*Note: Writing this post because Brinson and Mejia were ranked back-to-back in a 2018 prospects ranking, so thought it would be interesting to take a look back at the impact of the 2016 Lucroy trade(s).
On July 30, 2016, the Milwaukee Brewers and Cleveland Indians agreed to a deal featuring one of the highest-valued trade candidates of the summer, Jonathan Lucroy. Milwaukee agreed to send Lucroy to Cleveland in exchange for catcher prospect Francisco Mejia along with a pair of A+ minor leaguers, Greg Allen and Yu-Cheng Chang, and reliever Shawn Armstrong. In a surprising twist the following day, news broke that Lucroy had vetoed the deal to Cleveland due to concerns that he would be asked to play first base or DH during the 2017 season. This left David Stearns in a tight spot as he looked to get the best return for his highest-value trade chip.
The Dodgers, Cubs, Braves and Tigers had interest in Lucroy, but apparently not enough for talks to progress. With the acquisition of Jay Bruce, the Mets dropped out of the race for Lucroy, leaving the Rangers as the most likely trade partner. Texas acquired Carlos Beltran, leading some to believe Joey Gallo would feature in the return package to Milwaukee. Cutting it close on the August 1 trade deadline, Milwaukee and Texas came to terms. Lucroy was sent to Texas along with Jeremy Jeffress, who had 27 saves through July as the Brewers closer. Texas sent two of their top five prospects to Milwaukee, centerfielder Lewis Brandon and starting pitcher Luis Ortiz, along with a PTBNL, which ended up being outfielder Ryan Cordell, who also rated in the Rangers' top ten prospects.
Now that a season and a half has passed since one of the most important chapters of the Brewers' rebuild, let's take a look and the impact of the decisions made in the summer of '16:
Upon his arrival to the Brewers organization, Brinson was promoted to AAA and went on an absolute tear in Colorado, hitting .382 with a 1.005 OPS, and nearly kept that pace up with a .962 OPS in 76 AAA games in 2017. Brinson leads the pack as the consensus choice of Brewers' #1 prospect, and a top-20 overall prospect according to multiple rankings. More likely than not, Brinson will emerge as the Brewers everyday starting centerfielder in 2018, with high expectations with both the bat and glove.
Ortiz also ranks as a top-100 prospect, and posted respectable numbers in his age 21 season at AA Biloxi this past year. His plus fastball and slider, along with a low walk rate, have positioned Ortiz as the Brewers' #4-6 prospect, depending who you ask. Ortiz is still 1-2 years out from a major league debut, with the potential to be a solid mid-rotation starter.
Although he put up solid stats in Colorado, there was no place for Cordell in the Brewers crowded outfield picture of Braun, Broxton, Santana, Brinson, and Phillips. So, Cordell was dealt to the White Sox in exchange for reliever Anthony Swarzak. In his 29 games for Milwaukee, Swarzak posted a 2.48 ERA and 12.1 K/9, greatly improving a bullpen in need during the Brewers' playoff push.
Although the Brewers had to include their closer at the time in the trade to command such a strong return of prospects, Jeffress went on to struggle both on and off the field. One day short of a year following the Lucroy trade, Milwaukee sent AA reliever Taylor Scott to Texas, allowing Jeffress to "return home" to Milwaukee. In 22 games with Milwaukee this season, Jeffress pitched to a 3.65 ERA, along with a scary 5.5 BB/9, though.
And for the "could have been"...
Mejia now ranks as a top-30 prospect, and hit .295 with an .835 OPS in AA this past season. This earned him a major league callus, although he struggled, with only 2 hits in his 13 at bats. The future is promising for Mejia, especially if he can continue to hone his defensive catching abilities.
As for the rest of the package from Cleveland, Armstrong has pitched 35 innings in the majors over the past 2 seasons, good for 0.5 WAR. Chang struggled to put the ball in play at AA this past season, but has developed decent power, with 24 HR in his 440 AA at bats. Allen spent most of 2017 in centerfield at AA Akron, hitting .264 and earning a September call-up to the majors.
Looking back, Brewers fans should be glad that Lucroy declined the trade to Cleveland, although we can't say for certain for a couple more years. With the emergence of Manny Pina as a respectable major league backstop, the more pressing need is in centerfield, which Brinson should be able to fill this upcoming season. Brinson and Mejia are both predicted to be above-average hitters for their respective positions, although only time will tell which prospect will reach his potential. In addition, Ortiz and a half-season rental of Swarzak look to be a much stronger supplementary group than what Cleveland offered. As for the timing of the trade, Stearns couldn't have done better. With 1.5 years left on a team-friendly contract, the Brewers got a solid return. Meanwhile, Lucroy's OPS dropped from .855 in 2016 to .635 in his first 77 games of 2017 as well as a significant downturn in his previously highly-regarded pitch-framing metrics, leading Texas to deal Lucroy to Colorado for what a mounts to a rookie-ball lottery ticket. Lucroy is currently on the hunt for a free agent deal.