Taylor Davis

Cubs add some catching depth in the form of Jonathan Lucroy

Cubs add some catching depth in the form of Jonathan Lucroy

The Cubs are adding a veteran catcher to the mix in the form of Jonathan Lucroy.

Lucroy, 33, was designated for assignment last week and after he cleared waivers, the Angels released him, officially making him a free agent as of Wednesday afternoon. The team confirmed the move after the 10-1 win over the A's, sending Taylor Davis back down to Triple-A Iowa to create room on the roster.

Lucroy is expected to be available for the Cubs Thursday in Cincinnati as they begin an 11-day, 10-game road trip. 

"I've heard a lot of wonderful things about him," Joe Maddon said. "He adds that veteran mix behind the plate that I think is really important, especially this time of the year. ... He can swing the bat. He knows what he's doing back there. Cole Hamels played with him in Texas, for example, and he spoke very highly of him, too. 

"So we're really excited to get a player of that caliber right now with everything that's going on for us. We're pretty fortunate."

The Cubs needed some more catching for the stretch run after Willson Contreras injured his hamstring in Saturday's game. The two-time All-Star starter underwent an MRI Monday and is looking at a four-week timeline. This is the same injury he had in August and September of 2017 when he missed about a month.

Lucroy signed with the Angels over the winter on a one-year, $3.35 million deal but since he was released, the Cubs would not have to cover the prorated portion of that contract. With this being the first year of no August waiver trades around Major League Baseball and Contreras' injury coming just after the July deadline, the Cubs' options were limited at adding another backstop from outside the organization, but it worked out in their favor that Lucroy hit the market.

The veteran missed most of July after suffering a concussion on a brutal collision with Houston's Jake Marisnick at home plate:

He returned from the injured list July 31 and played one game before being designated for assignment.

Lucroy hit .242 with a .681 OPS, 7 homers and 30 RBI in 74 games in L.A. and it's been a little while since he was above average offensively (even for a catcher). He made the All-Star team with the Brewers in 2016 and was traded to the Rangers in the middle of that year, finishing with 24 homers, 81 RBI and an .855 OPS. 

Back in 2014, Lucroy led the NL with 53 doubles and finished fourth in MVP voting with Milwaukee.

Lucroy doesn't strike out much at the plate and could form a nice platoon with Victor Caratini, whom the Cubs prefer to face right-handed pitchers. Lucroy also provides more depth and a veteran presence who has been to the postseason four times.

He already comes with some experience with the Cubs pitching staff, as he's already logged more than 100 innings behind the plate for three Cubs pitchers — Hamels (111), Yu Darvish (129.1) and Brandon Kintzler (132.1). In fact, no catcher has worked more with Kintzler in-game and only one other catcher (Geovany Soto) has been behind the plate more in Darvish's MLB career.

Regardless of how he hits, he figures to be a valuable addition to help manage the pitching staff and give the Cubs experience at the most important defensive position in the middle of a tight playoff race. Plus, it's added protection against injury, as Caratini has taken a couple of dings to his wrists/forearms in recent games.

"Obviously a guy who's been around for a long time, has a lot of history against the Cubs. Glad to bring him over here and have him come in and get his perspective on a lot of things and win some ballgames," Kyle Schwarber said.

Given Contreras' timeline, he probably wouldn't return before Sept. 1 when rosters expand, so the Cubs could conceivably work him back slowly with Caratini and Lucroy still on the roster. 

Cubs catcher Taylor Davis pitches a scoreless ninth inning against the Athletics

Cubs catcher Taylor Davis pitches a scoreless ninth inning against the Athletics

The Cubs 11-4 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday was a tough pill to swallow but the game was not without some fun storylines. 

Tuesday's game was so wild that at one point Cubs manager Joe Maddon has three catchers on the diamond at once.

How did we get to this point you ask?

