Expect Jed Lowrie to be in the A’s lineup on a regular basis in 2016.
Where that will be remains the key question, but the answer figures to materialize by the time the A’s report to spring training.
After Oakland reacquired the switch-hitting infielder from the Houston Astros on Wednesday for a minor league reliever, A’s general manager David Forst did not indicate specifically where Lowrie will fit in the lineup, just that he will play regularly. Forst and manager Bob Melvin told Lowrie as much over the phone Wednesday morning.
“Exactly where, we’ll figure it out,” Forst said on a conference call with reporters. “But he’s too good an offensive player to not be in there every day. Obviously, he plays a very good third base. We talked to him, at times here, about playing second, and he plays short. His versatility is (a strength).”
It’s a strong bet that the A’s look to trade an infielder to clear a logjam, with second baseman Brett Lawrie and third baseman Danny Valencia as possible candidates.
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Lowrie, 31 -- who the A’s acquired in a previous trade from the Astros before the 2013 season -- served as Oakland’s everyday shortstop from 2013-14, hitting a combined .271 with 21 homers and 125 RBI. He left Oakland and signed a three-year $23 million contract with Houston before the 2015 season, and he’s owed a guaranteed $15 million over the next two seasons, including a team option for 2018 with a $1 million buyout.
“Jed is as versatile a guy as you can have in the infield,” Melvin said. “He’s played all our positions, he switch-hits. He’s productive, so I think any time you can bring a Jed Lowrie in, it’s beneficial to the overall state of the team.”
Lowrie has played the large majority of games over his eight-year career at short. Right now, that position belongs to Marcus Semien, who committed a major league-high 35 errors last season but showed improvement in the second half defensively and has gotten backing from both the front office and Melvin as a player who can continue to improve there. Ron Washington will return as the A’s infield coach in 2016, and after the work he put in with Semien last season, the team may want that process to continue.
Forst was asked specifically during his conference call if he still viewed Semien as his starting shortstop.
“He’s a shortstop,” the GM responded, though at a different point in the call Forst added: “Part of Marcus’ value is his versatility and ability to play everywhere. Last year he played exclusively shortstop, but we know going forward as we build the team he has played the other two infield spots and played them well.”
Even before Wednesday’s trade, it’s known that there had been discussion within the organization this offseason about the possibility of dealing Valencia or Lawrie. Valencia could have value based on how well he hit after taking over third base when the A’s acquired him in August. Lawrie could be attractive to teams because of his age – he turns just 26 in January – and the fact he played in 149 games last season after injuries plagued his four-year stint with Toronto. One major league scout told CSN California earlier this offseason that he envisioned Lawrie as a good trade candidate.
Were the A’s to deal one of them, Lowrie could slide into whichever position gets vacated, second or third.
Lawrie and Valencia are eligible for salary arbitration this winter, with mlbtraderumors.com projecting Lawrie for a $3.9 million salary and the 31-year-old Valencia at $3.4 million.
To get Lowrie, the A’s sent 23-year-old minor league reliever Brendan McCurry to the Astros. A 22nd-round draft pick in 2014, the right-hander is 3-3 with a 1.37 ERA and 29 saves in 67 career appearances split between Single-A and Double-A. He was ranked as the A’s No. 30 prospect by mlb.com.
To clear a spot on the 40-man roster, the A’s designated reliever Daniel Coulombe for assignment.
In another noteworthy move Wednesday, the A’s released right-hander A.J. Griffin, who had been designated for assignment Friday.