Lowrie, Lawrie and the reasons it all makes sense
The trade made Wednesday that sent Brendan McCurry, a 23-year-old pitching prospect from the Oakland Athletics’ organization, to the Houston Astros for utility-infielder Jed Lowrie will not be one of the offseason’s biggest impact trades. It almost certainly will be seen, as Lowrie himself put it, “weird, right?”
Given Lowrie’s career path over the past four years, using the word “weird” to describe this trade is legit. I can quite honestly attest to this as someone who openly follows the A’s and, as a result, the rest of the American League West. Even though this move has my head spinning for more reasons than one, calling the trade weird doesn’t mean it isn’t beneficial for both teams involved.
After spending four seasons in Boston, Lowrie was traded to the Astros, who traded him a year later to Oakland. He was granted free agency after two seasons with the A’s, upon which he signed a three-year contract back with Houston that guaranteed him $23 million. He made $8 million in 2015, despite spending most of the year on the disabled list with a torn ligament in his thumb, and has $14 million left on his contract over the next two years, with a team option for 2018 worth another $6 million (or a $1 million buyout).
Now, only one-year into that deal, Lowrie (pronounced “Lowry”) has been traded back to the A’s to potentially play in an infield with a guy named Brett Lawrie (pronounced “Laurie”). So he’s played on the same two teams over four seasons, though not consecutively, and now he may be playing with another infielder who’s name is so close to his that the television broadcasters (you can forget about the casual fan) had trouble keeping the two players straight each of the 19 times Oakland and Houston faced off during the 2015 season. So the whole situation may seem a bit circus-like, but when you break it down it is a great move on both sides.
While Lowrie was on the disabled list, 20-year-old rookie Carlos Correa emerged as arguably the best shortstop in all of baseball, permanently solidifying himself at the position in Houston, likely for a long time to come. When Lowrie returned, he did hit a few key home runs down the stretch, helping Houston make their way into the postseason. Yet all the while, he was splitting time at third base with Luis Valbuena. Second base in Houston was never a viable option for Lowrie, with it being as locked down by 2014 AL batting champion and all-around superstar Jose Altuve. This left Houston having to pay Lowrie approximately $7 million a year to play part time.
Trading him to Oakland for the second time was essentially a salary dump, and at the same time, Houston gained a young arm with a potentially high upside. McCurry, a right-handed reliever, made just 50 appearances between High-Class A and Double-A in 2015. He posted a 1.86 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and struck out 82 batters while allowing just 15 walks in 63 innings. The 2014 22nd-round pick out of Oklahoma State is still considered to be unproven due to the small sample size of his work, but the sample has been promising to say the least. Over his 91.2 total professional innings pitched, McCurry has accumulated a total of 119 strikeouts.
He is low-risk for the A’s to give up and low-risk for the Astros to take on.
Taking on the versatile Lowrie at just $7 million a season is a bargain for Oakland despite the fact that the infield has suddenly become a little crowded. There is Brett Lawrie, who was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in the Josh Donaldson trade to take over at third base, but by the end of the season was stationed at second when the A’s acquired Danny Valencia off waivers (also from Toronto) later in the season. Then of course there is Marcus Semien, who remained, and will remain in 2016, the A’s everyday shortstop despite committing 35 errors over the course of the season, a number that led the majors and set an Oakland record.
Semien remaining at short may surprise many. However, prior to joining the Athletics, Semien had played in just 83 big-league games over the course of two seasons with Chicago, and not all of them were at shortstop. He improved dramatically over the course of the season after working one-on-one with A’s current third base coach Ron Washington, who was first brought on as a special infield assistant in late May specifically to fix Semien’s defensive deficiencies and assist him in learning the position.
Under Washington’s tutelage, Semien went from committing 12 errors in the month of May to just two in the month of September. Plus, he was a big help to the club offensively during his first full season in the big leagues. Semien hit 15 homers in 2015, a number that (I predicted he’d hit at A’s Fan Fest last year, thank you! lol!) left him tied for second place among all AL shortstops, and drove in 45 runs.* There is no reason to believe he won’t continue to improve in all areas and will remain the A’s starting shortstop.
*I emphasized the Semien part there because A’s fans need to realize he doesn’t suck and is an asset to the team!! So stop bashing him! Thanks!
With the addition of Lowrie, there will not be space for everyone in 2016. Lowrie’s strongest position is second base, though he can cover the hot corner when needed and adequately fill in at short. He doesn’t quite have the arm strength needed to play at short and would be best utilized defensively at second. However, with good hands, strong fundamentals and the willingness to move around the diamond as needed (although he has expressed the desire to have a stable everyday position), Lowrie is a great deal.
The remainder of his contract is a short commitment, much shorter and cheaper than anything available on what is a very thin free agent market as far as infielders go. When playing regularly, he has proven he can produce offensively. Over his two seasons in Oakland, Lowrie, a switch-hitter, batted .271 with 21 home runs and 125 RBI.
Lowrie’s presence opens up the A’s to trade either Lawrie or Valencia, with Lawrie having the bigger draw. He’s younger than Valencia and plays solid defense at both third and second base. Valencia has his own desirable qualities as well. He joined the A’s with a .296 batting average (showing just how good Toronto’s lineup is), and came up clutch with the club during the last month of the season. Both have been drawing interest around the American League and could bring significant returns to the A’s, who also have several infield prospects who are on the verge of being MLB-ready.
This trade is a win-win with the slight advantage going to Oakland, simply because they gave up very little to get an established player. Sure, it is true that Lowrie has been moved around a lot in over the last four seasons, but neither team would actively acquire him more than once if they didn’t like him and believe that he can be an asset to their respective clubs.
It will be interesting to see how things progress with each team. The Astros have money off their books to use in other places, and the A’s have two viable trade chips to work with plus Lowrie at a bargain price.