Jed Lowrie is talented, but will he stay on the field enough to matter?
This upcoming season, the Houston Astros will move from the NL Central to the AL West, where they once again expect finish at the bottom of their division after ending 2012 with a league-worst 107 losses. It should do them no favors then, that the Astros now must face 2012 playoff teams, the Oakland Athletics and the Texas Rangers, as well as the restocked Los Angeles Angels, on a regular basis. Monday night saw a trade in which two of these newly-created rivals, the Astros and the Athletics, swapped young talent. In this transaction, Oakland received infield utilityman, Jed Lowrie, and pitcher Fernando Rodriguez, while the Astros acquired a trio of young talents in the form of 1B/noted left-handed masher Chris Carter, right-handed pitcher Brad Peacock, and catcher Max Stassi. Below, Nick has a quick write-up on Jed Lowrie, followed by my (Aidan's) outlook on the new Astros and my first impressions of the trade

By Nick Rabasco:

In 2012, Jed Lowrie played in a career high 97 games.  Games played has been a huge problem for Jed in his 5 year career, with numerous DL stints during that time.  Lowrie has shown flashes of being a solid and productive player.  For example, in 2010 with the Red Sox, he batted .287/.381/.526 with an OPS+ of 139.  However that came in only 55 games and 197 plate appearances.  Last season, Jed was productive as well in 387 plate appearances, batting .244/.331/.438 with 16 home runs and an OPS+ of 108.  Despite his low batting average in 2012, he was still able to walk a lot and get on base.  He walked 11.1% of the time (10.1% in career), which is above the league average by almost 3%. Clearly, it should be no surprise that he was coveted by Billy Beane and the Moneyball A's.  In addition, the A’s are receiving a very versatile player, who has experienced playing time at all infield positions.  For his career, he has saved -4 runs with a fielding percentage of .977.  Lowrie was a 2 win player in 2012 for Houston, but if he is able to put it all together and stay on the field for a full major league season, I believe Lowrie can put up a WAR of around 3. 

By Aidan Flynn:

Unlike the current island of misfit toys donning the Astros uniform in 2013, Houston added a decent amount of talent in this trade. The only big leaguer of this bunch is Chris Carter, who spent time at 1B and DH for the division winning A's. Carter has big time power, evidenced by his 13.6 AB/HR rate, that would have ranked fourth in the American League had he enough plate appearances to qualify. However, as one usually expects with big-time power, Carter does have an excessive strikeout rate. For instance, Carter's K rate of 31.9% ranked 9th highest among those with at least 200 PA's. In spite of this, Carter should still remain an offensive threat because of his aforementioned power potential and well above average walk rate (15%). Additionally, Carter can be better utilized as part of a platoon, just as he was last year in Oakland with lefty Brandon Moss. Carter, a right handed hitter, hit lefties to the tune of a .241/.404/.494, which was actually suppressed by nature of his tough home ballpark. Moving to the more hitter-friendly Minute-Maid Park, Carter should certainly improve his offensive numbers and help solidify an otherwise anemic Houston offense. 

The next piece of this trade is once highly touted right-hander Brad Peacock. Peacock's name may sound familiar, as he was indeed, the very same Peacock sent to Oakland as part of last year's Gio Gonzalez swap. 2012 was certainly a down year for the young righty, as he was killed for a 6.01 ERA in 135 innings for Triple-A Sacremento. To most, a 6.01 ERA in any level for an extended period of time would be the death blow to a shot at the major leagues; however, with Peacock, there are some silver linings in his otherwise dreadful season. For one, Peacock struck hitters at a well above-average rate of 9.3 K/9, flashing a plus curve ball and a fastball that can touch 96. Additionally, Peacock was the unfortunate recipient of bad luck, as he had an absurd .340 BABIP during his 2012 minor league season. Furthermore, Peacock could be a weapon in the bullpen if starting doesn't work out, as he features the plus offerings necessary to succeed in that role. All told, Peacock still has the talent to succeed, even with last year's struggles. 

Of all the players going to Houston, the farthest away from achieving big-league stardom is catcher Max Stassi. Stassi finished up 2012 in High-A Stockton, where hit hit .268/.331/.468 with 18 2Bs and 16 HRs. Stassi still has some work to do on offense, as he strikes out too much and has too liberal of an approach at the plate. Defensively, Stassi has always been advanced beyond his years, with a strong and accurate throwing arm and excellent receiving skills. There is a good chance Stassi will make it to the Majors with his glove alone and any offense contribution whatsoever could make him everyday player.

