Brewers finalize Lucroy's contract extension
Five-year deal keeps catcher with club through 2016 season
PHOENIX -- The Brewers and catcher Jonathan Lucroy finalized a five-year contract extension on Tuesday morning that runs through 2016, covering all of the catcher's arbitration years, and includes a club option for 2017 that would allow the club to buy a year of free agency.
The sides had been very close to an agreement since Monday, when Lucroy was a last-minute scratch from the Brewers' lineup. He returned to action on Tuesday and went 2-for-3 against the Royals, soaking in the satisfaction as the ink dried on a new deal that gives Lucroy a level of security he once found hard to imagine.
"I remember after being drafted we were in Casper, Wyoming, on a road trip at 3 o'clock in the morning in the middle of nowhere," Lucroy recalled. "You're out there in the middle of these mountains, and I remember being awake and sitting there thinking, 'What am I doing here right now?' I never thought five years from then I'd be sitting here. So it's definitely a blessing. It's a lot of fun."
The contract guarantees Lucroy $11 million over five years, but assistant general manager Gord Ash explained that they are essentially working with two contacts, and the second ups Lucroy's take to $13 million if the catcher gains Super 2 arbitration-eligible status after this season.
Super 2 players are the top 22 percent of players, in terms of Major League service time, with between two and three years of service who spent at least half of the previous season in the big leagues. Those players qualify for an extra, fourth year of arbitration. With two years and 136 days of Major League service, Lucroy will likely qualify as a Super 2, but his status will depend on the number of young players called up to the Major Leagues during the 2012 season, with the designation becoming official at the end of the regular season.
In both contracts, Lucroy gets a $500,000 signing bonus, earns $500,000 in 2012, and finishes with a $5.25 million club option for a sixth year in 2017 with a $250,000 buyout.
As a non-Super 2, Lucroy would make $750,000 in '13, $2 million in '14, $3 million in '15, and $4 million in '16.
As a Super 2, Lucroy would make $1.9 million in '13, $2.3 million in '14, $3.3 million in '15, and $4.25 million in '16.
"It's not all about the money for me," Lucroy said. "I believe this organization gives me the best chance to get better, just because of the fact that you're playing with people that care. This works best for me and my family. You really can't ask for anybody better to work with than these guys and our coaching staff. It's easy to play, it really is. It was a very fair deal based on what I've done, and I couldn't ask for anything better."
For their part, the Brewers feel they've got a young player who they project "to improve and become one of the better catchers in the league," as general manager Doug Melvin put it.
"We're pretty excited about it to have someone again come through our system, who we drafted and developed," Melvin said. "He's developed and matured into a frontline catcher. To know you have someone who's going to be here for a while is real important for us in putting a ballclub together year after year."
Lucroy was already signed for 2012, but that agreement was absorbed into the new contract. He becomes the Brewers' fifth home-grown core player currently under multi-year contracts. In addition to Lucroy (signed through 2016), the team has reigning National League Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun (2020), pitcher Yovani Gallardo (2014), second baseman Rickie Weeks (2014) and outfielder Corey Hart (2013) signed at least through the next two seasons.
"Any time you can lock up early and get security for your family, it's a good thing," Weeks said. "[Lucroy] was raised here by this organization, so to have a guy like that come up through the ranks and work hard, and get here and produce like he has been, it's always good to have a guy like that for a while."
Lucroy, 25, is starting his second full season as the everyday catcher for the Crew, having played 136 games in 2012 while posting a .265 average with 12 homers and 59 RBIs and a .294 average in the six-game National League Championship Series. He is tearing up the Cactus League, hitting .486 (17-for-35) with four doubles, a homer and six RBIs.
"When you have [a catcher] that you like, that you think is durable and he's young enough that he's going to do it for a long time, we feel good about locking him up," manager Ron Roenicke said. "The more confident he is, the better he does. I think you'll see improvement there for quite a few years."
Though the Brewers have confidence that Lucroy's Cactus League numbers are a sign of his potential at the plate, it's his work behind the dish that means the most. Ash pointed out Lucroy's impressive approach to preparation, recalling how he asked for "homework" in the winter of 2010 and spent his offseason studying video of the pitching staff, helping him accelerate his understanding of a variety of mind-sets on the mound.
"He's a hard worker, and he does a great job back there," Gallardo said. "When you sign a guy like that, especially a catcher, [it means a lot to] know who you're going to have back there every game and who you're going to throw to. I'm very happy for him."
Melvin stressed that Lucroy was the kind of player who wouldn't be changed by a contract like this one.
"Character is big for the Brewers organization," Melvin said. "The job's tough enough as it is to play and perform on a day-to-day basis and a year-to year-basis."
For the catcher who once pondered his future on late-night bus rides through the wilds of Wyoming, the act of faith the contract represents was anything but a reason to relax.
"I don't want to be content with anything," Lucroy said. "I'm a strong believer that if you think you have it figured out, you don't. This game will punish you if you think you know everything.
"For me and my family to be able to extend my career here and hopefully longer than that, that's all l can ask for. ... I want to to be able to be comfortable with people. I want to know people, I want to be friends with people. I want my kids to play with other players' kids. Here, that's possible for me. With this behind us now, we can move forward and try to win a championship."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. Beat writer Adam McCalvy contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.