Yesterday, new division rivals in the Athletics and Astros swapped players, in a deal that speaks volumes abou teach team's plans for 2013.
The Houston Astros are making their AL West debut in 2013, and they'll be doing so with a few more players who are used to the division. The Astros swung a trade with the Oakland Athletics on Monday, and the team will send shortstop / third baseman Jed Lowrie and reliever Fernando Rodriguez to the Athletics in exchange for first baseman / designated hitter Chris Carter, pitcher Brad Peacock, and minor league catcher Max Stassi.
As usual, I'll break down this deal for each team ... but up front, I'll say this: I think both teams benefit from the deal. The Athletics needed another player who can handle the left side of the infield, and one who can play at a high level in 2013. The Astros need lots of players, especially impact bats and solid starting pitchers, and they may have gotten one of each in this deal.
The Athletics Perspective
It's possible (probably) that the A's snagged the best player in this trade, in Jed Lowrie. Lowrie had quite good performance in 2012, especially on a rate basis. Jed slugged 16 homers in 387 plate appearances, and posted a .244/.331/.438 triple-slash line. For any regular, that's a pretty great season ... but for a shortstop, that's actually quite excellent. A wRC+ of 111 not only is great for a shortstop, but it was one of the better rate stats for his entire team in 2012.
Lowrie's versatility and bat make him a valuable commodity, especially on a team with as many infield question marks as the Athletics. Unfortunately, Jed comes with a question mark of his own: health. Injuries follow Lowrie around like a puppy follows its master. The Athletics seem to want to use Lowrie as a super-utility player, which is a great idea in theory, given that Lowrie hasn't shown the ability to put a full season together anyways. Jed is also looking to hit his final year of arbitration in 2014, so he'll only have two years of control for the Athletics. But the Athletics seem to be pushing towards another playoff push in 2013, and with that in mind, and a little luck and health, Lowrie could be a big part of the A's team and offense this coming season.
In addition to Lowrie, the Athletics add strikeout artist Fernando "Don't Call Me K-Rod" Rodriguez to shore up their bullpen. The last two seasons in Houston haven't resulted in great ERAs (4.89 career ERA), but the strikeouts have been there for F-Rod. Fellow BtBSer Glenn DuPaul listed Rodriguez as a player to watch for improvement in 2013 over at The Hardball Times, due in no small part to his impressive strikeout totals. Over his career, he's got a 24.9% strikeout rate, which is pretty darn good and shows that he has potential to eat high-leverage innings. If he can limit walks and homers (always a question), he could be a substantive addition to the Oakland 'pen.
In this deal, the Athletics targeted a position of need (middle infield and third base) and struck quickly, acquiring a player who is an injury risk, but is very productive when healthy. To me, this is very much like the John Jaso and Chris Young trades: deals designed to improve the team in the short term (next 2-3 seasons) in exchange for giving up some of the team's prospect depth. If the A's are able to really surge and return to the playoffs this year or next, I see these deals as being completely worth it. And if the team tanks, they can always try to re-deal their new "veterans" like Lowrie and Jaso.
The Astros Perspective
In exchange for Lowrie (and Rodriguez), the Astros are getting back three substantial players. The biggest immediate impact should come from Chris Carter, who broke out in a big offensive way in 2013, posting a killer 137 wRC+ in 67 games, including 16 homers. Carter grips and rips, and though he punished left-handed pitchers more than righties, he posted solid numbers against each ... even though he actually faced more right-handers. Carter is really the prototypical three true outcomes hitter, if he can repeat 2012: huge power, a strikeout rate above 30%, and a phenomenal 15% walk rate. That's the kind of hitter that any team can get behind, and Carter would have been the best hitter on the 2012 Astros by a huge margin.
Unfortunately, Carter's glovework was, uh, abysmal according to the major defensive metrics. Despite spending only about 470 innings at first base, Carter gave away several runs with the glove: -7.2 according to UZR and -5 according to DRS. Baseball Prospectus's FRAA, a metric that is constructed a little differently than the other two, actually had Carter as slightly above-average (0.5 FRAA), but I'm not sure anyone would consider him an average defensive player. So Carter slots in immediately as the new DH for the Astros, presumably ... especially given that the team has never had a DH before.
Brad Peacock came to the A's as part of the Gio Gonzalez deal, but didn't pitch in the majors in 2012 ... despite the fact that just about every other young starter in the A's organization did. In terms of ERA, Peacock really tanked in 2012 (6.01 ERA at Triple-A), but his underlying peripherals weren't quite that bad. His heat and curveball can still get strikeouts, but it's reaching put-up-or-shut-up time for the 25-year-old in the majors. But given that there's not much competition for the major-league staff in Houston, Peacock should get every chance to break camp with the big league rotation.
Finally, Max Stassi is a prospect that's close to my heart, as I was a big advocate for my favorite team, the Mets, to pick him up in the second or third round of the 2009 MLB Draft. Stassi wound up popping a large bonus after being drafted by the Athletics in the fourth round, but he hasn't exactly lived up to the promise he showed before 2009. In 2012, Stassi put up league-average offensive performance in High-A ... which is not exactly what the team was looking for from an offense-first catcher with real power potential. Stassi still has time and the ability to improve, to refine his hitting approach, and to cut down on strikeouts, but he's probably not a top-tier prospect -- especially in a deep system like Houston's.
The Astros added three pieces that have a chance to be starters in the future: a hitter, a starting pitcher, and a catcher, in exchange for a reliever and middle infielder who probably won't be an important part of the next
great good halfway-decent Astros team.
All data from FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus.