OAKLAND -- The A's had one glaring weakness remaining -- their lack of infield depth. Through one large five-player swap with the newest members of the American League West, the Houston Astros, that problem appears to be solved.
The A's picked up 28-year-old infielder Jed Lowrie from Houston on Monday, a week before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Spring Training. In addition to Lowrie, the A's get reliever Fernando Rodriguez, but they paid a steep price. Gone is power-hitting first baseman Chris Carter, and prospects Brad Peacock, and Max Stassi are also being shipped to the Astros.
"Jed is a guy we've had a lot of interest in going back to his Boston days," A's general manager Billy Beane said. "Number one: His versatility. He plays four infield positions, switch hits and he's always been a good offensive player for an infielder."
Lowrie, a switch hitter, is the centerpiece of this deal. Despite missing two months with an ankle injury last season, he had career highs in home runs (16), runs (43), hits (83), walks (43), and games played (97). In the eyes of the A's, it is tough to find a middle infielder with that type of production.
"I'm excited to come to a team that won one of the better divisions in baseball last year," Lowrie said. "I'm excited to have an opportunity to come back and play baseball in the Bay Area."
Lowrie, who attended Stanford University and often went to A's games as a fan, has Major League experience playing first base, second base, third base, and shortstop. With Carter on the move, Lowrie can back up Brandon Moss at first base in a pinch, and will spend most of his time competing for starts at second, third, and occasionally shortstop, where the A's have some promising players, but no sure things.
"Really the whole roster is just very interchangeable," Beane said. "That's one of the things we had last year that worked to our advantage. I think this year's roster is every bit if not more interchangeable."
The A's have competition for playing time at each position, and the reigning American League manager of the year, Bob Melvin, at the helm -- all the right ingredients for a successful recipe. In addition to an outfield with excess depth, Melvin now has an infield rotation to figure out.
"I feel most comfortable at shortstop," Lowrie said by phone. "I'm certainly more comfortable up the middle than anywhere else on the diamond."
While it may be his preference to play shortstop, Lowrie will spend the bulk of his time elsewhere while with the A's. The front office is more concerned with where Japanese-born shortstop Hiro Nakajima is most comfortable as he transitions to the Major Leagues. Nakajima will get every chance to stick there, with Lowrie only seeing time at short in a back up role.
"Hiro's natural position is shortstop and Bob [Melvin] and I have talked at length about that," Beane said. "Since Hiro is more comfortable there, that's what he goes in as."
The A's have had their eyes on Lowrie for a while, and inquired about him last August while he was on the disabled list with a sprained right ankle. The addition of reliever Fernando Rodriguez in the package heading to Oakland is what gave the A's the confidence to pull the trigger.
Rodriguez, a right-handed pitcher, was 2-10 with a 5.37 ERA in 71 relief appearances with Houston in 2012, but he struck out 78 batters in 70 1/3 innings, and averaged 93.9 MPH on his fastball.
"He's got a real big arm, his record and his ERA are probably a bit misleading," Beane said. "He's another guy to add to our bullpen depth which was one of our strengths last year."
In case you forgot what it looks like, this is what the A's look like in "win now" mode. They are doing everything in their power to make the 2013 Oakland Athletics the best team in baseball. Building a team to win in the present doesn't come without sacrifice. Carter, 26, was finally coming into his own. He had 16 homers and 39 RBI in 67 games in 2012. Many saw him as a DH, though, and Oakland intends to use that spot to get their excess of talented outfielders at-bats.
"It's not easy to part with a guy like that," Beane said of Carter. "We think just looking at the next year or so, particularly with the DH spot, we don't have a true DH. We just didn't see as much opportunity for Chris immediately."
Carter and Brandon Moss were a successful first base platoon in 2012, but both hitters were better against right-handed pitchers, leaving the A's often playing the hot hand at the time. Shipping off Carter is a vote of confidence in Moss, who hit .291 with 21 homers and 52 RBI in just 84 games last season.
Peacock and Stassi didn't fit into the A's 2013 plans either. With a talented young Major League roster, Oakland recognizes that they have time to build back up their farm system.
So are the A's done making moves? According to the architect himself, they are. So don't expect any more prospects to be sent packing.
"That's it, we're done," Beane said with a laugh. "The 25-man roster will come from the group you see now."