It was July 31, 2016. The Indians had a 59-42 record and a 4.5 game lead over the second-place Tigers. That’s when management decided it was time to go all in. For the small price of four prospects (including two in the top-100), the Indians brought in All-Star fire-man/reliever, Andrew Miller. Then, just a few short hours later, it seemed as those the Indians patched up their final roster hole, by trading for another All-star, Milwaukee’s Jon Lucroy. Going to Milwaukee was a substantial haul. Francisco Mejia, Greg Allen and Yu-Cheng Chang were all slated to head to the Brewers farm system when the unthinkable happened.

Lucroy exercised his veto power.

The Indians happened to be one of the eight teams on his no-trade list, which meant if Lucroy was traded to one of those teams, he could decide whether to go or not. Despite the Indians loading up for bear and employing a studded pitching staff, Lucroy decided it was in his best business interest to stay with the Brewers.

Lucroy was clearly in his own right to do such a thing, of course. He had that no-trade list in his contract and decided to use the little power he had. There were a lot of rumors as to why he vetoed the trade, but the main culprit was the Indians already having Yan Gomes under contract. Lucroy was afraid that Gomes would return from his injury-plagued season and regain his 2014, Silver Slugger form, thus pushing Lucroy to first base and thus diminishing his value in two seasons, when he was set to enter free agency.

So why am I bringing this up all the sudden?

If you haven’t heard, the Indians recently acquired All-star closer/reliever, Brad Hand (and Adam Cimber), for Francisco Mejia. Mejia was originally the main piece of the long-ago Lucroy trade and him being shipped to San Diego officially closes the door on the infamous Lucroy trade. But what some people might not realize is that Jon Lucroy declining that has been one of the most important moments in Indians history and just to prove it, let’s run down how everything changed since that fateful day of July 31, 2016.

2016

Shortly after the failed trade of Lucroy to the Indians, the Texas Rangers moved in from the fallout and acquired Lucroy for a much lesser package than the Indians had offered. Lucroy would have a solid final 47 games for the Rangers, posting a slash line of .276/.345/.539, an OPS+ of  128, and a WAR of 1.5. The Rangers would finish the season claiming the AL West banner and home field throughout the playoffs.

As for the Indians, their catchers faired about as well as a pitcher might if he were to have regular at-bats. With Yan Gomes on the DL from July 17 on, the Indians used the catching duo of Roberto Perez and Chris Gimenez. That duo on the season had a slash line .199/.271/.312, an OPS+ of 53 and a WAR of 0.3. The Indians, of course, still won the AL Central and ran through the playoffs, until losing that fateful Game 7 against the Cubs.

So, had Lucroy accepted his trade, it means the Indians probably finish with the best record in the AL, winning 96 games, while the Rangers drop down to 93. This is where it gets tricky. While Lucroy played well in the regular season, he was terrible in the ALDS against the Blue Jays. Lucroy had one hit and had an OPS of .167 in his 12 at-bats. Roberto Perez, on the other hand, fared much better. While he only had tow hits in the sweep of the Red Sox, his OPS was .919.

But, in this new scenario, the Indians would have faced the Blue Jays in the ALDS and in the ALCS, Perez only had an OPS of .414. I think it’s safe to assume that the Indians would have advanced the ALCS, even if Lucroy has a bad series. The Indians would have then faced either the Red Sox or Rangers in the ALCS, two teams that in real life were swept out of the playoffs, so once again, I think it’s safe to assume, that no matter how bad Lucroy would have played the Indians still make the World Series.

For the World Series, Perez rebounded to have a good one. His two home runs in Game 1, all but guaranteed victory and for the series, he had an OPS of .833. So unless you can find a way in which Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller don’t get burned out by the ended of the series, the outcome still probably remains the same, but who can really say.

2017

Coming off the extra cash from a World Series run, the Indians made the biggest signing in franchise history. Bringing in right-handed power hitter, Edwin Encarnacion, for 3-years and $60 million.

But if that Lucroy trade goes through, here’s a signing that never happens. With Gomes back from injury, odds are him and Lucroy have a timeshare behind the plate, while Carlos Santana and Lucroy split time at first-base. It also means Trevor Bauer never truly breaks out, as Roberto Perez (Bauer’s personal catcher) is pushed to Columbus or to another team in a trade.

Then there’s the fact that Lucroy was not a good player in 2017. With the Rangers in 2017, Lucroy had a negative WAR and his stats looked like this, .242/.297/.338, with a OPS+ of 65. The Indians catching situation was still bad in 2017, but both Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez had better seasons than that. Throw in the fact that Encarnacion would no longer be on the team and the Indians never win 22 games in a row, though they still probably make the playoffs, because the AL Central was still pretty bad, maybe the Twins push the Indians out.

2018

Welcome to 2018! Jon Lucroy is now gone, but not because he priced himself out of the Indians price range, no he was so terrible that the Indians let him walk. Carlos Santana is also gone and the Indians have a massive hole at first base and have no one to back-up Yan Gomes anymore. But don’t worry we still have Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. Oh wait, that’s right the Indians bullpen is still a mess and Andrew Miller is still on the DL. Sure would be nice to have Brad Hand on the team, but the Indians just didn’t have the dynamite prospect to trade for him. But he sure does look good in pinstripes, right?

And that’s why when Jon Lucroy declined the trade to the Indians changed everything. If the trade had gone through, you’re looking at a team with a much bleaker future. One with no Edwin Encarnacion and no Brad Hand. Sure the Indians are still playoff contenders, but much of that is due to the division and not the talent that surrounds the ball-club.

We were all so mad when Lucroy declined that trade, but a funny thing happened along the way, it actually worked out for the best.

 

Image: ESPN

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