Of all the players who have spent only a few games as a Washington National, Jonathan Lucroy might appreciate those few games the most.
The veteran catcher — a two-time All-Star in his career, has been with the Nationals since April 6, when the Nats began the 2021 season with roster catchers Alex Avila and Yan Gomes on the COVID Injured List. He was designated for assignment Monday when Avila and Gomes were reinstated.
Manager Davey Martinez said it was difficult to break the news to Lucroy, even though he’d been expecting it.
“I’ve known him for quite some time. Truly a professional,” Martinez said before Monday’s game. “What he did in a short period of time was awesome for us. He filled a huge gap for us.”
Lucroy might have had more impact on the field than most players who spent just seven days as a National, but the time with the team has been crucial for Lucroy as well.
Released by the Chicago White Sox at the end of March, Lucroy is not only a veteran ballplayer nearing the end of his career, but also tantalizingly close to achieving 10 years of major league service time. That would qualify him for a major league pension as well as the respect that comes with being tenured in his profession.
After learning that Avila and Gomes would not be able to start the season, and faced with postponing their first series, the Nats contacted Lucroy and signed him to a minor-league contract on April 3, then selected his contract to put him on the major league roster on April 6.
Lucroy made an instant impact on the rescheduled Opening Day, driving in the first two runs of the season with a double and handling Max Scherzer and four relievers in a 6-5 Nats’ win.
Lucroy knew his role immediately
“I feel kind of like a mercenary,” he said after the game. “Or kind of like, you know, the movie ‘The Replacements’ with Keanu Reeves at quarterback. Shane Falco, that’s what I kind of feel like out there. It’s kind of funny. But it’s fun. I mean, I get to play baseball.”
Since then, he’s compiled a .357/.357/.429 slash line in five games. And while the Nats hadn’t won since Opening Day before last night, Lucroy has been an asset.
Veteran players who are cut at the end of Spring Training often have a hard time finding another job. But finding a new gig was more important to Lucroy because of the time he’s put in so far.
According to Baseball Prospectus, Lucroy has nine years and 164 days of service time under the MLBPA rules. The agreement defines a full year of service time as 172 days, which leaves Lucroy just eight days short of 10 full years of service time.
But due to the intricacy of baseball’s roster rules, LuCroy could reach his goal even though he’s being designated for assignment. That’s because under the collective bargaining agreement, Lucroy continues to accrue service time while the Nats organization determines whether to trade him, outright him to the minor leagues, or release him. The Nats have seven days from today’s transaction to make those decisions, which will likely qualify Lucroy for tenure.
Lucroy was glad after his first game as a National that the team was giving him the opportunity to achieve this milestone.
“No matter what happens after this, I’m with a great team, great organization. No matter what happens it’s going to be great regardless,” he said.
Tenure qualifies players for a full pension under the best-funded plan in all of professional sports. Tenured major leaguers can receive benefirts as early as age 45 at $56,000 per year, up to age 65 when they can receive more than $265,000 per year.
The 10-year mark is also a milestone for players ti be recognized and respected by their peers as career major leaguers.