MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Lucroy difference-maker for AL West champs

Lucroy difference-maker for AL West champs

ARLINGTON -- The best non-waiver Trade Deadline acquisition by a contending team this year was made by the Rangers when they acquired catcher Jonathan Lucroy from the Brewers.

You can name other clubs that made necessary improvements, such as the Cubs, trading for closer Aroldis Chapman, or the Nationals, trading for closer Mark Melancon. The Dodgers made substantial improvements, too.

But the one individual who has been a tremendous difference-maker in more ways than one is Lucroy. He has added offense, defense and superb handling of pitchers to a Rangers squad that was already talented. A two-time All-Star, Lucroy is an elite catcher. And he has delivered at that level for the Rangers, who have gone 30-21 after trading for him.

Lucroy had made it known last offseason that he would rather be traded to a contending club than stay with the rebuilding Brewers. But he made his peace with not being traded through four months of the regular season, by performing at an All-Star level for Milwaukee.

There was some irony in the fact that the Rangers, now battling the Red Sox and Indians for home-field advantage throughout the American League postseason, are meeting the Brewers in a three-game series at Globe Life Park. The Rangers reaped immediate dividends from the Lucroy trade while the Brewers are building for the future.

Lucroy did not come cheaply. The Rangers gave up three legitimate prospects, including their Nos. 2 and 3 prospects -- outfielder Lewis Brinson and pitcher Luis Ortiz -- for Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress, who had been successfully closing for the Brewers. Jeffress is back on the Rangers' roster after undergoing a stay at a rehabilitation facility for substance abuse.

But for the present, the trade to Texas has worked out for both Lucroy and the Rangers.

"I think that's a good way to put it," Lucroy said Monday. "It's worked out pretty well; it's been a good deal for everybody. But that's pretty much what I expected. I heard good things about this place.

"This team is pretty fun to play for. There are a lot of really talented players, obviously. It's a lot of fun. It's kind of easy to play for [this team]. Lots of guys on the same page, everybody pulling on the same rope, playing for something bigger than ourselves. It's nice to be a part of."

Lucroy's go-ahead two-run homer

Lucroy has a .548 slugging percentage in 43 games for the Rangers and an OPS of .890 with 10 homers and 28 RBIs. As good as those numbers are, equally important was Lucroy's ability to acclimate himself in a hurry to the club's pitching staff. "Look, there's all kinds of resources out there, video and all kinds of stuff," Lucroy said. "The coaches here really helped me out. I really tried to communicate as much as I can with the pitchers."

Rangers manager Jeff Banister has termed Lucroy's preparation as "off the charts." The Rangers' pitchers are impressed with him, too.

"He really does put in a lot of time to studying guys and having conversations with us to know how we tick and what our philosophy is in trying to get guys out," said left-hander Cole Hamels. "That's been nice to see that and to build on that."

"I've seen him in the clubhouse early, always studying, so it gives me trust about the pitch calls," Yu Darvish said. "He frames the ball well, so borderline pitches are called strikes. For me, that's a big thing."

Typically, Lucroy is modest and matter-of-fact about his accomplishments.

"It has nothing to do with me, it has everything to do with this clubhouse," Lucroy said. "They've been nothing but accepting of me. It's been pretty impressive how much these guys want to win and how hard they play every day.

"I've been here two months now, but it feels longer with the way these guys treat me and accept me."

It's a two-way street with Lucroy and the Rangers, just as both parties had envisioned. The Brewers received substantial young talent in return for Lucroy, but they knew that Texas was getting an excellent player and a terrific teammate in Lucroy.

"Luc is a really good player; that's No. 1," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said Monday. "He brought a workmanlike approach to the game and how he did his job; very serious and committed and dedicated to everything in he did. He took a lot of pride in every part of the game."

Lucroy didn't change a bit when he went to the Rangers. He was simply placed in a situation where he could help a team, in several ways, win now.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.