Just over 10 years ago, the Oakland Athletics completed a trade for a player who would unexpectedly become somewhat of a franchise cornerstone. That player — Mr. Doubles himself, Jed Lowrie — announced his retirement from Major League Baseball today.
Despite never being the best player on any of the teams he was on, Lowrie is arguably the most important Oakland Athletic of the last decade.
Serving three tenures in the green and gold, he led two completely different player cores to five playoff appearances in 6.5 seasons, highlighted by an All-Star appearance and a 20th-place finish in AL MVP voting in 2018. Without Lowrie’s steady presence in the lineup and clubhouse, Oakland baseball might have been a lot less exciting following that Cinderella 2012 season.
Top 5 in Oakland A's WAR since 2013 (via Fangraphs):— Sad A’s Fan (@SadAsFan) March 23, 2023
1. Matt Chapman - 19.8
2. Matt Olson - 15.0
3. Marcus Semien - 14.8
4. Josh Donaldson - 12.9
5. JED LOWRIE - 12.9 https://t.co/RYj2EXVExr
Speaking of 2012, it was just five months after the end of that season that the team traded for Lowrie. The A’s had just fallen to the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS after clinching the AL West division for the first time since 2006. Looking to get back to the playoffs and bolster their chances of advancing, the A’s took a decent-sized gamble on Lowrie, a 28-year-old switch-hitting shortstop who never fully put it together at the major league level.
The move was not only a gamble because of Lowrie’s unproven and inconsistent track record, there was also ample risk in trading away three talented young players. This included Brad Peacock and Max Stassi — #3 and #19 in the system at the time — as well as a substantial contributor to their 2012 playoff run, first baseman Chris Carter. Following years of questions about his ability to hit major league pitching, Carter hit 16 homeruns in just 67 games with a 139 OPS+, perhaps a precursor to an All-Star career.
Trading a potential All-Star, a top pitching prospect, and a young catcher for a shortstop who’d never played a full season before wasn’t the most straightforward win-now move. I don’t know how many front offices would’ve drawn up this trade, but most front offices aren’t Billy Beane and David Forst, who clearly saw something in Lowrie the two teams that had given up on him didn’t.
Going back to the 2005 MLB Draft, the Boston Red Sox selected him with the 45th overall pick. It seemed like a good pick after Lowrie hit his way into a couple national top 100 prospect lists in 2008. He made his major league debut with the team on April 15 that year, two days before his 24th birthday, and had a few bumpy seasons. Injuries and inconsistent play led the Sox to cut bait and trade him in a two-player package for burgeoning Houston Astros closer Mark Melancon.
After a solid season with an awful Houston team, the A’s took a chance on the former top prospect, hoping he’d find more fortune in the Oakland Coliseum. Not only did Lowrie stay healthy the whole 2013 season, playing a whopping 154 games, he broke out by putting up a .290/.344/.446 line with 15 homers to boot. And of course, he hit a signature 45 doubles, helping the still underrated A’s secure a second consecutive division title.
The following season, Lowrie stayed mostly healthy again but experienced a dip in his offensive performance. However, he did improve defensively to being passable at shortstop after putting up -1.1 dWAR in 2013. Never being known for having exceptional range or arm strength, Lowrie always relied on a rockbed of sound fundamentals to stick around in the middle infield.
The A’s lost their division lead late in the 2014 season but secured a wild-card spot and... we don’t need to talk about the rest. Suffice it to say, the team fell short once again in its quest for a World Series title. It was time for Lowrie to find another team in free agency and for the A’s to start building its next core.
He ended up being rewarded for a couple of solid years and returned to Houston on a 3 year, $23 million contract. In the first season of that contract, the Astros were hoping to get the new Oakland version of Lowrie but instead got the middling, injury-prone version that they traded away the first time. The team pulled the plug on the Lowrie experiment once again just one year into his contract and sent him back to Oakland, this time for a relief prospect you’ve probably never heard of, Brendan McCurry.
As the A’s were still figuring out the identity of their next team, they brought Lowrie back to hopefully recapture his 2013 form and mentor the young players coming up through their system. His first season back in 2016 was a bit of a write-off. Now stationing himself at second base with a bit more age on his legs and Marcus Semien growing into the shortstop position, it seemed like the 32-year-old’s best days were way behind him.
