Some weeks ago, there was talk that the A’s were interested in trading for Jed Lowrie, while in return, the Astros were interested in getting Chris Carter and a young pitcher. Sometimes rumors reported in such a way are based in fact, and sometimes rumors reported in such a way are based in fantasy. Monday evening, the A’s swung a trade to get themselves Jed Lowrie. As part of the return, the Astros got themselves Chris Carter and a young pitcher.
The actual, complete specifics:
On the one hand, it was a trade that came out of nowhere, while, on the other hand, there was that talk weeks ago, and Lowrie’s long been a Billy Beane sort. This is an unusual trade for Oakland in two ways: Beane now feels like his active roster is complete, and Beane has referred to this very move as being a move for now, rather than later. Not that Lowrie is a year away from free agency or anything, but this is a move designed to make the team better immediately.
Lowrie was an available, talented shortstop. Something interesting, here, is that Lowrie won’t be slotted in to play short in Oakland, or even really anywhere regularly. The A’s signed Hiroyuki Nakajima to handle the shortstop duties, and there are a number of options at both second and third base. Lowrie is capable of playing all around the infield, and to Oakland, his versatility was one of his biggest selling points. What Lowrie does is bolster Oakland’s depth.
To get better, you can either upgrade your regulars, or you can make sure you have insurance. Lowrie is around, now, in case Nakajima struggles with his transition to the US. Lowrie is around, now, in case no one emerges at second out of Jemile Weeks, Scott Sizemore, and others. Lowrie is around, now, in case no one emerges at third. Lowrie can also cut it at first, so he’s a valuable player to have at the ready. For his career, he’s been a league-average hitter, and while he’s an extreme fly-ball hitter who won’t find Oakland as forgiving as Houston, the shift is unlikely to cripple his offense. A healthy Lowrie lets Oakland breathe easier.
Of course, health has always been an issue, and Lowrie’s hardly the most durable infielder in the game. What we don’t understand very well at present is the significance of injury-proneness going forward. Some players can’t hold up to the stresses, while others just get unlucky. If Lowrie continues to bounce on and off the disabled list, no one’s going to say Oakland couldn’t have seen it coming, but this is a known gamble. And Lowrie’s got another year of team control after this one, so if he works out, he’ll stick around.
If you’re wondering what a Fernando Rodriguez is, it’s a right-handed reliever with a mid-90s fastball. Rodriguez also has a curve and a track record of striking out both lefties and righties, but the walks are a thing, as they frequently are with this profile. Rodriguez is bullpen depth that could become quality bullpen depth in the event of an improvement, which is a statement that applies to hundreds. He’s 28 and surprisingly experienced, and I say “surprising” because I assume you don’t know much about the Astros’ recent big-league bullpens.
On the Astros’ end, Lowrie was one of the team’s better players, and he was also relatively expensive. The Astros’ team payroll now is smaller than the Astros’ team second baseman, but no one out there thinks the Astros are pulling a Marlins, keeping costs down to keep profit up. The Astros are just in the process of building from scratch, and that’s something that everybody understands. For an injury-prone middle infielder who wasn’t going to be around to help the next good Astros team, this isn’t too bad of a haul.
Peacock is the big prospect, but Carter is the primary get, after last year slugging .514 in 260 plate appearances. For the first time, Carter carried his triple-A success into the majors, putting up an impressive 137 wRC+ that wasn’t boosted by an artificially high BABIP. One thing that made Carter expendable was that he didn’t stand to get a lot of playing time in Oakland this season. Another thing that made Carter expendable is his difficulty making consistent contact, as one out of every three of his major-league swings to date has whiffed. The Astros are in a better position to give Carter a chance and see if he can keep it up. Last year’s numbers, I mean, not the whiffing.
Carter’s newly 26, and the Astros think his power could play long-term. In that event, he could be the team’s future first baseman or DH. More likely is that Carter gets exposed as a guy who doesn’t do enough well to offset the drawbacks, but with his 2012 he’s earned this opportunity, and Houston is a perfect place to grant it.
Peacock was one of Oakland’s best pitching prospects, even after posting an ERA over 6 last season in triple-A. The good news is that he averaged better than a strikeout an inning. The bad news is that he gave up too many fly balls and threw just 60% strikes. Newly 25, Peacock is close to big-league ready, and he has a full enough repertoire, but right now he doesn’t profile as much more than a #4 or a #3, if things work out. The very top pitching prospects in baseball are unreliable, and Peacock isn’t one of the very top pitching prospects in baseball.
At last, there’s Stassi, a 21-year-old catcher who’s almost a 22-year-old catcher. He was a bigger deal when he was drafted than he is now, and he’s had his own injury problems without having yet advanced beyond high-A. But you could do a lot worse as a third piece, and because Stassi is a backstop, he’ll be granted more patience. He’s far too young to write off.
For Oakland, the 2013 infield just got better, and deeper. The team’s better able to absorb an individual disappointment, improving the team’s odds of staying in the race in the division. For Houston, the organization has more talent in it now than it did a day ago. That’s the Astros’ top priority, and they can worry about surer bets down the road, when they’re not these Astros anymore.