First Impressions:

Winner: Astros

For an oft-injured man of glass, the Astros made out pretty well in this trade. They infused some youth and skill into a talent-starved major league team. In short, they acquired a strong platoon hitter, a good innings-eater that should at worst be a #4 starter or set-up man, and a glove first catcher. That may not seem like much, but all of these players are close to major league guarantees and should represent major upgrades over the replacement players currently filling out the starting spots. This will not necessarily make the Astros a better team in 2013, but they had no shot at competing, with or without Lowrie. To me, this trade undoubtedly puts them in a better shot at contending in the coming years.

Loser: Athletics

Don't get me wrong; Lowrie is a very talented player and one that is certainly capable of making this a coup for the A's. However, players with his kind of injury history just aren't cured with the wave of a magic wand and I have a hard time seeing him staying healthy enough to make this a win for the A's. I understand the A's didn't trade top 100 prospects or anything but still, the lost value in a strong platoon partner and back-end innings eater still outweighs the gain of Lowrie in my opinion.

Heath Bell is happy to be leaving Miami
       Saturday afternoon brought the first hot stove news of the year, as the Athletics, Marlins, and Diamondbacks completed a trade highlighting former All-Stars closer Heath Bell and outfielder Chris Young. The details of the trade are as follows: the Arizona Diamondbacks acquire Heath Bell, shortstop Cliff Pennington (from the A's) and $8,000,000 (from the Marlins); the Miami Marlins acquire minor league infielder Yordy Cabrera (from the A's); and the Oakland Athletics acquire outfielder Chris Young and $500,000 (both from the Diamondbacks).

            The trade finalized Bell's short and tumultuous tenure while in South Beach, only one year after signing a three year $27 million contract for the new look Marlins. He struggled mightily, including being replaced as closer, and completed the season with an unsightly 5.09 ERA and 8 blown saves (second most in league). Off the field, Bell had a complicated relationship with manager Ozzie Guillen, whom he openly criticized for not re-inserting him as closer. Ironically, before completing this trade for the disgruntled closer, the Diamondbacks exercised current closer JJ Putz's option for next year. All indications from the Diamondbacks front office is that Bell will be used as a set up man to Putz. However, which Bell are the Diamondbacks getting? The San Diego relief ace, who from 2009-2011 had a 2.36 ERA, 132 saves, and 9.6 K/9, or the pitcher who was a complete disaster in Miami? Arizona general manager Kevin Towers is banking that Bell's .340 BABIP and HR/FB rate to regress to his career norms, despite peripherals (declining BB and K rates, increasing line drive %) that say otherwise. At this point, Bell's most realistic prognostication would be as a solid middle reliever, one who just happens to be very overpaid. Personally, this would not be a trade I would consider making, given the Diamondbacks' current state, where that money could be redirecting to more dire needs (infield).

            As for the other big name involved, outfielder Chris Young is headed to Oakland after an injury plagued season in the desert. Young hit .231/.311/.434 this past season while battling shoulder and quadriceps injuries throughout the season. Young was part of the young, talented core of players that helped lead the Diamondbacks to a National League West Division title in 2011, but has seen his numbers steadily decline over the past several seasons. His OBP, HR, SLG, SB, and WAR are all heading in the wrong direction and the move to the less hitter-friendly Oakland Coliseum will further depress his offensive numbers. Additionally, Young is set to make $8.5 million in 2013 with an $11 million club option for 2014. This allows Beane to dump Young after one year if he does not perform, and if he does, Beane can retain him for a decent price. Also, it is not completely unfathomable for Young to return to his 2010 numbers (.257/.341/.452 with 27 HR and 91 RBI) considering he will be 29 and should have another 2-3 years in his prime. Yet, with current outfielders Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp, and Seth Smith already slated for starting spots, it is puzzling to figure where Young fits in, if at all (perhaps another trade?). But then again, if anyone knows what he is doing, its "Moneyball" genius Billy Beane.

