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Blow up those preseason roster forecasts. The Oakland A’s front office has pulled off another shocker.
Just days before players start reporting for spring training, the A’s have made a deal with the Houston Astros to acquire IF Jed Lowrie and RHP Fernando Rodriguez. In exchange, the A’s have dipped into their depth, sending 1B/DH Chris Carter, C Max Stassi and RHP Brad Peacock to Houston. With the trade, the A’s are once again sending out strong signals that they intend to compete for another post-season berth in 2013.
Who The A’s Received
The biggest name in this trade is infielder Jed Lowrie, who was arguably the Astros’ best player before he was dealt. The Stanford alum was selected 45th overall in 2005 by the Boston Red Sox and was part of one of the most talented first rounds in recent draft history. That first round included Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman, Andrew McCutchen, Troy Tulowitzki, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jay Bruce, Matt Garza and Clay Buchholz, among others.
The A’s actually had two chances to select Lowrie before Boston called his name. With the 21st pick, the A’s went with shortstop Cliff Pennington and with the 36th pick, they selected outfielder Travis Buck. Ironically, Lowrie will be replacing many of the middle infield at-bats Pennington had with the A’s last season.
Like Pennington, Lowrie is a switch-hitter, but the two players’ similarities end at their positions, draft year and switch-hitting abilities. Whereas Pennington’s value lies squarely with his glove and his speed, Lowrie’s bat is what carries him. In 1,954 major league at-bats, Pennington has homered 24 times and he has a lifetime .356 SLG. Lowrie, on the other hand, has homered 35 times in 1,307 at-bats and he has a .417 SLG as a big leaguer. In 2010, Lowrie posted a .526 SLG and homered nine times in 197 at-bats for the Red Sox, and in 2012, Lowrie connected on 16 homers in 387 at-bats and had a .438 SLG for the Astros.
In addition to establishing a career-high in homeruns last season, Lowrie walked a career-best 43 times in 97 games. As a minor-leaguer, Lowrie had a career .381 OBP and he walked 220 times against 250 strike-outs in 379 games. He also posted a .448 SLG.
Defensively, Lowrie has spent most of his career at shortstop, but he has plenty of experience at the other infield positions, as well. In five big league seasons, Lowrie has logged 240 games at short, 83 games at third, 34 games at second and 11 games at first. Lowrie has a reputation as a competent fielder with limited range, especially at short. With Hiroyuki Nakajima slated to receive the majority of the playing time at short for the A’s, Lowrie will likely see plenty of time at third, second and even first, with a few games at DH mixed in.
Like many of the players on the A’s roster, Lowrie has a significant injury history. In 2009, he missed nearly four months with a left wrist injury that required surgery. In 2010, Lowrie began the year on the DL with mono, which caused him to miss nearly four months, although once he recovered, he put together the best season of his career. The 2011 season saw Lowrie miss nearly 50 games with a left shoulder injury and it impacted his hitting for most of the year. Last year, Lowrie began the year on the DL with a right thumb injury that cost him six games. In July, he injured his leg in San Francisco. What was originally termed a sprained ankle wound up being a more serious nerve injury that cost him nearly two months.
In 2012, Lowrie was a significantly better hitter as a left-handed hitter, but over the course of his major league career, Lowrie has been a better right-handed hitter. Lowrie has benefited from playing in hitter-friendly home ballparks throughout his major league career, and his home-road splits have reflected that advantage. He will be tested in the pitcher-friendly Oakland Coliseum. Lowrie doesn’t have much speed and isn’t a threat on the base-paths.
Lowrie will be under team control through the 2014 season.
Fernando Rodriguez is a tall right-hander who established a career-high for major league innings pitched in 2012 with 70.1 innings. Rodriguez’s ERA was 5.37, but his FIP was 4.26 and he struck-out 78. He did struggle some with his command, as he walked 34. Rodriguez also finished third in the NL in wild pitches with 10.
Originally a member of the Angels’ organization, the El Paso, Texas, native is a hard-thrower. His average fastball velocity last season was 93 and he occasionally touched 96. He also features a curveball, change-up and slider. Rodriguez will be arbitration-eligible before the 2015 season.
Who The A’s Gave Up
The three players the A’s gave up hardly need an introduction for regular readers of this site. All three have spent significant time in the A’s top-10 prospect list over the past few years.
Chris Carter came to the A’s before the 2008 season as part of the Dan Haren trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The A’s received six prospects in that deal and only one (Brett Anderson) remains with the organization.
During his time with the A’s, Carter was the organization’s top power hitter. In 2008, he set a Stockton Ports’ record for homeruns with 39. He won the California League’s Rookie of the Year award and helped lead the Ports to the Cal League title. In 2009, Carter won the Texas League MVP award after he posted a 1011 OPS with 24 homers in 124 games. He would finish that season with Triple-A Sacramento and had 28 homers in 138 games for the season.
