Jed Lowrie’s Houston-to-Oakland career shuttle has landed him once again in the East Bay.
And though the veteran switch-hitter can play anywhere in the infield, the current plan has him taking over second base, where the A’s essentially have swapped Lawrie for Lowrie.
After acquiring Lowrie for a second time from the Astros on Nov. 25, it opened the door to a trade shipping Brett Lawrie to the Chicago White Sox for two minor league pitchers during last week’s Winter Meetings.
In his first stint with the A’s from 2013-14, Lowrie anchored shortstop, where his range and arm strength often got called into question. From that standpoint, a switch to the right side of the diamond makes sense. He’s appeared in 58 games at second over his eight-year career.
[STIGLICH: A's outlook: First base needs jolt in production]
The A’s obviously expect consistent production from the 31-year-old, otherwise they wouldn’t have taken on his contract (two years remaining at $15 million). But which version of Lowrie do they get?
In 2013, he played in 154 games, swatted 45 doubles and hit .290, serving as a key member of an AL West-winning A’s team. But injuries resurfaced over the past two seasons, including 2015 with Houston, when surgery for a torn ligament in his right thumb limited him to 69 games.
He’s healthy now, meaning A’s fans will see a familiar face from the recent past trotting out to the infield regularly.
STARRING CAST: Lowrie could fit many different spots in the batting order, including the No. 2 slot behind Billy Burns if Coco Crisp isn’t healthy enough to play every day. The bigger question is how Lowrie fits with the glove for an A’s defense that absolutely must improve after committing a major league-high 126 errors last season. As the website FanGraphs points out, the defensive metrics were split on Lowrie at shortstop, where he’s spent the majority of his career. Lowrie checked out as a roughly average defender in Ultimate Zone Rating, but he was far below average in Defensive Runs Saved.
With a move to second base, how will Lowrie fit as a double-play combo with Marcus Semien, who endured considerable growing pains in 2015, his first as a big league shortstop? The A’s appear committed to Semien at short, and it stands to reason one of the primary question marks for Oakland leading into 2016 is how strong their middle infield defense will be.
CAMP COMPETITION: Eric Sogard’s reliable glove and versatility make him the lead candidate to be the backup/utility infielder. But there’s reason to pay attention to the other second basemen beyond Lowrie once spring training begins. Expect Joey Wendle, acquired from Cleveland in the Brandon Moss trade last winter, to get a long look in Cactus League games. A’s officials remain high on Wendle, 25, who led the Pacific Coast League in hits last season but needs to improve defensively.
“Defensively, I thought he made a lot of progress as far as cleaning up his game, turning the double play, positioning,” Triple-A Nashville manager Steve Scarsone said at the end of last season. “I really would love to see him get an opportunity at (the major league) level.”
Tyler Ladendorf enjoyed a terrific spring in 2015 to win an Opening Day roster spot before an ankle eventually sabotaged his season. He should be back in the mix.
How confident the A’s feel about their second base depth could impact other parts of the infield. Incumbent third baseman Danny Valencia’s name has circulated in trade rumors this winter, and Lowrie can also handle third. If the A’s felt they could plug in a capable alternative at second, allowing them to shift Lowrie, it might persuade them to pull the trigger if they got an attractive offer for Valencia.
PAY ATTENTION TO: Whether Ladendorf can open eyes again as he did last spring. His versatility, including the ability to play the outfield, is a big plus.