NASHVILLE –- Capping an eventful Wednesday at the Winter Meetings, the A’s completed a trade that sent infielder Brett Lawrie to the Chicago White Sox for two minor league pitchers.
It was a deal that seemed on, then potentially off, and then on again over the course of the day. But in reality, trading Lawrie seemed a foregone conclusion from the moment the A’s acquired infielder Jed Lowrie on Nov. 25 from the Houston Astros. That made an infielder expendable, and the signs were that Lawrie would be playing elsewhere in 2016 after just one season in an A’s uniform.
“We talked to a number of teams about Brett over the last six weeks or so,” A’s general manager David Forst said. “Certainly when we got Jed from Houston, people checked in and were made aware we might do something else on the back end.”
But why Lawrie, who at age 25 seemed like a foundation piece for Oakland when he was acquired last year in the trade that sent Josh Donaldson to Toronto?
Wednesday’s trade made baseball sense in some ways. The A’s value Lowrie’s versatility to play every spot in the infield and his switch-hitting ability. He figures to slide into the second base job, with Marcus Semien remaining at shortstop and Danny Valencia at third base (although it’s worth sharing this Forst comment: “There’s still other opportunities potentially. We don’t put a team on the field for another four months.”)
The trade also netted two minor league pitchers that the A’s feel have upside in reliever J.B. Wendelken and lefty Zack Erwin.
But there were also non-baseball reasons for trading Lawrie, who turns 26 in January.
Team officials recognized that last season’s mix of clubhouse personalities malfunctioned to a degree after last winter’s heavy cycle of roster turnover. There was some thought that Lawrie’s frenetic and intense demeanor just wasn’t a fit. That, coupled with the fact he’s still young and not far removed from being one of the game’s top prospects, seemingly gave him a bit more trade value than say, Valencia, who’s also raised mild clubhouse concerns.
Forst didn’t reference any off-field issues in his comments about Lawrie to the media. To the contrary, he praised Lawrie, who hit .260 with a career-high 16 homers and 60 RBI while playing in a career-high 149 games last season. He struggled with numerous injuries while with the Jays.
“Brett had a great year,” Forst said. “He worked really hard to stay on the field. I know he was very proud of that.”
Catcher Stephen Vogt also spoke highly of Lawrie.
“I thought he came in as far as the clubhouse and fit in really well,” Vogt said in a phone interview. “He is a high-energy, high in-your-face (guy), but he brings it every day. He was that same high-energy guy every day.”
In the big picture, Lawrie’s departure after just one season casts the spotlight back on the Donaldson trade. With Lawrie, the most high-profile piece of the return package, now gone, and Donaldson having vaulted himself to an MVP award with the Jays, the perception among some observers is that the deal has been a disaster.
Forst pointed out that it wasn’t a one-for-one trade. Kendall Graveman will likely be in next year’s rotation and lefty Sean Nolin could factor in as well. The fourth player the A’s got from Toronto, 19-year-old shortstop Franklin Barreto, is ranked as Oakland’s top prospect.
“Making this deal … we don’t look back a year and connect the two,” Forst said, “other than to say we continue to feed the (farm) system with this deal.”
Wendelken, who turns 23 in March, increased his fastball velocity at Double-A and Triple-A last season after shifting from starting to relieving. Forst thinks he could help the big league ‘pen at some point next season. Erwin, who will be 22 in January, was a fourth-round pick last June out of Clemson, and Forst thinks he’ll fit in well with a young core of starters the A’s drafted themselves last season.
The A’s began Wednesday by agreeing to terms with free agent reliever John Axford on a two-year $10 million contract. His deal should be announced Thursday if he passes his physical. The Winter Meetings wrap Thursday with the Rule 5 draft. The A’s got Mark Canha in the same event last winter but it’s less clear if they’ll make a pick this year.