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A’s Swing Five-Player Swap and Land Lowrie

February 4, 2013

The A’s made a significant trade today, dealing first baseman Chris Carter and prospects Brad Peacock and Max Stassi to the Houston Astros today to acquire infielder Jed Lowrie and righty reliever Fernando Rodriguez. Readers of this site will know that I have advocated that Billy Beane acquire Lowrie all offseason long so I am pleased with this deal. To me the A’s traded three players who all have the potential to be very good, but no players who look to be superstars. Let’s start with Carter, who finally “broke out” last season posting a .239/.350/.514 slash line with an incredible .369 wOBA and impressive 137 wRC+. His walk rate was a very pleasant 15.0% though it was countered with a very 2012 A’s like 31.9% K% across 260 trips to the plate during which he slugged 16 over the wall. That is an incredble year. The question is, can he sustain it? He is a certifiably terrible defender, so much so that despite the monster offensive numbers his poor fielding and poor baserunning combined to help his WAR slump to just 0.8. For his career that gives him a grand total of -0.6 WAR, hardly the thing All Stars or Hall of Famers are made of. While Carter looked better in 2012, and oftentimes looked downright good, the holes in his swing are numerous and one has to believe they can be further exploited. Given his one-dimensionality Carter looks like he may be the Astros’ DH of the future, but the A’s seemed intent on keeping him in the mix at first a job that now looks to belong to Brandon Moss (while Daric Barton would be in the mix, it doesn’t seem like a true platoon would work here). The A’s lose out on a designated hitter, but have plenty of internal candidates with their four outfielder monster and also now may be able to free up someone in that mix to shuttle over to first every so often – not entirely a bad thing. Seems to me Beane has dealt Carter when his value was at his zenith which is quite incredible given how recently it appeared to be at its nadir.

Speaking of value at it nadir, the A’s sent Peacock over to the Astros as well. A highly regarded prospect, Peacock tanked in Sacramento in 2012. Expected to at some point be a part of the big league club, with there even being discussions that he could have opened the season in the rotation, he instead got chewed up by the bats of the Pacific Coast League posting a miserable 6.01 ERA in 28 appearances (25 of them starts) throwing 134 2/3 innings. His peripherals were less than exemplary (9.3 K/9, 4.4 BB/9 and 1.1 HR/9) leading to as similarly underwhelming 4.26 FIP. While his BABIP and strand rates were pathetically disfavorable (.340 and 60.8% respectively) the season was still a bust for the young Peacock. The A’s seemed to have lost faith in him to a degree, and the Astros have nothing to lose in acquiring him. Not a huge loss for the A’s who have now dealt half of the package they received for Gio Gonzalez two Decembers ago.

The last piece is a guy I really liked in Stassi. I got to see Stassi play quite a bit in the Cal League this past season and he is an athletic catcher and I found him at least eyeball testing it, to be a very speedy receiver. While a decent amount of distance away from the bigs, it seems that Stassi is blocked somewhat by Derek Norris long term so he became expendable. This past season with the Ports he swung to a .264/.328/.465 slash line with 15 home runs in 360 plate appearances. His wOBA of .342 and wRC+ of 101 registered slightly above average for the high-A circuit. Stassi has had problems staying healthy, so that is a risk to offset his upside and that is an issue for the Astros brass to contend with.

So what did the A’s get back? They g0t back a right-handed reliver in Rodriguez who is 29 come June. A native of El Paso, he was originally drafted by the Angels in the 2003 draft (18th round) before ending up in Houston as a free agent. Last year he pitched 70 1/3 innings for the ‘Stros, posting a sloppy 5.37 ERA, to go with a less sloppy but not endearing 4.22 FIP for a grand total of -0.1 WAR. This was built upon his throwing 10.0 K/9, 4.4 BB/9 while allowing 1.3 HR/9. He has yet to post a positive WAR season as a reliver, but I find better than WAR for relievers is a shutdown to meltdown ratio. The guy’s job is to preserve a lead, does he do that? Well not exactly for Rodriguez who has a ratio of 26:24 in his career which is solidly on the alarming side. But of course Rodriguez was not the centerpiece of this deal, that was the young Lowrie.

Lowrie is worth these three players all by himself in my mind. Why? Firstly, Lowrie is good. Though he has the requisite injury concerns of being a member of the Oakland Athletics, Lowrie can play anywhere on the infield and though primarily a shortstop has also logged time at first, second and third base. This is invaluable to the A’s who have very real question marks at three of the four (one can even argue all four) infield positions. Third base in particular looks to be of great concern to me, for even though I believe in Josh Donaldson there is no question that Lowrie is an upgrade. Should Hiroyuki Nakajima need finishing, Lowrie can step in at shortstop. If the Scott Sizemore and Jemile Weeks battle yields no clear winner? Lowrie at second. There are of course other permutations as well, Sizemore could excel, Donaldson and Weeks could struggle so you could have Sizemore at third, Lowrie at second, and on and on. Last season in Houston, Lowrie participated in 97 games for 387 plate appearances hitting 16 home runs. He had a slash line of .244/.331/.438 that is somewhat suppressed by a low .257 BABIP. A neutral defender he was worth 2.5 WAR despite the limited playing time, imagine what that number can look like with 140 games not just 97. In a little over two full seasons of play (though he has seen time in the pros since 2008 he has spent a lot of time on the Boston to Pawtucket shuttle) Lowrie has 6.1 WAR. Can’t complain there. This is a clear upgrade from any of the shortstop options the A’s had last year, and really represents an upgrade over any of the infielders they have going into 2013. I love the addition of Lowrie. I love the flexibility it gives this team, this is a great move. There are fans of mashers who will miss Carter, but Lowrie’s power numbers are no slouch (.194 ISO). Especially given how much more we can expect to see Lowrie on top of the fact that this move addresses a key weakness, while not creating any sort of hole and even freeing up more talent in the OF/DH shuffle, this is a win for Oakland. That said, this also is a win for Houston, they trade a player they don’t need to compete and get back three high upside returns who might just pan out. Got to love when two bright GM’s get together.

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