From 2010 through 2012, Carter appeared in 272 games for the River Cats and he hit 61 homers during that time. Despite those power numbers, Carter struggled to make a permanent jump to the big leagues until 2012. In 2010, he made his major league debut, but he went hitless for more than 30 at-bats before getting his first major league hit. He finished his first big league stint with 13 hits in 70 at-bats.
During the final few months of the 2010 season, the A’s moved Carter from first base to the outfield with the hope that he would be able to play left field while Daric Barton started at first base. Carter struggled with the position switch and injured his thumb diving for a ball in the outfield. The thumb injury was re-aggravated in 2011 and cost Carter significant time. He appeared in only 81 minor league games and 15 major league games. It was the first time since 2006 that Carter appeared in fewer than 100 games.
Last season was a breakthrough for Carter. He moved back to first base and posted an 853 OPS in 72 games for the River Cats. Carter was called up to Oakland midway through the season and, unlike during his previous stints, he got off to a good start. Carter hit 16 homers and posted a .350 OBP in 218 at-bats for Oakland. He struggled in September, however, and he lost playing time to Brandon Moss. Carter would collect only nine hits in 60 September at-bats and he didn’t appear in the post-season.
Brad Peacock was one of four prospects acquired by the A’s for Gio Gonzalez last off-season. Of those four, two have now been traded (A.J. Cole was traded in January in the John Jaso deal) and the other two were significant contributors to the A’s 2012 post-season run (Tom Milone and Derek Norris).
Peacock had an up-and-down season in the A’s organization. The right-hander posted an unsightly 6.01 ERA in 134.2 innings for the River Cats, but he pitched better than that number would indicate, especially during the final few months of the season. Peacock struck-out 139 batters and had a 4.26 FIP. The 25-year-old made several mechanical adjustments during the season and he appeared much more comfortable with those changes towards the end of the season.
Peacock was originally a 41st-round draft-and-follow pick of the Washington Nationals in 2006. He signed with the team just before the 2007 draft. Peacock moved slowly through the Nats’ system until 2011, when he moved from Double-A to the big leagues in one season. Peacock struck-out 177 in 146.2 innings in the minor leagues that year and he made three appearances for the Nationals in September.
Max Stassi was the A’s fourth-round pick in 2009. The Yuba City, California, native signed an over-slot deal with the A’s. Stassi made his full-season debut in 2010 with the Low-A Kane County Cougars. He struggled defensively at the start of the year, but by the end of the season, he was the best defensive catcher in the Midwest League. Offensively, Stassi showed promising power but also a propensity to swing-and-miss.
While Stassi was in high school, he struggled with a shoulder injury. The injury at the time didn’t require surgery, but it flared up again at the start of the 2011 season. The A’s tried to have Stassi rehab the shoulder while DHing for the Stockton Ports, but when the shoulder didn’t improve, the A’s shut Stassi down for the year in May and he underwent shoulder surgery.
In 2012, he returned to Stockton. Stassi would appear in only 84 games thanks to ankle and oblique injuries, but he showed improvement at the plate while continuing to impress defensively. Stassi hit 15 homers in 314 at-bats and raised his average from .229 in 2010 to .268. He played in the Arizona Fall League during the off-season and hit .271 with a 710 OPS in 48 at-bats.
From Oakland’s perspective, this trade is – without question – a ‘win-now’ move. In terms of sheer talent, the Astros came away with the bigger haul. Carter may be a one-dimensional player, but that one dimension (his power) is significant. Given that he will be playing in an offense-friendly park in Houston, Carter could put up some impressive homerun totals over the next few years. He will also likely be among the league leaders in strike-outs if he plays every day, but he will get his share of walks and could be the best hitter in a weak Houston line-up.
Peacock and Stassi are bigger question-marks, but both could be solid contributors for Houston in the coming years. Peacock doesn’t have the command to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, but he has quality stuff and the durability to be a mid-rotation innings eater for a number of years.
Stassi has the athleticism and the work ethic to be an above-average defensive catcher in the big leagues. Teammates and coaches in the A’s organization raved about Stassi’s ability to work with his pitchers and his pre-game preparation. Stassi’s throwing was still not back to his pre-surgery levels by the end of the 2012 season, but if he gets his arm strength back, he could be a special defensive player. Offensively, Stassi likely will never hit for average, but he has above-average power for a catcher and has a chance to hit well enough to be a valuable player when combined with his defense.
For Houston, the deal is a no-brainer. Lowrie was their best position player at the major league level, but the Astros figure to lose more than 90 games this season and Lowrie wasn’t going to change that outcome. Carter could bring the Astros more offense than Lowrie as soon as the 2013 season, although at a much less valuable “position” (DH). Rodriguez is also the kind of player who is more valuable to a team contending than a team looking to rebuild. Houston needs as much talent as it can accumulate and they now have three talented players with several years of team control still attached to them.
