Ever since the night of the Jed Lowrie acquisition, when Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the A's were looking to move either third baseman Danny Valencia or infielder Brett Lawrie, it has been suspected that Lawrie would be the one to go. Lawrie is younger, has higher upside, and probably has higher trade value. Early Sunday morning, ESPN's Buster Olney confirmed our suspicions.
Other teams say Oakland is devoted to the idea of trading Brett Lawrie.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 6, 2015
"Devoted" is a very strong word. Chances are, Brett Lawrie will be moved. So what teams might be a good fit for Lawrie, and how much is he worth, anyways?
Lawrie, while primarily a third baseman, can also play at least an adequate second base. So which teams need the most help at those positions?
The (non-Oakland) bottom-ten teams for fWAR at third base in 2015 were the: Braves, Marlins, Angels, Indians, Padres, Yankees, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Tigers, White Sox, and Red Sox. The Angels are likely to re-sign David Freese, who actually wasn't bad for them last season. The Yankees are committed to Chase Headley at third. The Brewers are rebuilding, and Lawrie's two years of control would turn them away. The Diamondbacks' low fWAR ranking is deceiving - Jake Lamb was very solid for them, but Yasmany Tomas played horribly at third earlier on in the season. That leaves us with the Braves, Marlins, Indians, Padres, White Sox, Tigers, and Red Sox.
How about second base? Last year's (non-Oakland) bottom ten was the: Rockies, Phillies, Braves, Mariners, Royals, Orioles, Angels, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Yankees, and White Sox. The Rockies and Phillies (and Brewers, again) are rebuilding and shouldn't have interest in Lawrie. The Mariners are committed to Robinson Cano at second. The Royals have Omar Infante, and I can't imagine Kansas City acquiring Lawrie after last year's incidents. That leaves us with the Braves, Orioles, Angels, Diamondbacks, Yankees, and White Sox.
The full list is the Braves, Marlins, Indians, Padres, White Sox, Tigers, Red Sox, Yankees, Diamondbacks, Angels, and Orioles. And, what do you know? Three of those teams have already shown interest in Lawrie, per Slusser - the Tigers, White Sox, and Indians. Slusser also mentions that some in the industry see the Yankees as a fit. Finally, the Angels have also had talks about Lawrie, per Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register.
So, alright. We have eleven potential suitors, five of which have already been connected to Lawrie in some way. Obviously there are other options for these clubs - this isn't an eleven-way bidding war for only Brett Lawrie - but it is a very good thing that at least eleven teams could conceivably have some level of interest in the Canadian. What kind of return might Lawrie bring?
Brett Lawrie's Trade Value
Lawrie is an enigma. A former top prospect who at one point possessed all the potential in the world, Brett struggled with injuries and didn't perform quite up to lofty expectations when healthy. That being said, he managed a healthy, somewhat productive season in Oakland in 2015, and will be only 26 in 2015
Through parts of five big league seasons, Lawrie has been worth 8.8 fWAR, or 14.0 bWAR - a notable difference between the two WAR measurements. The most significant difference between the two calculations is how they evaluate defense. Defensive metrics are still a mystery for even the smartest baseball analysts, and I am very far from being one of those. Basically, the bottom line is this - teams that like Lawrie's defense might consider him a 2-3 WAR player going forward, with 4-win upside. Teams that don't like it might consider him a 1-2 WAR player with 3-win upside. That's a fairly big difference, and one that makes evaluating Lawrie very difficult.
What do we know for sure about Lawrie? Well, he'll be 26 next season. He has two years of team control through arbitration. He is projected to earn $3.9MM in arbitration this year (per mlbtraderumors.com), which isn't cheap, but won't break anyone's bank. He is capable of playing both second base and third base, and is a right-handed batter. Lawrie swatted 16 homers and stole five bases in 2015, and has legitimate 20-20 potential. He also has sub-par plate discipline, leading to strikeout issues.
So Brett is a flawed player, but has considerable upside, a decent floor, and is still only 26. Have any players similar to him been traded in recent years?
Well, the short answer is, no. Very few, if any, players with his awkward combination of youth, disappointment, upside, injury risk, and team control have been dealt in the last decade. After scouring trades of the last decade, I have found two interesting comparisons - the David Freese trade and one of the Jed Lowrie trades.
