(Over the next week, we will be examining each of the A's free agents to determine which players are most likely to return in 2019.)
Jonathan Lucroy's value in 2018 went far beyond the stats. Sure he only slashed .241/.291/.325, but the veteran catcher was a major reason for the A's pitching success, withstanding numerous injuries to the starting rotation.
Lucroy, 32, guided Oakland's staff to a 3.81 ERA, sixth best in the American League and not far behind second-place Tampa Bay's 3.74. He also led the majors with 31 runners caught stealing.
"Luc (was) huge in what we did," said A's general manager Davis Forst. "Luc changed the pitching staff the day he got there in Spring Training. We spent a lot of time working on getting that contract done and getting him in in time to start the season, and he made an impact right away. Obviously (he) will be a big part of our conversations over the next month.
Lucroy earned $6.5 million last season, the second highest salary on the team behind Khris Davis.
Why the A's should re-sign him
Not only did Lucroy prove to be a valuable defensive catcher, but he was one of the leaders in the clubhouse. His nine years of MLB experience were huge for the A's pitching staff and he helped hold the starting rotation together despite several season-ending injuries.
"I haven't been on a team this close in my entire career," Lucroy said after the AL Wild Card Game. "It was definitely very fortunate for me. I was very blessed to be here. It was very nice to be a part of."
It remains to be seen what type of interest Lucroy receives from other clubs, but his career-low offensive numbers could actually work in the A's favor from a financial standpoint. Of course, Lucroy has displayed stellar offensive ability in the past, slashing .277/.337/.421 for his career.
Why the A's should let him go
Lucroy may cost more than the A's are willing to pay a number nine hitter in the lineup. The veteran's power numbers were way down in 2018 with a career-low four home runs.
Another key factor will be the progress of Sean Murphy. The talented young catcher, who turned 24 today, is ranked as the A's third-best prospect by MLB Pipeline and the fourth-best catcher prospect in all of baseball.
"Sean's got all of three games in Triple-A, so it's hard to say what he's ready for or where he starts 2019," Forst noted. "Suffice to say, we think quite a bit of him."
Murphy slashed .288/.358/.498 with eight home runs and 43 RBI in 68 games with Double-A Midland this season.
Based on his all-around performance, both on and off the field, Lucroy will likely be back in Oakland in 2019. As for Murphy, his time will come, but it would make sense for him to play a full season at the Triple-A level.
Throughout the season, Lucroy stressed how much he loved playing in Oakland and you would think he would love to return. His decreasing offensive numbers will likely limit the interest he receives from other teams and allow the A's to re-sign him for a reasonable amount.