The A’s are taking a risk with this deal, but they clearly believe that Lowrie is the final piece of their increasingly complicated roster puzzle and that Rodriguez will bring quality innings to their bullpen. The A’s have been linked to Lowrie for years and he brings a lot of skills the team covets – the ability to get on-base, versatility and power.
The 2013 A’s will be an interesting experiment, to say the least. While the A’s may have only one position player on their roster that anyone would term a star (Yoenis Cespedes), they may now have arguably the deepest 25-man roster in the American League. Even if everyone stays healthy, the A’s may not have any player appear in more than 140 games – and that will be by design. The A’s are now two starters deep at every position and will have the ability to create daily line-ups based on pitching match-ups.
A’s manager Bob Melvin will be put to the test to try to distribute at-bats among his position players, but he proved capable of that task last season. Lowrie’s presence on the roster means that Melvin will be able to give Nakajima days off from shortstop on a regular basis, something that will be important as he transitions from the shorter Japanese season to the 162-game schedule. Lowrie will also likely see significant time at second and third and could be the team’s regular first baseman against left-handed pitchers.
Offensively, Lowrie brings a potentially potent bat to the A’s middle infield, a middle infield that combined to post a 600 OPS in 2013. Health has been Lowrie’s biggest hindrance for the past three years, and the A’s may be able to keep him off of the disabled list by giving him regular rest. If he can get to 400 at-bats, he could eclipse the 20-homer plateau for the first time in his career. However, the A’s may also find their investment wasted if Lowrie spends much of the year on the DL.
One area of concern is the A’s team defense. While the A’s outfield could be one of the best in the league defensively, their infield defense could be a problem area. With the exception of Josh Donaldson at third base, none of the A’s current infielders are above-average defensively. Jemile Weeks has the ability to be an above-average defensive second baseman, but he isn’t guaranteed to make the roster. The A’s starters are mostly flyball pitchers (with the exception of Brett Anderson and Jarrod Parker), so this may not wind up hurting the A’s next season.
The addition of Rodriguez will add even more depth to an already deep A’s bullpen. While the A’s have several options for their middle innings, they are being wise to stockpile high quality arms. Grant Balfour, Ryan Cook, Jerry Blevins, Travis Blackley and Sean Doolittle all had significant work loads last season, while Jordan Norberto is coming off of a shoulder injury. Injuries wouldn’t be a surprise, so having several capable arms will help the A’s get past those injuries if they pop up.
While this is a move to win-now, the A’s aren’t completely selling out their future with this move. They will have Lowrie under team control through 2014 and could extend him past his free agency years before that time. Rodriguez will be under team control through the 2017 season.
It was becoming increasingly clear over the past three seasons that Carter didn’t fit into the A’s long-term plans. Even though the A’s are in the American League and Carter profiles well as a designated hitter, the A’s were reluctant to turn the DH position over to Carter, instead insisting that he find a defensive position. It is becoming more and more clear that the A’s front office places a high value on versatility and Carter offered little in being limited to first base/DH. Two years ago, it would have been crazy for the A’s to trade a power bat like Carter’s, but the A’s have added a lot of power over the past year and power is now a team strength.
In dealing Peacock, the A’s are also trading from a position of strength. The A’s have a rotation stocked with young starters under the organization’s control for several years and the A’s also have Sonny Gray waiting in the wings in Triple-A, as well as Andrew Werner, who was acquired from San Diego last season. They should still be in a position to withstand a few injuries to their rotation, although their upper-level starting rotation depth has definitely been thinned. Bruce Billings, who was one of the River Cats' top starters last year, Travis Banwart, who has been a forgotten man despite pitching well for Sacramento last season, and Carlos Hernandez, who pitched well in winter ball, could also be candidates for the rotation should the A’s face a rash of starting pitching injuries.
The A’s were able to deal Stassi in part because of the emergence of 2011 fifth-round pick Beau Taylor, who reached Double-A in his first full professional season. Taylor isn’t in the same league as Stassi defensively, but he has the tools to be at least an average defensive catcher and he has a similar offensive profile to Jason Kendall in his ability to make consistent contact and hit for average. David Freitas, who was acquired by the A’s from the Nationals in the Kurt Suzuki trade last season, impressed in his brief time with the A’s at the Double-A level last season. With Stassi traded, the A’s can now team Freitas and Taylor at Double-A next year without having to rush one of them to Triple-A to leave Double-A at-bats for Stassi.
This trade is definitely a risk for the A’s. There is a possibility that they have given a division rival their starting DH, catcher and number three starter for the next several years (although Stassi is still a few years away from being big-league ready). However, even if all three players reach their potential, the A’s will still be pleased with the trade if Lowrie and Rodriguez help Oakland get to the post-season. The A’s know that their window to compete with the roster that they have is only a few years long before their roster will start to get prohibitively expensive. This deal gives them the opportunity to maximize their chances of winning during that window.
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