Jeff Luhnow’s first trade in his new position as General Manager of the very rebuilding Houston Astros was a great one. In December of 2011 he joined in with A’s GM Billy Beane to feed the Boston Red Sox sudden hearty effort to acquire relief pitchers. Beane traded a much higher profile late-inning man (Andrew Bailey) for scruffy-looking nerf herder Josh Reddick and two minor leaguers. Sensing the opportunity Luhnow dealt half the Lance Berkman return package that Ed Wade mustered way too late in Mark Melancon, snagging the very promising but injury prone and already-27 Jed Lowrie (as well as pitcher Kyle Weiland, who has lived on the DL since arriving). Like Reddick, Lowrie was an intriguing talent that Boston was willing to give (up on?) to get bullpen help. Safe to say Bailey and Melancon could do very little to prevent the Bobby V inspired mess that was the Red Sox 2012 season.
Caught in all the turmoil and drama was a steal of a deal for the Astros in Luhnow’s very first trade as GM. Lowrie had collected 14 home runs by June (and threw me a ball) while Melancon and an ERA of 49.50 were optioned to the minors by April 18. Lowrie was cruising for the ‘Stros before succumbing to his annual injuries, this time to the ankle and knee. Jed only played 19 games after the all-star break but his true value to the Astros long-term blueprint came in the ensuing off-season.
After a second consecutive off-season where Houston and Jed Lowrie avoided arbitration – everyone’s favorite baseball term, if it isn’t “Rule 5″ or “Supplementary” – and the Astros’ massive rebuilding plan over a year in, the time to decide if Lowrie, who would be 29 soon after Opening Day, was apart of the Astros plans for the future, whether that be 2013 or 2016. Lowrie was set to collect a $2.4 million dollar paycheck that would have been the third-highest contract on the Astros 2013 payroll (and because we have to compare, 16th on the Yankees; source: Cot’s) behind newly-signed Carlos Pena the team’s staff ace Bud Norris ($3 million).
With the $2.4 million only being for a single year, Lowrie’s injury concerns were less of a stopgap in negotiating a potential trade involving Jed.
Expiring contracts in sports are like (something good about stocks that makes them more tradeable and I know nothing about the stock market except whatever Bane did in The Dark Knight Rises was pretty pointless and lazy writing…come at me Nolan-ites!)
Coming off a shocking American League West division title in 2012 for the Oakland A’s, greatly fueled by their mentioned-in-this-article acquisition of Josh Reddick, the Athletics off-season was one of building instead of their usual cost-effective rebuilding. Jed Lowrie’s availability was both a good fit and a cost-effective one for 1 year/$2.4 million.
Judging by Athletics’ GM Billy “Brad Pitt” Beane’s previous off-season transaction, the Michael Morse trade, he was willing to give up impressive young talent for parts that weren’t glamorous but fit in with the team’s philosophy. Yes, Michael Morse was sent from Washington to Seattle so what does Oakland have anything to do with it? Well Seattle didn’t want to give up any of it’s upper tier prospects and Washington was in a corner dealing with too many power bats and not enough space in the DH-less National League. Oakland always admired lefty-hitting catcher John Jaso, who was hidden behind a handful of Seattle catchers but possessed a very impressive 2.6 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and if any team is looking extensively into sabermetrics and advanced statistical analysis, it’s the lovable Pitt-Jonah Hill (horrible, not a fan but it existed) combination.
With all that said the A’s jumped into the conversation and dangled pitching prospect A.J. Cole for the Nationals. Washington signed off and Oakland just wanted that versatile John Jaso from Seattle in return. (Side note: A.J. Cole headed the Nationals package sent to Oakland just over a year earlier to acquire Gio Gonzalez)
The Athletics were willing to dig into their plethora of young talent to find compatible parts to their upcoming roster. They wanted Jed Lowrie. Jeff Luhnow identified three prospects of Oakland and sprinkle in relief pitcher Fernando Rodriguez (who since had Tommy John surgery) and a deal was consummated on February 4th.
Houston’s return was highlighted by former top prospect Chris Carter. Carter, 26, never found a consistent opportunity in Oakland after tearing through their farm system from 2008-2010. The A’s experimented with Carter at his natural first base position and also in left field but when push came to shove he was squeezed out of playing time by the most recent wave of “look-what-I-found” players in Oakland.
No stranger to a blockbuster trade, Carter was dealt to Arizona in 2007 for ‘”Hard Hittin'” Carlos Quentin and two weeks later apart of the Diamondbacks lucrative package consisting of Carter, Brett Anderson, Carlos Gonzalez and three others for pitcher Dan Haren.
Also arriving to the ‘Space City’ in the trade was 25-year old pitching prospect Brad Peacock. Prior to the 2011 season, Baseball America ranked Peacock the 41st best prospect in all of baseball. He responded with a season earning him a spot in the All-Star Future’s Game and was named to Baseball America’s 2011 Minor League All-Star team. Because everything here seems to be coming full circle or at least somewhere comfortably past semi-circle Peacock also was in the trade involving A.J. Cole, seeing him sent from Washington to Oakland.
The third piece in the deal is definitely the least known but aside being a good Twitter follow, 22-year old catcher Max Stassi has his own cool back story. Stassi was a 4th round pick in 2009 but Oakland agreed to give him the highest ever signing bonus for a 4th round pick at $1.5 million. Skipping college for the pro’s with an instant paycheck in hand, the smart minds of Oakland’s front office believed they had a first-round talent with Stassi. Of course you must give to receive and the Astros lack of organizational depth – or depth at all – at catcher ushered Max’s name into the deal.
Stassi’s first taste of AA came in the Astros organization. After recovering from sports hernia surgery he underwent shortly after being acquired, Stassi has officially begun his career with the Astros at AA Corpus Christi.
There’s much more to be said about each player the Astros got back, but in a closing note I’d like to stress my personal belief in the talents of first baseman Chris Carter.
In 2010 with the A’s AA affiliate, the Midland Rockhounds, Carter was in the midst of a monster season that would be his last in AA. In town to play the Rangers’ AA squad, the Frisco RoughRiders where I then worked as a Bat Boy, I got to meet Chris Carter. Chris would blast a broken bat home run into the left field porch and even in my RoughRiders attire and my rooting interest in the opposite dugout, I liked Chris Carter. I liked his game, his attitude, his potential. So I asked for that bat after the game, and I mean literally after the game. I was such a fan of his I had to have the bat. He gave me a big smile and said “sure, man.” Seconds later a fan approached the dugout asking for the bat, but as the future Houston Astro said, “Bat Boy’s got it.” Darn right I got it. Darn right.
Carter has been subject to much criticism – especially for his outfield defense – well to me and him and his best interests, his position is first base (and designated hitter). Carter’s strength comes in the form of the long ball, and as of Wednesday, May 22nd, Carter has clubbed 9 home runs. Other players with 9 home runs at this point: Jose Bautista, Evan Longoria, Prince Fielder, Yoenis Cespedes and the “Amazing Mike Trout-erMan.”
The .227 batting average is concerning, but Carter is just now settling into more of an everyday role at 1B/DH and just like the name of the team on the new jerseys he wears, it’s a rebuilding process that required patience. So let Chris be Chris guys, because along with a future back of the rotation arm in Brad Peacock and a very exciting, intriguing catching prospect in Max Stassi to keep your eye on, this was yet another brilliant move by Luhnow, Crane and co.
Also, welcome aboard new Houston Astros President Reid Ryan.