If there's one thing I've learned about the Oakland A's in the 21st century, it's to not even bother trying to guess what the offseason will bring. At the onset of each winter we all have a lot of fun drawing out potential rosters and lineups for the next season, but deep down we all know that predicting even the immediate future of the A's is futile.
The first hot stove curveball came in the form of Rich Hill. However, it wasn't weird in general to see Oakland sign a starter who was cheap with upside, and some of our community members had already been calling for the team to pick him up as a sleeper candidate. You may not have been expecting that exact name on, say, Oct. 5, but you probably weren't shocked or bewildered when you heard about the move. Just the A's taking a chance on another pitcher they think is undervalued. Happens every year. As for Jesse Chavez, there was never any question that he was going to be dealt this winter, and Liam Hendriks made sense in return because it was clear the A's wanted to upgrade their bullpen -- there was nothing at all surprising about that trade.
But Jed Lowrie? Nope, I was not expecting that. And not only him specifically; the infield was the last thing I thought Oakland would add to this winter. New starters, new relievers, a new LF, maybe even a new catcher. It's not that the infield was set in stone, or even necessarily a strength, just that there were already a lot of options that ranged from "breakout candidate" to "solid" to "worth checking out." Now there's a logjam that will have to be resolved by trading someone else away, and that's before considering that there are a couple of high-profile infield prospects moving up to Triple-A who could enter the picture during the season.
That doesn't mean it was a bad deal. Quite the contrary, actually. Lowrie is a quality player, but the Astros now have a dynamite middle infield with Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, and they have enough other options at third base. There was no reason for them to pay $7.5 million for a guy who might not get at-bats, especially since this would be a great time for them to be active on the free agent market. On the other hand, the A's have money to spend this winter -- $7.5 million is a relatively cheap number for a productive infielder, and two years is a shorter commitment than you're likely to find in free agency. His salary was a burden for one team, but a bargain for another.
By taking on what was effectively a salary dump, especially this early in the offseason when everyone still has big plans for their available budgets, the A's also added a player without having to give up much in return. Just as Lowrie's salary can be simultaneously onerous and trivial depending on the situation, reliever Brendan McCurry can be exciting and expendable at the same time. I was certainly encouraged by what I saw, between his dominant numbers in the low minors, the footage Jeremy brought back from the Arizona Fall League, and the fact that he's an athlete with "Curry" in his name. This looks like a pitcher with a good chance to reach MLB, and even an outside shot at being something special if/when he gets there. But he's still a minor league reliever, one who has barely touched Double-A, and that status brings certain limitations to his potential ceiling. When you have the chance to trade a Double-A right-handed reliever for a quality MLB infielder on a reasonable contract, that's usually a deal worth taking, even if you're not quite sure what you're going to do with that infielder.
Lowrie might not make a whole lot of sense yet, but his acquisition does follow what seems to be the very core of the A's long-standing philosophy: Always add value whenever and however you can find it. It's still November, so there's plenty of time for everything else to shake out. For now, the A's lost their No. 30 prospect, a reliever who probably wasn't even their top relief prospect, in exchange for a guy who plays the thinnest positions in MLB and just made the playoffs three straight years, twice as an everyday starter. That's an offer you can't refuse.