            Lastly, the prospect moving to Miami is 22 year old shortstop, Yordy Cabrera. The Lakeland, Florida native hit .232/.292/.332 while being old for his high-A competition. Cabrera was the 15th best prospect in the A's system according to Baseball America, with above average power potential (despite lackluster HR totals). Defensively, he has flashed occasional brilliance, but still struggles with routine plays and needs further development on his footwork and fundamentals. However, scouts believe his body will continue to grow and a move to third base is likely in the future. For now, he is likely headed to the Marlins high-A affiliate Jupiter to further refine his offensive and defensive skills.

First Impressions

Winners: Marlins, A's. Marlins dumped an unhappy reliever and freed up cash while the A's acquired a good outfielder without giving up much in return. Athletics could also ship Young to receive a player who better fits their needs.

Losers: Diamondbacks. Acquired a middle reliever with an unreasonable contract. Cliff Pennington offers decent middle infield depth, but probably should not be starting for any team, let alone one with playoff aspirations.

     Ten years ago, the Oakland Athletics were on the cusp of greatness, finishing first in the American League at the vanguard for their groundbreaking usage of sabermetrics in baseball. By disposing of previously valued statistics such as runs batted in and instead focusing on the importance of nontraditional numbers like on-base and slugging percentage, the A's stormed to 103 wins. This occurred even after losing ex-MVP Jason Giambi, starting outfielder Johnny Damon, and closer Jason Isringhausen to free agency, only further making their season all the more impressive. The financially disadvantaged A's (third lowest payroll in the league) lead by General Manager Billy Beane (AKA Brad Pitt) exploited a market inefficiency that was later compiled and chronicled in Michael Lewis' "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game." However, since "Moneyball," front offices around the league now actively use sabermetrics to make decisions about acquiring, disposing, and evaluating talent. Once ahead of the curve, Oakland was soon buried by larger market teams utilizing the same sabermetric methods.           
      Ten years later, Oakland is making another surprising playoff push, currently two games up on intra-division rival Los Angeles in the contested Wild Card chase. However, the statistical foundation of the unexpected 2002 run is no longer paramount to Oakland's 2012 success. Oakland is third last in the Junior Circuit in on-base percentage (.309) and in addition to having the fifth worst slugging percentage (.399). Also, two more important facets of the "Moneyball" concept include that speed is overrated and big money free agents are not usually worth their value, especially value that could be found much more cheaply. Yet, the Athletics have stolen the ninth most bases in the league and splurged on Cuban defector and Youtube workout sensation Yoenis Cespedes (4 years/$36 million), fringe outfielder Coco Crisp (2 years/$14 million) while absorbing the remaining money for Stephen Drew ($7.5 million). These seemingly risky moves have not only worked out, but have been huge reasons for the East Bay baseball revival. Cespedes, in addition to hitting moonshots like this (462 feet), has been remarkably productive when healthy, with a .289/.350/.492 line and 132 OPS+.  Yet, Oakland also has stayed true to "dumpster diving" past, acquiring the likes of Brandon Inge, Jonny Gomes, Brandon Moss, and George Kottaras after falling out of favor with their previous club. Guys like Gomes, Moss, and Kottaras have produced with OPS+ of 138, 150, and 119 respectively while Brandon Inge has defensively solidified third base.
       In addition to these methods of evaluating talent, Oakland has also begun to appreciate different statistics usually disregarded by other teams. First, Oakland has grounded into the second least amount of double plays in baseball (only 93 times) compared to Detroit, which has grounded into two outs a staggering 150 times. That is 114 more outs in which Oakland has been able to prolong an inning and find a way to score runs. Alternately, the Athletics lead the league in strikeouts, which has actually  allowed them to stay out of double plays and extend the inning, contrary to popular belief that strikeouts are bad. Another example of Oakland getting on base and being able to stay there is illustrated with its stolen base percentage. Oakland has a staggering 80% success rate (tied for second in all of baseball). On the other hand, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been caught 50 times compared to only 30 for Oakland, which has resulted in a horrid 58 success rate. This ability to stay on base upon arriving there has evidently led to more runs and thus more victories. These smart and efficient methods on offense along with a pitching staff fifth in ERA and sixth lowest batting average against have combined to produce one of baseball's biggest surprises. Undoubtedly, Oakland remains in the forefront of evaluating talent usually overlooked by larger market teams, except this time they are using a new kind of Moneyball.