini, who got off to a great start but has slumped as of late, posting a .595 OPS since the All-Star break. If Contreras returns as expected in September, Lucroy could be an option to enter games on double switches or pinch-hit.