Healthy Lowrie finding his niche with the A's
Versatile infielder has put past injury problems aside while thriving in Oakland
OAKLAND -- Halfway through the season, Jed Lowrie is proving to be exactly what the Oakland Athletics envisioned -- a veteran piece that fits well with an emerging young club vying for back-to-back division titles.
But vice president and general manager Billy Beane's interest in Lowrie began long before Beane began comprising the 2013 roster in earnest. Beane's initial pursuit of Lowrie dates back to last August, when he made his first overture to Astros GM Jeff Luhnow that he wanted to acquire the veteran middle infielder.
It took until a week before Spring Training to finally get him.
The price tag was hefty. For Lowrie and relief pitcher Fernando Rodriguez, the A's sent three well-regarded prospects to Houston: catcher Max Stassi, pitcher Brad Peacock and outfielder/first baseman, Chris Carter, the latter largely considered the centerpiece of the trade, if for no other reason than he appeared to be the closest to Major League-ready.
The cost was high, yes, but it was secondary to the value the A's felt they were getting back. This is a team on the upswing, and after it shocked many in the baseball world -- probably everyone except the A's themselves -- with a 94-68 record and the American League West Division title last year, Beane was in a position to use his typically well-stocked farm system to fortify the Major League club. Even though the Trade Deadline had passed last year -- and Lowrie wasn't even a healthy player at that time -- Beane knew Lowrie was what the A's needed.
Eighty-four games into this season, Lowrie is proving Beane's prognostications to be correct. At 29, he's one of the elder statesmen of a very young but talented A's club, versatile enough to go back and forth between second base and shortstop (with the emphasis on short) while producing numbers near the top of the lineup that have helped the offense cut down on strikeouts and improve its on-base percentage.
"To get players like that, you have to give some talented players up," manager Bob Melvin said. "If the window's there to try to do something, to get better than what we were last year, hopefully that's the case, and a piece like him has certainly been beneficial for us."
Additionally, Lowrie has managed to make many forget about his injury history by staying on the field, consistently, through the first three months of the season. Couple that with his .304 batting average entering play Thursday, and all of this adds up to Lowrie making an interesting case to represent the A's at the All-Star Game in a couple of weeks.
There is a little bit of irony in all of this, given the A's weren't exactly sure what Lowrie's role would be when they acquired him. On its face, any player worth three in return would presumably be a starter, no? Logically, yes. But the picture wasn't quite that clear when the deal was made.
Lowrie wasn't necessarily tagged as a utility player, and both he and the club knew he'd be getting a season's-worth of plate appearances, somehow. Exactly how was still to be determined.
"We knew he was going to play every day," said Beane, who was presented with his Executive of the Year GIBBY (Greatness in Baseball Yearly Award) from MLB.com on Tuesday. "Given his versatility and his offense, I think we felt all along he was going to play every day."
"They told me I was going to get at-bats," Lowrie said, chuckling at the memory. "I didn't really know where I was going to play."
He knew the A's gave up three pretty good players to get him, so he figured he was in the long-term plan, even if he wasn't exactly privy to what it was.
"That's what was strange about it," Lowrie said. "It seemed like they gave up a lot. But I was coming in with essentially no role. It was strange to start."
Any early trepidation is long gone. Lowrie has played in 79 of the A's 85 games. He hit .330 or higher in both May and June and has proven to be able to handle two positions: his natural spot at shortstop, where he's played 58 games, and second base, where he's played 21.
"He's a perfect fit -- age-wise, position-wise, a switch-hitter," Beane said. "He fit into a lineup that previously struck out a lot. We added him and [John] Jaso, who are just really good hitters. They hit good pitching. [Lowrie] was a perfect fit. That's why we went after him back in August."
Lowrie was sidelined at that time with a sprained right ankle and nerve damage in his right leg, suffered during a collision while playing second base in San Francisco in mid-July. He didn't return to the field for two months, with just a couple of weeks left in the regular season.
Injuries have always been an issue for Lowrie, especially when he was with the Red Sox for the first four years of his career. But most of the setbacks seemed to be of the bad-luck or short-term variety, without threats of serious lasting effects. That was good enough for Beane.
"It wasn't chronic stuff," Beane said. "Guys have chronic hamstrings, back issues. … [Lowrie's injuries] were all different things that shouldn't be a problem going forward. But there's no question that's the only reason a guy like that was available to the Astros -- [the] injury problems he had in Boston. It was worth the risk for us."
In turn, Lowrie is back to where he was in Boston, but healthier: on a contending team with a legitimate chance to still be playing in late October.
"I spent my first four years in Boston on winning teams," he said. "Houston was a great opportunity for me to go out and play every day. Then coming here, I knew I was going to get an opportunity to win again. That's exciting. It's fun. And it's worked out well so far."