On November 22, 2013, Freese and reliever Fernando Salas were sent from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for outfielders Randal Grichuk and Peter Bourjos. Freese was 30 at the time of the trade, with two years of team control remaining. He had posted 6.9 fWAR (5.8 bWAR) for his career. He had been below replacement level the season before the trade, but had posted a 3.8-win season (by either measure) the year before that. So while he isn't a great Lawrie comp, he's in the ballpark. Also headed to Anaheim was Fernando Salas, a decent but unimpressive righty reliever with three years of control.
The return, Grichuk and Bourjos, was a pretty strong one. Bourjos, 27 the season after the trade, was a right-handed glove-first outfielder. He had three seasons of control remaining, and had been worth 9.0 fWAR (8.5 bWAR) prior to the trade. However, he had struggled to stay on the field, and a large portion of that production had come from a breakout 2011 (4.2 fWAR, 5.1 bWAR) that he could not repeat. Grichuk had just slugged 22 homers as a 21 year-old right-handed outfielder in Double-A. However, due to plate discipline concerns, he had never ranked on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospect lists.
The second trade is a very familiar one for all of us. On February 4th, 2013, the Oakland Athletics acquired infielder Jed Lowrie and reliever Fernando Rodriguez in exchange for first baseman Chris Carter, pitching prospect Brad Peacock, and catching prospect Max Stassi. Lowrie was 29 the season after the trade, and had two years of team control remaining. He had been worth 5.9 fWAR (5.3 bWAR) prior to the trade. He had similar injury concerns as Lawrie does, and even bigger defensive issues. Rodriguez, a right-handed reliever, was considered nothing more than a throw-in.
The Astros return was one that many A's fans were uncomfortable giving up. Chris Carter had five years of team control, and was a 26 year-old slugger that had just clubbed 16 home runs in only 62 games. He had (and still has) his flaws - poor defense, massive strikeout rate) but was still a high-upside right-handed power bat. Peacock, the A's #5 prospect at the time, had struggled to throw strikes in Triple-A the year before the trade (4.41 BB/9, 6.01 ERA) but still had high upside at only 25 and with all six years of control remaining. Finally, Stassi was 21 at the time and the A's 11th best prospect. He had just posted a 102 wRC+ at High-A Stockton. Stassi was far from a finished project, and had his own flaws, but was a very nice third piece.
So what do these two trades tell us? Not a ton, and nothing definitive. But Lawrie should bring back at least one or two legitimately valuable pieces. In both of the above deals, an above-average, high-ish floor, low-ish ceiling major leaguer was part of the return for two years of a decent infielder. In addition, the clubs received at least one relatively high-upside prospect. This should provide a decent model for what the A's can expect in return for Lawrie.
The Tigers' interest in Lawrie is somewhat curious. Second baseman Ian Kinsler is a star under control for two more seasons (with an option), and third baseman Nick Castellanos is a former top prospect with real upside remaining. However, the Tigers might not have time to wait for that upside, as their core continues to age.
Following the model of one decent major leaguer and one prospect, Castellanos himself could be an interesting starting point. His offense has been underwhelming thus far and he probably isn't a third baseman, but his bat has some upside and he could be a serviceable left fielder. He will be only 24 in 2016, and has four years of control remaining. If you prefer pitching, Shane Greene might be your guy. The former Yankee was great in 2014, but struggled mightily in 2015 as he lost velocity and couldn't miss bats. He is 27 and also has four years of control remaining, and would be a solid reclamation project for the back end of the rotation. If he taps into his 2014 potential, you have a #3 starter on your hands.
The Tigers' farm isn't strong, but it does have a couple of interesting names. Lefty Kevin Ziomek has been great through High-A, and the soon-to-be 24 year-old could make it to the bigs by late 2016. He lives off of deception, and seems like a typical A's type. Chad Green is another interesting name, as the 24 year-old righty has back-end potential.
Brett Lawrie for one of Nick Castellanos/Shane Greene and one of Kevin Ziomek/Chad Green, or other minor league options, could make a great deal of sense for both sides.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox, on the other hand, are a definite fit for Lawrie. Many outside of Chicago would have a hard time naming any of their infielders from 2015, outside of Alexei Ramirez and Jose Abreu. They received sub-par production from both second and third base. Outfielder Trayce Thompson (Klay's brother) is one of my favorite players in baseball, but I'd bet he's worth more than just Lawrie. Erik Johnson could be a decent starting point. The 26 year-old righty hasn't performed in the big leagues, but was dominant once more in Triple-A this season. Francelis Montas is my favorite target - the righty will be 23 in 2016, and is a legitimate flamethrower. He may be destined for the bullpen, but even if he is, he could excel and be an Aroldis Champan-lite.
