In general, the consensus response to the trade that sent Brett Lawrie to the White Sox for two minor league pitchers was a collective "Blargh!" And I mean 'blargh' in the least positive sense of the word (which doesn't exist, let alone have multiple definitions).
Perhaps Lawrie's eternal identity as the turning-point in the ill-fated Josh Donaldson trade caused fans to hold out hope that in moving the other direction he might bring back top talent. Maybe the relatively low ranking of J.B. Wendelken and Zack Erwin on the White Sox' prospect lists made it seem like the A's settled for "anything" in the trade.
There are 4 reasons I think the A's did fine with this trade, and actually got sufficient value in exchanging Lawrie for Wendelken and Erwin:
Having already written a less than flattering profile of Lawrie I don't want to belabor the point, but in making Lawrie available the A's were offering a player who has established himself as a solid and versatile defender who will likely put up an OBP around .300 and a SLG of around .400. Furthermore, Lawrie now has just 2 years left on his contract and from his minor league days to his time with the Blue Jays to his rumored issues "fitting in" with Oakland, the whispers of issues with teammates and/or coaches is certainly now on the "minus side" of any ledger.
Because the market for 3Bmen is thin this off-season and because Lawrie is still young and full of potential, there was going to be a demand for him, but that does not mean there was going to be a line waiting to offer a king's ransom. If you expected the A's to get a ton back for Lawrie, the problem was with your expectations and not with the A's front office.
I think J.B. Wendelken is a better prospect than many A's fans realize. His prospect status reflects that he was pretty bad in 2014, but in 2014 he was a starting pitcher and as a bevy of top relievers -- from Andrew Bailey to Mariano Rivera -- can attest, some arms and repertoires are just better suited to the bullpen.
Upon moving to the bullpen, Wendelken dominated AA and combining AA and AAA his 2015 season as a reliever produced 16 BBs and 69 Ks in 59 IPs. Wendelken throws his fastball in the low 90s with a killer changeup and if that reminds you of someone it's probably Tyler Clippard -- a failed starting pitcher who found substantial success as a big league reliever. Like Clippard, Wendelken can touch 94MPH but relies far more on changing speeds for his success.
I'm not suggesting that Wendelken is going to be as good as Clippard, but as someone who may be up as soon as mid-season 2016, Wendelken is a legitimate addition to the bullpen's depth chart and is someone who could potentially make it as a high leverage reliever. Do you think the A's value good relievers right now? I think they do.
I also see Erwin as a better prospect than he is widely being given credit for...being. (It's always so sad when bad things happen to good sentences.) Erwin is a 4th round pick for whom you need a magnifying glass to see his 2015 ERA. He is just 21 and while he is several steps away from proving himself as a big leaguer, that just speaks to him being the kind of prospect the A's should be adding: high risk because he's a ways away, but with some upside -- probably about the same upside of a healthy Sean Nolin, who came up with a similar repertoire (high 80s/low 90s fastball, crafty with solid command of both sides of the plate, a good changeup) and the projection of a #4 SP.
Also, I am not by any means a yes-man for the A's front office, but one area where I will always give them the benefit of the doubt is in their evaluation of pitching talent, as for every Sean Nolin (and that story is not even fully written) there is a Kendall Graveman and a Chris Bassitt and a Jesse Chavez and a Jarrod Parker and a Jesse Hahn...Heck, when Sonny Gray was drafted I perused his profile and was not overly enthused by his BB numbers or his two-pitch (at the time) arsenal. The A's knew what they had, though. If Oakland likes Wendelken and Erwin, then until further notice so do I.
Fans keen to see the A's reunite with Scott Kazmir, add Hyun-Soo Kim from Korea, or both, should realize that signing more free agents, and clearing payroll, are intertwined. Could the A's offer Kazmir the 3/$50M it might take to lure him, and pony up maybe another 3/$14M to land Kim?
The answer is a lot closer to yes when you subtract the $4M or so Lawrie figures to make this season. I don't know if part of the A's desire to move Lawrie involved clearing up payroll for a subsequent signing, but as payroll currently stands there is room for a significant signing (such as Kazmir) without stopping the A's from signing Kim if they see fit.
In sum, for 2 years of a strikingly average player who may already have worn out his welcome at yet another stop, Oakland has gotten two young pitchers they like and cleared payroll as they talk to a #2 SP and an intriguing LFer. Yup, I'm more than fine with it.