The Houston Astros have dealt one of the six players they had under contract for 2013, shortstop Jed Lowrie, to the Oakland Athletics as part of a five player package. Lowrie heads to Oakland along with reliever Fernando Rodriguez, and in exchange, Houston receives first baseman Chris Carter, starting pitcher Brad Peacock, and catcher Max Stassi.
Lowrie is obviously the big name in the deal, and rather than supplanting newly signed Hiroyuki Nakajima at shortstop, the A's plan to use Lowrie in a super utility role all across the infield. That move makes sense due to Nakajima's unfamiliarity with America, Scott Sizemore's health a question mark at second base, Brandon Moss potentially coming down to Earth at first base, and Josh Donaldson's bat being a potential stumbling block at third. Last season with the Astros, Lowrie had a .769 OPS and 16 homers in 97 games. He's never gotten 400 plate appearances in a season in the majors, but when he's healthy and playing every day, he's got some of the best pop of any shortstop in the league.
Rodriguez, the other piece heading to Oakland in the deal, is more of a wild card. He's thrown 122 2/3 innings with the Astros over the last two seasons, and has struck out 135 hitters. Unfortunately, he's also walked 64 hitters and allowed 16 homers, leading to him posting a 4.77 ERA. The flyball-prone Rodriguez should benefit moving to the cavernous O.co Coliseum, but he'll still need to throw more strikes, even with a fastball sitting at 93.
As for the package of players going back to Houston, it's a decent enough return. Carter is the most familiar name in the package, and he'll join Brett Wallace and newly-signed Carlos Pena as first base/DH options with the Astros. The 26-year old Carter has tremendous power, and in his first extended playing time in the majors last year with the A's, he posted an .864 OPS with 16 homers in just 260 plate appearances. While Carter did draw 39 walks last year, he also struck out 83 times, nearly a third of the time he stepped into the batter's box. You'd assume that with Carter and Pena in the fold, Wallace would be the odd man out due to his largely uninspiring career in Houston, but stranger things have happened in that town.
The two prospects heading to the Astros are Peacock and Stassi, the fourth and 14th best prospects in Oakland's system according to Baseball Prospectus. Peacock was inititally acquired by the A's last winter from Washington in the Gio Gonzalez deal, and he had a terrible 2012 in the PCL. Thought of as having a chance to make the A's rotation out of Spring Training, Peacock got lit up in AAA, posting a 6.01 ERA while walking 66 batters in 134 2/3 innings. However, he still managed to strike out 139, and a .340 BABIP was the likely culprit for his large ERA jump. The 25-year old would have stretches where he'd be brilliant, only to lay an egg in his next start to undo all the hard work he had done in lowering his ERA. He'll likely be a favorite to win a rotation spot in Houston to start the year, with his prime competition being veterans Philip Humber and Erik Bedard.
Then, there's Stassi, the former fourth round pick who has laid an egg thusfar in his pro career. Stassi played in just 84 games last year in the high-A California League, but the 21-year old catcher had his best season to date, posting a .793 OPS with 15 homers. Injuries have been his major downfall since being drafted in 2009, but he took strides forward last year after a lost 2011. He's the biggest wild card in the deal, and at the very least, is an intriguing prospect for Astros fans to keep an eye on in the future.
Coming into the offseason, I thought the Astros could have gotten a pretty decent bounty for Lowrie. This package might seem a little underwhelming, but Houston got a hitter that is likely going to log significant playing time in 2013, and a pitcher who could take up a spot in the rotation and provide better production than any of the retread veterans the team was considering rolling the dice with. I suppose that's fair enough value, and I probably overvalued Lowrie looking back at things. As for the A's, they strengthen their roster just days before Spring Training begins, and they didn't exactly pay a significant price either. If Lowrie is healthy and logs a decent bit of playing time this year, this is a trade that could be win/win.