But somehow, every time he gets counted out, Lowrie comes back with another gear — typically gear that’s colored green and gold. Over the next two seasons, he reached a higher level offensively and put up back-to-back All-Star caliber seasons. In 2017, he hit 20% better than league average and was second in the league with 49 doubles, breaking Jason Giambi’s Oakland A’s record.
After being excluded from the All-Star team in 2017 and narrowly missing out on the first round of selections in 2018, he finally grabbed a spot when the league named him as an injury replacement for Gleyber Torres, a moment he’s professed was one of the highlights of his career.
With a brand new core of players around him — Moss, Donaldson, and Crisp were now Olson, Chapman, and Davis — Lowrie led the A’s back to the playoffs with an unexpected Wild Card run. MVP voters rewarded him with some down-ballot votes that earned him a 20th-place finish and he even was named a Gold Glove finalist at 2B. However, the reunion party ended when Lowrie reached free agency once again and signed a 2 year, $20 million contract with the New York Mets.
Despite the bad run of injury luck earlier in his career, his tenure with the Mets was by far the most frustrating of his playing career. With the expectation that he’d provide stability in the infield, his signing instead resulted in a ton of instability for the team. After suffering a knee sprain in his first Spring Training with the team, Lowrie only was able to make it to bat for 8 pinch-hit plate appearances late in the 2019 season. He then missed the entire 60-game 2020 season and ended his Mets tenure with 1 walk and 4 strikeouts, leading many speculated if his playing days were over. If you’d asked a Mets fan at the time, they would’ve declared that his career was definitely over.
But the Lowrie faithful knew, all he needed was put on that kelly green jersey once again and he’d have a chance to contribute. Going into the 2021 season without any major league offers, he didn’t give up on finding another opportunity to get on a baseball field and play.
Coming off 3 consecutive playoff Beane and Forst threw a minor league deal his way with a shot at making the Opening Day Roster. Almost as if the last two years of knee troubles never happened, Lowrie hit the ground running in Spring Training with an .856 OPS, earning him the starting job at 2B and the sixth spot in the lineup. Just like old times.
His season went about as well as anyone could’ve reasonably expected, finishing 139 games played, a league average batting line, and, of course, 28 doubles. More impactful than his surface-level production was just the quality of his at-bats. In a lineup full of three-true-outcome type guys, Lowrie always provided a tough out for opposing pitchers. Despite an earnest push, the A’s ended up missing the playoffs and blew up the team in the offseason.
With a lot of newly created holes on the team, the A’s re-signed Lowrie to a small 1-year deal and sticking him at DH for most of the 50 games that he played. Being 38 now, a full decade older than he was when he first became an Oakland Athletic, it was finally clear that he had nothing left in the tank, hitting .150 with just 5 doubles. Would he have gotten back to double-digit doubles territory if he’d been given a full season? We’ll never know.
Bob Melvin calls Lowrie “one of my all-time favorites” and says, “Jed was definitely an Oakland A. His skill set profiled what the A’s were looking for in a player. On base, versatility, switch hitter. Fantastic player.”— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) March 23, 2023
On August 7th, Lowrie suited up for what would be the final game of his career and was designated for assignment three days later. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to finish the season out and receive a proper goodbye from the Oakland faithful that he gave so much to.
“The fact that I wound up playing for the A’s for seven years is amazing,” Lowrie told the San Francisco Chronicle. “The organization always allowed me the freedom to be myself, and playing for Bob Melvin, he always did such a good job of knowing when to say the right things and when not to say anything.”
In some ways, you can almost tell the whole story of the 2013-2022 Oakland A’s just through Lowrie’s career (I pretty much just attempted to do so). He always seemed to show up to the Coliseum at just the right time. He should retire knowing how much the fanbase appreciated him, his leadership, his always professional at-bats, his steady defense, every one of his 205 green-and-gold doubles, and his countless contributions to Oakland baseball.
Best wishes to Jed and whatever he decides to do next. Hopefully, he’ll have one more run in him as an Oakland Athletic someday.