Billy Beane continues to stick to the game plan that has made him a successful small-market general manager. The Oakland Athletics GM has made his name by building teams around lower cost players not typically considered superstars. For a time, it has worked. The team made the playoffs every year from 2000-2003 and again in 2006. Then, last year, the A’s surprisingly won the American League West title after failing to finish above .500 since that 2006 season. And with the division getting tougher as the Los Angeles Angels have reloaded and the Texas Rangers will, no doubt, be in the conversation again, Oakland had to spend this offseason continuing to move forward.
On Monday, the A’s and new division rival Houston Astros agreed to a five-player deal to send shortstop Jed Lowrie to Oakland. Lowrie certainly fits the mold of the type of player Beane likes to target. Working with one of the league’s consistently lowest payrolls, Beane does not have the luxury of being able to spend big. Lowrie’s $2.4-million salary for 2013 will fit nicely within the team’s budget. The GM is hoping his production will, too.
During his five years in the Majors, Lowrie hasn’t earned the reputation as being an offensive threat. He is just a .250/.326/.416 career hitter and doesn’t possess the speed you might expect out of a light-hitting shortstop as he has only 5 stolen bases. He did, though, show some power last season in Houston hitting 16 home runs in 97 games, tying him for the fourth-most among all Major Leaguers at that position.
The main problem that has followed Lowrie during his career is that he has a hard time staying on the field. He has never played more than 97 games during a single season. He has had injuries ranging from wrist problems to ankle sprains to battling mono. It may just be a long run of bad luck, but it has now happened so much his durability is a serious question mark.
For the A’s, though, they are not acquiring him to be their everyday shortstop. The team signed Japanese star Hiroyuki Nakajima earlier this offseason with the intent on him being the starter there. Instead, Lowrie will likely become a super-utility player. That may not be a bad thing, either. Beane believes Lowrie will still see steady enough playing time by filling in at multiple positions, but with his injury history, not having to go through the grind of being a starter may help keep him healthier over the course of the entire season.
Additionally, one of the reasons that the Athletics were able to finish on top of the division last season was due to the fact that many of their players were able to play multiple positions. Lowrie will be another one who can do just that. He has logged 68 games at third base, 31 games at second base, and even 9 games at first base. Beane says his addition helps make the team even more interchangeable than the 2012 division champs.
Oakland’s haul didn’t stop with Lowrie. The A’s also received hard-throwing reliever Fernando Rodriguez. The 28-year-old didn’t put up particularly great stats last year, going 2-10 with a 5.37 ERA, though playing for the league’s worst team didn’t help the win-loss record. His 10.0 K/9 rate will also be a welcome addition to a bullpen that finished in the bottom half of baseball in that category, despite having one of the best relieving staffs.
The Astros, meanwhile, received three young players in return from Oakland as Houston continues to build for the future. 26-year-old first baseman Chris Carter is a former top prospect with strong power potential. In 67 games last season, he hit 16 home runs and he had 182 during his 8 seasons in the minors.
Carter will be with the big league club in some capacity next season and starting pitcher Brad Peacock may join him. The 25-year-old was fourth in Baseball America’s list of prospects in the A’s organization and spent last season in AAA. Over his six-year minor league career he is 46-47 with a 4.32 ERA and may compete for a rotation spot this year in Houston. The Astros also picked up 21-year-old Max Stassi who will become a catching prospect in an organization that lacks high-quality players at that position.
Analysts are mixed on how they view this deal. Most do believe that the A’s did well to add depth to their infield, which was an offseason priority for them. However, the differences in opinion come from what the Astros did. There is the school of thought that the team definitely added more talent, but did not get any stars. And others wonder whether decimating this year’s roster, even with the long-term goal of building for the future, can truly be good for the league.