The Jed Lowrie trade

By Jason Wojciechowski on February 13, 2013 at 10:43 PM

As you know by this point, because I'm not your only source for A's news (I hope not, anyway), the A's traded Chris Carter, Max Stassi, and Brad Peacock to the Houston Astros for Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez. First, the facts:

Lowrie played 97 games last year, missing the rest due a sprained thumb and a nerve injury sustained after a sprained ankle. When he was on the field, though, he posted a .279 TAv that was light on batting average (.244) but heavy on walks (43 in 387 PAs) and power (34 extra-base hits). On defense ... well, he doesn't have much over a season's worth of innings in his career at shortstop and significantly fewer at second and third, so I don't even want to look at the numbers, much less quote them. Still, he is, as I understand it, a reasonably well-regarded defensive player (which is different from saying he's Jose Iglesias or something).

Rodriguez is a reliever with a very good strikeout rate and a bad walk rate. He's 29 but he'll make the minimum salary this year. It's unclear to me what his option status is, as he was designated for assignment by the Angels in 2010, signed to a minor-league deal, etc. etc. He does bring his fastball in the mid-90s.

Carter we all saw finally start getting ahold of some baseballs, slugging .514 in 260 PAs in 2012. He still struck out in nearly 32 percent of his trips to the plate, which kept his batting average at a mere .239. Still, with his excellent walk rate (39 free passes) and his power, he came out to a .317 TAv, which is a bat that will play anywhere: at first, even if he's bad with the glove (he is), or designated hitter.

Stassi is a catcher, a former "signability guy" who the A's took in a later round in the draft than his talent would indicate and gave high-pick money to. He played in the Cal League this year at 21 and hit for power, with a .468 slugging that's impressive even in that heavy offensive environment when you consider that he's a catcher with a strong defensive reputation. He missed most of 2011 with a shoulder injury, so it was encouraging to see him come back the way he did in 2012.

Peacock is a starting pitcher who was acquired in the Gio Gonzalez trade and spent the year scuffling his way to a 6.01 ERA in Sacramento despite having debuted in the majors with Washington in 2011. His strikeout rate stayed strong (more than a better per nine in the high minors as a starter is quite nice), but his walk rate was over four per nine and he allowed a .342 BABIP. Was he hittable or was he unlucky or was the defense crummy? "Some combination of all of these" is most likely the answer, and the devil is in the proportions. For what it's worth, he also gave up too many homers. He's 25 now.

To be honest, even given all the time I've had to think about it since this trade went down, I haven't come down on a side of this trade yet. (To the extent I ever give things the full thumbs up or down, anyway.) So let's do this: I'll construct what I see as the arguments for and against the trade and ... I don't know, just leave it at that?

The best case against the trade, as it is against any trade of prospects for major-leaguers, is that the A's gave up too much. Of first basemen with at least 200 plate appearances in 2012, the rank by True Average goes like this:

  1. Joey Votto
  2. Brandon Moss
  3. Prince Fielder
  4. Chris Carter
  5. Allen Craig

There's a sense in which Carter didn't hit that outlandishly. We expected him to have an OBP around .350 due to a good walk rate and a bad strikeout rate, right? And we expected him to slug over .500 because of the enormous raw power that is matched by very very few baseball players. So he did what he was going to do.

Already, trading a possible star-level first baseman for a decent but oft-injured infielder, given the money difference and the service-time gap (which relates to how many years of team control are left), doesn't seem great. Add in, though, that Stassi and Peacock both look like players who have high probabilities of contributing in the majors, albeit at uncertain levels (is Peacock a starter? Is he a number-three? Is Stassi a backup? Will he hit?) and the package given up for Lowrie looks borderline enormous. It's not necessarily a star-level package because there's no, say, Jean Segura here (as there was in last year's Zack Greinke trade between Anaheim and Milwaukee), Carter having slipped out of that tier, it seems, but there is good upside and good odds of reaching that upside in all three players the A's gave up.

And what they got back, as mentioned above, is a good hitter for his position(s) but not a blow-you-away guy, someone who's mostly redundant with what the team already has on board (in sharp contrast to the A's first base situation, which now looks borderline dire), someone who can't stay on the field to save his life.

On the flip side, you've got the case for the trade, which notes significant warts in all three players the A's gave up, along with the fact that the team doesn't need them very much. Carter whiffs too much and may have simply run into enough balls in 2012 to raise his value enough to make him trade bait rather than actually fixing any of his issues. His walks and power mean he can strike out a lot and still be okay at the plate, but he may actually strike out too much for even that to be true. And it's not like he adds any value with his legs or leather.

Peacock, as mentioned above, had a terrible season and was never a big-stuff, high-upside guy in the first place. Sometimes, even if you're a major-league caliber player, your best year comes at 23 when you're in the minors. Maybe that happened to Peacock and from here on out he's a number-five with command issues.

The easiest case against who the A's gave up is Max Stassi: he's an A-ball catcher. QED.

Meanwhile, what the A's got back was depth behind a significantly dubious infield bunch. The second basemen were either injured or horrendous in 2012, the shortstop was playing in Japan, and the third baseman lost the job and only got it back because Brandon Inge (!) got hurt. So the infield has significant performance concerns, meaning that what could be really helpful is a player who can hit and handle all three spots whose major downside is his injury status, but, because the team is not counting on him as the every-day starter at any given spot, if he gets hurt, they can simply slot in the player they were expecting to play at that position in the first place.

That is, Lowrie can play every day (or nearly every day -- say you target him for 141 games) at all three positions, rotating around evenly, giving him 47 games at each place and leaving the remaining 115 to Sizemore/Weeks, Nakajima, and Donaldson.

And of course, any time you have depth and flexibility, you have the ability to adjust on the fly to surprises both good (Weeks returns to form and becomes someone you'd want to play 155 games, not 115) and bad (Donaldson whiffs in 40 percent of his at-bats), meaning you're not left scrambling as the A's were forced to in 2012 when they brought Inge in in the first place.

The truth is surely somewhere in between, which is horrifyingly banal, but the question is where in between. If the first analysis is 0 and the second analysis is 10, is the trade an 8 or a 2?