OAKLAND, Calif. — The A’s potentially created a competition at shortstop by acquiring Jed Lowrie from the Houston Astros for first baseman Chris Carter on Monday in a five-player swap.
Japanese star Hiroyuki Nakajima, who was signed by the A’s in December, was thought to be the everyday shortstop, but don’t be surprised if Lowrie’s addition makes for a competitive spring.
On the flip side, Carter’s departure opens first base for Brandon Moss on a full-time basis.
Coming with Lowrie to Oakland is right-handed reliever Fernando Rodriguez. In addition to Carter, the A’s shipped two prospects, pitcher Brad Peacock and catcher Max Stassi, to the Astros.
Nakajima had been deemed the starting shortstop since signing in December. The addition of Lowrie, however, gives A’s manager Bob Melvin the chance to choose daily between Nakajima, who was a star in Japan, and Lowrie, who started at shortstop for the Astros last year when he was healthy.
“He can be a very versatile piece in the lineup,” Melvin said of Lowrie. “He could be a real nice fit, a switch hitter at the top of the lineup. I envision moving him around like a lot of the other pieces we have. It’s kind of the way we put it together. We may even look at first base some for him with Carter leaving.”
Carter hit 16 home runs in only 218 at-bats last year in helping the A’s win the American League West, but Moss hit 21 homers, and the A’s are clearing space for the left-hander to get more at-bats.
Carter was expendable because Moss, who had a .291 average in addition to his 21 homers in 84 games last year, will be the regular. But Lowrie, a switch hitter, “could be a nice option” against left-handed pitching, Melvin said.
While Lowrie has minimal experience — 11 games — at first base, he is enough of an athlete that the A’s may give him a shot to back up Moss.
Lowrie said in a conference call that he is aware that Nakajima, a career .302 hitter in Japan with nine consecutive years of double-digit homers, has been installed as the starter. At the same time, Lowrie considers himself primarily a shortstop and implied he won’t let the position slip away easily.
“I feel most comfortable at shortstop,” said Lowrie, a former Stanford star. “I have played some second base in my career. I’m more comfortable (playing up the middle), but I have some experience at third base, too.”
Nakajima won’t be the only opponent Lowrie has to face this season. Health has long been a problem for Lowrie. He has yet to play as many as 100 games in any of his five big league seasons, the first four with Boston.
He had a thumb injury last March, then a sprained ankle in July that cost him two months. He was a .254 hitter with 14 homers before the ankle injury but hit just .200 with two homers afterward. The Giants’ Gregor Blanco spiked Lowrie on July 14 in San Francisco, and the resulting sprain limited Lowrie to 16 second-half games.
“I can’t control everything about the game,” Lowrie said. “When someone bounces into me when I’m not looking, there’s not a lot I can do. I’ve done my due diligence to prepare to play a full season. I think it shows how hard I work that none of my injuries have taken away from my production.”
A’s general manager Billy Beane said he first proposed a deal for Lowrie in August, but the deal only came together in the past few days, after the Astros said they had no plans to trade the shortstop, whose $2.4 million salary would have been the third-highest on their roster.
“Jed’s a guy we’ve had a lot of interest in going back to his Boston days,” Beane said. “The No. 1 thing about him is his versatility. He plays all four infield positions and he switch hits.
“Hiro is a natural shortstop and he’s most comfortable there, but Jed can play all over the place. There will be no shortage of opportunity for him here.”
In Rodriguez, the A’s are getting a hard-throwing right-handed reliever who was just 2-10 with a 5.37 ERA in 71 games out of the Houston bullpen last year. He has been walk-happy in his first two full seasons, but he also has been a strikeout machine with 136 in 1231/3 career innings.
“He has a real big arm,” Beane said. “His record and his ERA are a little misleading. He’s another guy to add to our bullpen depth. That was one of our strengths last year; it helped us get over the top.”
Peacock was considered a top prospect when he was acquired from Washington in the Gio Gonzalez trade. But he struggled at Triple-A Sacramento last season, posting a 6.01 ERA.