In acquiring Jed Lowrie from the Houston Astros in a five-player deal, the Oakland Athletics get a starting shortstop at reasonable financial cost -- just $2.4 million for this year -- while the Astros add three young players with some value but no star potential.
The A's have a lot of flexibility in how they use Lowrie, who can play second, short, or third, with second his ideal position. Coincidentally, that's a giant black hole for Oakland right now, since their second basemen hit an aggregate .228/.303/.316 last year, which Baseball Reference says is most similar to the performance of a ferret on Xanax.
They could also push Lowrie to third -- where his arm will be a little short but where his hands and lateral agility are more than sufficient -- and then leave second base open for Grant Green to win if he performs well this March, leaving Josh Donaldson on the bench. Either way, Lowrie's a solid pickup for them -- worth maybe two wins if he plays half a season -- and a great one if he stays healthy for the whole year, which is funny to write because he never does.
Right-hander Fernando Rodriguez is the other player Oakland acquired, and he has been below replacement level over 123 major-league innings, with a plus fastball and nothing else of note, although Oakland's ballpark and defense can turn a lot of seemingly below-average pitchers into useful assets.
For Houston, it's a good return in terms of value but probably won't produce any All-Star appearances. Chris Carter is a Big Guy, with huge raw power and a decent idea at the plate, but enough length in his swing that he's always going to struggle with contact. In an ideal world, he's a first baseman, but with Jonathan Singleton not that far off, the Astros might put Carter at DH or in left field, where he's passable -- and the left field area at Minute Maid is probably one of the easiest to handle in the majors. Also, he's the best hitter in the Astros' lineup right now.
Right-hander Brad Peacock came to the A's in the Gio Gonzalez trade last winter, looking primed for a spot in Oakland's bullpen, but spent the year in Triple-A Sacramento's rotation with a 6.01 ERA thanks to a high walk rate and an extreme fly ball tendency. He's less than six feet tall and gets no plane at all on his fastball, which sits in the low 90s when he starts and can touch 96 when he's relieving; his secondary stuff is fringy, with a downer curveball that's not that sharp, and a changeup that doesn't have great action. The Astros might let him strut for them as a starter this year, but his ideal role is in the pen, where he can mitigate that homer-rific tendency with better velocity.
The wild card for Houston is Max Stassi, whom Oakland took in the fourth round in 2009 and signed for a first-round bonus, only to have Stassi hurt his shoulder and miss most of 2011 after surgery. The surgery helped his throwing and his power, which was his best attribute as a hitter when he was an amateur. He was only healthy enough to play 97 games in 2012, including the Arizona Fall League, but should be at 100 percent for 2013 and will probably spend the year in Double-A at age 22.
He could still end up a solid-average everyday catcher, good enough on defense, with 20-homer power and lines in the .250/.330/.440 range -- maybe a little better with Houston's friendliness to right-handed power hitters. He didn't make my ranking of Oakland's top 10 prospects due to his injury history, and that's why he's the third guy in this deal, but there's at least the potential for an everyday guy at a position every club needs if his shoulder holds up.
The Astros acquired Lowrie and Kyle Weiland from the Red Sox in 2011 for reliever Mark Melancon, meaning they turned Melancon into one year of Lowrie plus these three young players, which is the kind of asset management that led the Astros to jump from the bottom five to the top five in my farm system rankings in just one calendar year.
That said, could they have gotten a better prospect -- someone who had real star potential -- had they dealt Lowrie earlier in the offseason to a team looking for help at second or third, like the Yankees, Dodgers, Cardinals, Phillies or Diamondbacks? Lowrie's inability to play a full season is somewhat offset by his low cost, and the Astros have had so few chances to convert veterans into impact guys -- instead taking quantity wherever they could -- that this return, while very solid, feels just a little disappointing.