By the fifth inning, the Cubs were already down 11-0 following an 8-run second inning and a 3-run fourth inning from Oakland. At this point, Maddon moved starting catcher Victor Caratini over to first base in relief of Anthony Rizzo and put Taylor Davis in at catcher. 

Things got even weirder by the end of the game when catcher Davis hit the mound for the Cubs in the top of the ninth. And just when we thought the surprises were done, Davis got himself out of quite the jam.

The Athletics loaded the bases following three-straight singles from Jurickson Profar, Matt Olson and Mark Canha respectively. With the bases loaded and Taylor Davis on the mound, one would expect things to get even more out of hand but that is precisely when Davis was able to rally and get the Cubs into the final half-inning without giving up yet another run.

The North Siders were able to tack on two runs in the bottom of the ninth but that was as close as they would get to completing their rally.

Tuesday's loss ended the Cubs winning streak at four games but there are ultimately two silver linings that come out of this. The first being that the Cubs only had to get four innings out of their bullpen (and one from Davis) and the second being that the Cubs will be able to right the ship soon, as they will be back at it against the Athletics at Wrigley Field (1:20 PM CST) at on NBC Sports Chicago. 

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With catching depth suddenly a concern, could Cubs turn to Kyle Schwarber behind the plate?

With catching depth suddenly a concern, could Cubs turn to Kyle Schwarber behind the plate?

No more than five minutes after Willson Contreras came up hobbling in Saturday's Cubs win, there was Kyle Schwarber with a catcher's glove in hand.

Schwarber jumped at the chance to squat behind home plate, even if only to warm up a couple of Cubs relievers in between innings while Victor Caratini — Contreras' replacement — got his gear on after hitting.

You better believe Schwarber has been in Joe Maddon's ear, reminding him he can catch while the Cubs' depth is being tested with Contreras out for the next month with a Grade-2 hamstring strain.

"Oh he wants to play, man," Maddon said, laughing. "He came in after the game [Sunday] and talked to me about actually starting a game. He's ready to roll."

Maddon confirmed Schwarber would serve as the Cubs' emergency catcher over the next few weeks — a position he already filled even when Contreras was healthy. 

The team currently has Caratini and Taylor Davis for depth and will likely add a veteran from outside the organization in some capacity. 

Schwarber came up as a part-time catcher in the Cubs system, playing 72 games and more than 623 innings at the position. He also caught 21 games (15 starts) in his rookie season of 2015 before blowing out his knee in the collision with Dexter Fowler in April 2016. 

Since then, Schwarber has not started a game at catcher in the big leagues, only seeing four appearances and seven total innings behind the dish (all of which came in 2017). 

While the position's defensive requirements are obviously important, the Cubs also have to find a way to match the offense Contreras was putting up from the catcher spot (.890 OPS). 

The lineup has been inconsistent all year, so would it be crazy to see the team get creative and put Schwarber at catcher and somebody like Ian Happ or Albert Almora Jr. in the outfield for an offensive-minded group? The Cubs could always swap out Schwarber for defensive purposes late in games and insert Davis or Caratini.

The short answer: Don't expect to see that.

"I think he'd like that," GM Jed Hoyer said with a smile. "I think we've always felt good about having that as a third catcher if something happened. Most teams have an infielder or something like that, but we have a guy that did it a lot in the minor leagues. He can certainly do it.

"I've always thought the challenge with that kind of thing is the bullpen. It's one thing to catch the starters; it's another thing to catch a series of relievers coming into the game throwing 97 mph. It's a lot different than playing in left field.

"He would do a good job if we needed him, but our goal here is to keep him healthy and keep his bat in the lineup. We made that decision to move him out from behind there for that reason."

Like Hoyer said, the Cubs haven't really considered Schwarber a catcher for years. Even before the devastating knee injury, they weren't sure he'd stick long-term at the most demanding defensive position on the field.

But hey, as Maddon always says, "necessity is the mother of invention," so maybe don't rule anything out over these next few weeks...