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Is Jed Lowrie an upgrade? (The con side of the trade)

As you all know by now, Billy Beane pulled another rabbit (seagull?) out of his hat.: Yesterday, he traded Chris Carter, Brad Peacock, and Max Stassi for the oft-injured Jed Lowrie, and Fernando Rodriguez.

Trogdor :(
Trogdor :(

At first glance, this seems like, and is, a win-now move from Beane. If you take away the pieces that the A's acquired away from this trade, the A's traded away three guys who don't seem to have much of a future with the team. We all love Chris Carter's prodigious power, but there are also significant contact issues, and his glove is all but truly made of iron. Yes, he did get better at 1B than he showed in his two initial cups of coffee in 2010 and 2011, but it's still well-below average. Brad Peacock can't find the strike zone, and seems to profile more as a bullpen power arm than a mid-rotation starter. Max Stassi is a young catcher whose stock has fallen, has also had injury issues, and has Derek Norris, David Freitas, and Beau Taylor ahead of him.

But future-for-present not what I'm here to talk about . I want to look at who Lowrie replaces on the 25-man roster on a man-to-man basis. Let's start backwards, though, and see who we know makes the team.

On the OF/DH slots, we know that the following guys are nearly 100% likely to make the roster:

Coco Crisp

Chris Young

Yoenis Cespedes

Seth Smith

Josh Reddick

There will be two catchers (Jaso and Norris), and 12 pitchers (5 starters, 7 relievers).

From the 40-man roster on the A's website, here are the current INF options:

Daric Barton (1B)

Josh Donaldson (3B)

Brandon Moss (1B, COF)

Hiroyuki Nakajima (SS)

Andy Parrino (SS, 2B)

Adam Rosales (utility)

Scott Sizemore (3B, 2B)

Eric Sogard (3B, 2B, SS)

Jemile Weeks (2B)

Jed Lowrie (utility)

We can take Parrino off of this list immediately, as there is likely no room for him. So that leaves 9 guys for 6 slots. The likely starters are Moss, Sizemore, Nakajima, and Donaldson first-to-third. The bench guys then, are some combination of Barton, Rosales, Lowrie, and Sogard. With Lowrie surely a lock to make the roster - assuming health of course - that leaves Barton, Rosales, Weeks, and Sogard as 3 guys vying for one spot.

Let's also assume that Barton, Sogard, Weeks, and Rosales are basically the same guy. It's not that much of a stretch: Last year, Barton was 0.5 WAR, Rosales 0.1, and Weeks and Sogard both at replacement level. With error and such, it's pretty fair to say the last roster spot on the A's, like it is on most teams, is a replacement level guy.

All this is to show that Lowrie replaces Carter. So, let's compare the players:

  • Over 387 PA last year, Lowrie had a .336 wOBA, 111 wRC+, and .194 ISO. Not bad for a middle infielder. He also plays average defense by most standards.
  • Over 260 PA last year, Carter had a .369 wOBA, 137 wRC+, and .275 ISO. He plays defense like a Mack truck with a glove taped to the radiator.

It might seem like an open and shut case for Lowrie, but there is playing time to consider: Lowrie, a righty, could replace Moss at 1B when Melvin prefers to have the platoon advantage. The other A's infielders also bat righty: Donaldson, Nakajima, and Sizemore are all right-handed hitters. Replacing them with Lowrie for any one game does not allow for a platoon advantage. Is Lowrie a significant enough upgrade over any of them? Here are the rate stats for the 4 likely starters:

Sizemore (2011): 110 games, .332 wOBA, 109 wRC+, and .155 ISO.

Nakajima: who knows, but let's call it league average at 100 wRC+

Donaldson: 75 games, .300 wOBA, 90 wRC +, and .157 ISO.

Moss: 84 games, .402 wOBA, 160 wRC+, and .306 ISO

Again, let's say that when regression is factored in, the infielders average out to this: A 110 wRC+ player, with a .160ish ISO, and .320 wOBA. That's basically Lowrie already, spread out amongst the pre-trade players. So, the A's just acquired another guy like the 4 they have already. Not to mention the fact that Lowrie playes in a career-high numbers of games last year. Indeed, it's quite possible that last year was the apex of Jed Lowrie as a player. He will be 29 this year, and has 1300+ career PAs of an inconsistent health history.

Sure, there are significant questions with Carter, but he has yet to show what he can do in a full-season, even in a platoon role, in MLB. Overall, much less is known about Chris Carter than Lowrie. He has only 384 career PAs, and this is his age 26 season; he's entering his prime as a hitter. Based on his recent performance, however, and overall slow maturation of right-handed power, it's fair to say that Carter's trajectory as a player is looking up. I expect, and have reason to expect, a better future than the past for Carter. I can't say the same about Lowrie.