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Jed Lowrie is the key to the Oakland A’s offseason

Whether he stays or goes is the most impactful question facing the team.

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s roster has several needs that must be addressed this winter. The most important is their starting rotation, which is virtually empty right now and requires multiple new additions. The single biggest key to the offseason isn’t a pitcher, though, but rather free agent second baseman Jed Lowrie.

There is no move that will answer more questions than the outcome of Lowrie’s situation. There is a long list of starting pitchers for them to choose from, but they don’t vary much — take your pick between those discounted because they get hurt all the time, or those discounted because they’re bouncing back from bad seasons. They’ll get a new catcher, but whoever it is probably won’t cost more than 1yr/$5M, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle. But second base could still go in a lot of directions.

GM David Forst addressed the media on Friday, and he confirmed one thing: The A’s will field a professional baseball player at second base in 2019.

In other words, there is no new clarity on what might happen. Every possible option is still in play, which means the position could still be filled with anything from a market-rate win-now All-Star veteran to a minimum-salary 23-year-old with 57 games of MLB experience.

There are plenty of good reasons for Oakland to re-sign Lowrie. He was worth around 5 WAR last season, and around 4 WAR the year before, making him a consistently high performer. He carries his share of risk, between his age (35 next season) and his extensive injury history, but those are just the kinds of imperfections the A’s look for to drive down price tags. They might not have a better chance to affordably add a player of this caliber this winter, anywhere on the diamond.

There are also plenty of good reasons to move on. Top youngster Franklin Barreto doesn’t quite look ready for the bigs yet, but perhaps being thrown into the fire is just what he needs to make his final adjustments and quit striking out so much. With him as a cheap alternative, the team could maximize the money it puts toward the pitching staff, which can use all the help it can get. There’s also the matter of contract length, and if Lowrie receives three-year offers then even many of his supporters here on AN might begin to back off.

Regardless of your opinions on each of these issues, second base is undeniably the most impactful question mark on the winter’s to-do list. Whatever happens there could affect everything else, especially the fortunes of the rotation. Even the pool of potential pitching targets could change — if Lowrie eats up a big portion of the available money, then perhaps Barreto could wind up as a trade chip to acquire a more cost-effective arm than can be found via free agency. And that’s before considering the actual difference at the keystone itself, where Lowrie arguably offers a bigger upgrade over his likely replacement than any realistic pitching target.

In terms of estimates, MLBTR sees Lowrie getting 3yr/$30M, while FanGraphs has him at two years but for nearly the same amount of money. It’s difficult to imagine Oakland spending much more than that on any other player this winter (other than a Khrush extension), with several other holes to consider and limited payroll space to work with. This might be the biggest fish in the lake, take him or leave him.

Personally, I do hope Lowrie is back in green and gold next summer, but not if it takes a three-year commitment. If he winds up with the FanGraphs crowdsource of 2yr/$24M, then I think he would be the best use of the team’s money in terms of competing in 2019. We saw just last year how far the A’s can stretch a dollar when it comes to pitching, but I don’t know that there’s anything close to another opportunity at second base that fits as perfectly as Lowrie. I also believe in his resurgent health over the last two years, turning his sleep-related “best shape of my life” story into real results over an extended period, and that makes me more confident about betting on him to stay strong in the immediate future.

We don’t know anything new on this front that we didn’t know yesterday, but even learning that all options are still open is still useful information. It means that the same wide variety of conclusions are still possible, and that Lowrie’s fate remains as the biggest linchpin to all other offseason considerations.