In case Rzepcynski wasn't hard enough to spell and pronounce, Trey Michalczewski is an intriguing third base prospect for the White Sox. The 20 year-old is a switch hitter with a decent glove and some power upside. Outfielder Jacob May could be another Billy Burns - the 23 year-old (24 in 2016) has great speed, and would at the very least be a solid fourth outfielder-type.
If the White Sox would accept Brett Lawrie for Trayce Thompson or Francelis Montas, that would be my preferred trade. If not, Brett Lawrie for Erik Johnson and one of Jacob May/Trey M. would work as well.
The Indians need to add offense in some way or another, to support their fantastic pitching staff. Giovanny Urshela is fantastic defensively, but might be best suited for a back-up role, and the team could use Lawrie's power-speed combo. The Indians have a glut of major league pitching to deal from. Shawn Armstrong (25) and Zach McAllister (28) are both high-strikeout righty relievers, and Kyle Crockett (25) could blossom into a dominant lefty arm. Righty Cody Anderson is similar to Kendall Graveman, and could be a decent back-end starter.
The Indians' farm has even more arms. Righty Adam Plutko has fantastic control, and some strikeout upside. He will likely reach the big leagues at some point in 2016. However, 25 year-old right-handed Mike Clevinger is the real prize, in my opinion - his fastball touches 97, and he dominated Double-A last season. His numbers, along with his amazing hair, remind me of Jacob deGrom, and I would love to acquire him. Also of note is first baseman/outfielder Mike Papi, who is still a few years off and has yet to tap into his power but has posted great walk rates.
I'd be happy dealing Brett Lawrie for Mike Clevinger straight-up. However, Brett Lawrie for one of the above relievers and Adam Plutko or Cody Anderson would satisfy me as well.
New York Yankees
The Yankees are an intriguing fit. Their interest is purely speculative, and they could very well stick with Rob Refsnyder at the keystone and Chase Headley at third base, or sign a free agent to play one of the two spots. However, if a deal were to be completed, I'd like to start with a reliever. Jacob Lindgren, Nick Goody, and Nick Rumbelow are three candidates, with Goody being my favorite of the three. Mason Williams, 24, could put together the good parts of Sam Fuld, as a speedy left-handed outfielder with above average defense.
None of those payers are overly valuable, though, so the Yankees would likely have to deal from their prospects as well. Ian Clarkin hasn't pitched much due to injury, but the 20 year-old has considerable upside. Rookie Davis is also a relatively high-upside righty, as the 22 year-old posted great peripherals at High-A last year and could be in the big leagues by late 2016. Outfielder Jake Cave has also been repeatedly discussed on the site as a potential Rule Five pick-up.
The Yankees aren't a perfect fit, but Brett Lawrie for Nick Goody, Mason Williams, and Rookie Davis would work out well.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels are a difficult fit as well. Their farm system has been decimated in recent years, an the only realy depth they have is pitching. Nick Tropeano is a very interesting right-handed starter, with legitimate #4 potential, but his velocity isn't what one would hope and his control is still a work in progress. Young relief arms Mike Morin, Trevor Gott, and Cam Bedrosian make sense as well.
The Angels' top prospect, Victor Alcantara, posted a 5.63 ERA in High-A in 2015. Yikes. That being said, he still has considerable upside, and I would take a flier on him. Also interesting is lefty Nate Smith. He should be ready in 2016 and has back-end potential.
Again, the Angels aren't my favorite fit, but Brett Lawrie for one of Nick Tropeano/Victor Alcantara and one of Mike Morin/Trevor Gott/Cam Bedrosian would satisfy me.
The A's will trade Brett Lawrie, to another Major League Baseball team, for one or more players, relatively soon. That is all but guaranteed. The return will vary based on the league's perception of Lawrie, who despite failing to meet lofty expectations set early in his career has settled in as a productive player. The Indians and White Sox feel like the best fits to me, but knowing how baseball works, I fully expect Lawrie to be a Chicago Cub by the end of the week. Because that wouldn't make any sense at all. And that's just how baseball works.