Now that the Oakland A's have unexpectedly reacquired Jed Lowrie, they have too many infielders. That could mean a follow-up trade to make space, and Brett Lawrie is the top candidate to be dealt according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.
To be clear, Lawrie is singled out as "likely to be traded" because he has the highest trade value of the bunch. It doesn't sound like
Lowrie Jed is going to supplant Marcus Semien at shortstop, at least not on a full-time basis. That leaves 2B and 3B to draw from, which means Danny Valencia and Lawrie Brett. Valencia was excellent in 2015 but his track record gives cause for caution, while Brett is significantly younger, has more defensive versatility, and is still a breakout candidate in his own right. It's not clear which one will play better next season, but if you have to trade one then Brett would certainly fetch a better return.
One way or other, let's explore how Jed fits on the 2016 team. Note that the A's see him as an everyday starter. They also praise his ability to play multiple positions, though Slusser notes that "he is happy to play anywhere as long as he stays in one spot - he doesn't feel he performs his best when he bounces between positions." Also note that Brett and Valencia both have two years of team control remaining (2016-17) and are estimated to make similar salaries in arbitration (within $500K of each other), so contracts aren't really an issue. Here are the available options:
1. Keep everybody. You have Jed, Brett, and Valencia covering two positions, which means one of them would have to sit every day and therefore you'd be leaving a lot of talent on the bench*. On the other hand, Jed and Brett both have notable injury histories and Valencia may yet only be a platoon-quality player, so the depth could be a blessing if/when something goes wrong (note: in sports, something usually goes wrong). There might not be space for Eric Sogard, Tyler Ladendorf or Joey Wendle in this plan, depending on how the rest of the roster shakes out, but that's okay because they all have options and can be stashed in Triple-A. In other words, Oakland does a bit of hoarding at some positions that are tough to fill externally. Verdict: I think it's tempting, but Slusser makes it clear that it's unlikely.
2. Trade Brett. You have Jed at 2B, Semien at SS, and Valencia at 3B, not to mention a nice trade return for Brett that could address some other area of the team (a young pitcher? a top prospect? an equally enigmatic outfielder?). There is space to carry a utilityman like Ladendorf, and if you think he can be a super-sub who also covers the outfield then maybe you can even carry one more extra infielder and one fewer backup outfielder. If Wendle earns playing time and/or if Valencia stops hitting against right-handers, then there is room to have both on the roster in a platoon, with Jed shifting between 2B and 3B. One way or other, it's not crucial that your utility infielder be able to play shortstop, because Jed can always slide over in a pinch. Verdict: I'm nervous about trading the young player and keeping the guys who are 30+, but it makes some sense and Slusser deems it likely.
3. Trade Valencia: You have Jed and Brett for 2B/3B, Semien at SS, and a trade return that is tough to gauge given that Valencia was claimed off waivers a few months ago. I'm thinking an MLB reliever, or a couple of prospects who slot into the Nos. 15-30 range of the team's system. The same stuff about Ladendorf from the last section applies here too. The Wendle time-share probably doesn't happen, though, because neither Brett nor Jed are likely to need to hide in a platoon. The fact that they can each cover both 2B and 3B helps protect against an injury to either one, allowing Oakland more flexibility in finding a backup plan. Verdict: I like selling high on Valencia's career year, and I like the versatility of the remaining players. Slusser notes that "Both [Brett and Valencia] are drawing interest from American League teams" so this isn't off the table.
* Valencia also has brief experience at 1B and LF, but I'm not ready to pencil him into either of those spots on any kind of regular basis just yet. Anyway, I'm guessing the A's will add another hitter (specifically a lefty) to fill either 1B or LF, with Mark Canha taking the other spot.
There are two more important considerations.
The first involves Jed's defense. In Oakland, he was often maligned for his "pasta" routine -- that is, "past a diving Lowrie," as a way of criticizing his lack of range. But that was in reference to his work at shortstop, and we're talking about him playing either 2B or 3B this time around. Furthermore, Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs points out that the metrics disagreed on whether Jed was even bad at SS at all, or simply neutral. He'll be 32 years old next season, and you never know when or at what rate a player will decline in his 30s, but otherwise the numbers, the eyeballs, and simple logic all agree that he should be a better fielder at 2B/3B than he was at SS. Between that and Semien's second-half improvement, a Jed/Semien double-play combo might not be the disaster that your brain probably envisions when you see those two names together. It won't be a plus, but it might be just fine.
The other involves clubhouse chemistry. On one hand, this deserves a mention, but on the other we don't have much actual information so all we can do is speculate. Here are two things we know, via Slusser:
There's another component, too: A's officials have acknowledged that the clubhouse chemistry wasn't great last season, and [Jed] is a familiar face from some successful Oakland teams and one who was a solid clubhouse presence.
This mention of chemistry issues is not a new one, and there are indications that the team could even make moves based on those issues. Therefore, this decision might come down to more than simply which players make the most sense on the field. What we don't know is where Brett or Valencia stand in terms of clubhouse relations -- in the comments of various articles here on AN we've discussed rumors about each of them having negative impacts for various reasons. In other words, it wouldn't surprise me to wake up and see that either one had been traded due to a poor fit in the clubhouse, while also acknowledging that I have no specific reason to believe either one is a problem. Just know that this all could end up being a factor in whatever happens next.
Alright, now it's your turn. Who would you trade, if anyone, and how would you arrange the infield next season? Do you believe in the upside of Brett, the health of Jed, and/or the sustainability of Valencia's success? What do you make of the chemistry concerns? What date would you like to pick in the AN pool for when the next trade will occur?
Lowrie. Lawrie. Lowrie. Lawrie. A pronunciation guide. pic.twitter.com/66s61YYMI6— Oakland Athletics (@Athletics) November 25, 2015