Billy Beane was at it again Monday, as the A's general manager landed infielder Jed Lowrie from the Astros in a five-player deal less than two weeks before his club begins Spring Training workouts.
Beane and his staff can let out a sigh of relief now, having immediately bolstered the organization's infield depth via the deal. Yet in doing so, the A's were forced to give up power bat Chris Carter, along with highly touted prospects in pitcher Brad Peacock and catcher Max Stassi.
It's a rather high price to pay for Lowrie, who comes to Oakland alongside right-handed reliever Fernando Rodriguez, but Beane never fears the risk in a move that could equate to bigger rewards -- particularly when that window of opportunity for contending is open.
"Given where this club finished last year and where we see it having a chance to compete this year, we wanted to do everything we could to help ourselves right now and felt this was the best route to go," Beane said. "It wasn't going to get done unless Chris was in this deal.
"Jed's a guy we've had a lot of interest in going back to his Boston days. He plays four infield positions and switch-hits, and has always been a good offensive player for a middle infielder."
The 28-year-old Lowrie has spent the majority of his career at shortstop -- 240 appearances in 368 starts -- but will be asked to get comfortable at essentially every infield spot, with newcomer Hiroyuki Nakajima still pegged as the everyday shortstop. Lowrie's a reliable option at third base should youngster Josh Donaldson stumble, and he can not only lend his glove at second base, where Scott Sizemore and Jemile Weeks are expected to duke it out for playing time, but as a switch-hitter, he offers a nice complement to the left-handed Brandon Moss at first base in Carter's absence.
The A's must be creative with so many working pieces, and that just so happens to be one of manager Bob Melvin's biggest assets. The 2012 American League Manager of the Year Award winner, who guided Oakland to a division title largely with a mix of rookies and low-profile acquisitions, always seems to get the most out of his platoons, putting each of his players -- whether of the everyday or bench type -- in positions to succeed.
"Our roster is very interchangeable," Beane said. "That's one of the things we had last year, which worked to our advantage. I think this roster is every bit, if not more, interchangeable than last year's was, and we think that was one of the major reasons we were able to win the division."
Lowrie, who played at Stanford, is very familiar with the Bay Area and equally as much with some of his new teammates, many of whom double as ex-teammates -- Coco Crisp, Moss and Josh Reddick were all a part of his Red Sox days.
Lowrie brings with him a career .250 average spanning five seasons, none of which amounted to more than 100 games for the oft-injured infielder. The closest Lowrie came to triple-digit appearances was last year, when he played in 97 games, hitting .244 with 16 home runs and 42 RBIs when not sidelined with a couple of fluke injuries.
"I'm excited to come to a team that won one of the better divisions in baseball last year, and to have the opportunity to come back and play baseball in the Bay Area," Lowrie said. "I obviously followed the story last year, considering everyone had pegged either the Angels or Rangers to win it. It was a great story to watch from a distance. It's a group of young guys that obviously know how to win, and hopefully just continue to get better."
Carter was thought to be an integral piece of Oakland's future, but he may be primed for a brighter one, from a personal standpoint, in Houston, where his right-handed bat could wreak havoc at Minute Maid Park. Furthermore, Carter gives the Astros an appealing long-term option at designated hitter, where his at-bats were going to be limited in Oakland because of the excess in outfielders.
"We don't really need a true DH, since we'll be resting outfielders and some of those guys are going to be in the DH slot," Beane said. "We didn't see as much opportunity for Chris, immediately."
Peacock was facing a similar situation. The right-hander, initially acquired by the A's from Washington in the Gio Gonzalez deal last year, was prepared to enter camp behind at least seven pitchers, following a full year at Triple-A Sacramento that saw him go 12-9 with a 6.01 ERA. Suddenly, he could be given a quick opportunity with the rebuilding Astros.
Stassi, meanwhile, departs the organization that drafted him in the fourth round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft on the heels of another injury-plagued season. The catcher endured two stints on the disabled list but still managed to hit .268 with 15 home runs and 45 RBIs in 84 games with Class A Stockton.
Monday's trade only came together once Rodriguez was included, however. The 28-year-old righty struck out 78 batters in 70 1/3 innings for the Astros last season and "was part of the deal that helped us get over the top," Beane said, "because we felt like we were giving them a pretty good package, and this addition sort of helped us get to the finish line."
Overall, Rodriguez was 2-10 with a 5.37 ERA in 71 relief appearances in 2012 -- misleading numbers, insists Beane, who likes the added bullpen depth this trade gives the A's.
It seems they don't need much else before camp opens.
"I rarely say this," Beane said, "but I told this to [owner] Lew [Wolff]: That's it. We're done, as it relates to the Major League roster."