A Little Lowrie and a Lotta Carter

I know that CurveBall City is where all of you go for breaking, up-to-the-minute baseball news, so I feel a little guilty that I’m only just now getting to a commentary on Oakland’s trade for Jed Lowrie from like a million years ago.  It’s obvious that keeping this site and its literally tens[1] of readers up-to-date on all the latest A’s news is my highest priority, but this one required just a bit more processing time than usual.

Am I crying right now? Maybe.

The trade that brought Jed Lowrie to Oakland wasn’t Oakland’s standard “Billy Trades All Our All-Stars for Magic Beans” kind of trade, and nor was it the “Billy Trades Two 14 Year-Olds and a Handful of Rickey Henderson Rookie Cards for an Underappreciated Journeyman” trade that has become so fashionable this offseason (see Jaso, John and Young, Chris).  This was a value-for-value trade – one in which we got something good, but had to endure a little pain to get it.  And unlike most trades of late, I’m not so sure we came out ahead on this one.

But that may just be the emotions talking.  On the off chance that you’re not already familiar with the terms of this deal, Oakland dealt Chris Carter, Brad Peacock and Max Stassi to Houston for Jed Lowrie and relief pitcher Fernando Rodriguez.  While Peacock and Stassi may come back to haunt us one of these days, they were also representative of two positions of organizational strength – pitcher and catcher.  It is entirely possible that both Peacock and Stassi will become viable starters for Houston or wherever they end up, but it’s unlikely that either will become a star, and whoever now occupies their spot on the Oakland depth chart will likely be as good or better.  Chris Carter is something of a different story.

Or is he?  Out of basically nowhere, the first base/DH spot that Chris Carter occupied last season has become an organizational strength in Oakland.  Brandon Moss, Seth Smith, Jed Lowrie, Daric Barton, John Jaso and even Shane Peterson[2] are capable of filling that spot, and while I don’t personally believe that any of the aforementioned have the offensive ceiling that Carter has, all of them stand head and shoulders above Carter in two vital regards: defense and versatility.

All of Carter’s potential replacements (and in Moss’s case, actual replacement) have at least a passable glove at first, whereas Carter fields first base as though a large ocean liner is careening out of control right toward him.  As Baseball Reference sees it, all of Carter’s offensive awesomeness yielded Oakland less than 1 WAR last season, primarily because of that atrocious defense (his apparently carrying several large pianos in his pockets while running the bases didn’t help either).

So the best use of Carter would have been to stash him at DH, but guess what?  DH is not a specialty position.  It turns out that literally every non-pitcher baseball player alive has what it takes to stick at DH – the difference is that most of them can play a little at some other position as well.  All of Carter’s potential replacements can play at least one other position – between them they can cover first, catcher and both corner outfield spots at least somewhat capably, whereas Carter plays the outfield as though that same ocean liner is still heading for him, only now it’s firing missiles in his general direction.  When given the choice between a DH that you can rotate around to other positions when circumstances dictate versus a DH whose glove is set on fire when he leaves Spring Training, it’s no surprise that the A’s made the choice they did.  The A’s would only have stuck with Carter under those circumstances if his offense was so far superior to every potential replacement that it outweighed his positional immobility, and I just don’t think it did.

But I so wanted it to!  Ever since he came to the organization in the 2007 Dan Haren trade, I’ve been hearing tales about Chris Carter the Monster, Chris Carter the Destroyer, Chris Carter the Offensive Juggernaut Who Would Swat 40 Homeruns Before Breakfast Without Breaking a Sweat and Then Another 20 Before Returning Home for a Light Nap.  Chris Carter was the salve for the offensive embarrassment I watched for five straight years, and the hope that the Promised Land had not permanently relocated from Oakland after all.

And that’s why I wasn’t especially bothered when he disappointed during his cups of Sanka in 2010 and 2011 – there was no doubt that he would be great.  It was just a matter of time.

And it was!  Chris Carter the Horseman of the Apocalypse finally arrived in 2012, and it was glorious.  I was all set to put his name on the back of my still-blank gold jersey and cheer his 500-foot homeruns for the next 15 years minimum.  His largely fulfilling a platoon role and his slow petering-off toward the end of the season didn’t deter me – Chris Carter was everything I dreamed he would be.

Okay, I’m definitely crying now.

And that’s why the trade for Lowrie disappoints me, even after everything I’ve written above as to why the trade makes sense.  I had intended this piece to be a full-on analysis about why Jed Lowrie will be good for the team and why the A’s won’t particularly miss Carter, even while opining that the team should have gotten a better return on the trade, and instead it turned into a paean to youthful hope confronting harsh reality.  Sorry ‘bout that, everyone who comes to CurveBall City for cold and calculating baseball analysis.

Here’s the thing – I do think this trade makes the A’s better in 2013, and I don’t even think the trade makes us particularly worse for the future.  But accepting that still means an official end for the five-year period in which Chris Carter was my official Hope for a Better Future.  The Better Future finally arrived last season in Oakland, and while Carter was a piece of it, he wasn’t an essential one.  This trade drives that home, and for some reason that makes no sense when evaluating people I’ve never met do things I’ll never do, that makes me a little sad.

And I’ll be thinking about it when Carter has a monster season this year in Houston (and trust me – as a full-time DH, playing in Texas and in that ballpark, Carter is going to have a monster season).  I won’t be regretting the lost firepower he’ll be bringing to the Astros – if anything, he’s a lock to have that Carlos Gonzalez-type amazing offensive season that he would never have had if he were still playing half his games in the Oakland Coliseum.  Instead, I’ll be thinking about the Chris Carter that played in my mind from 2007 through the first half of 2012 – the triumphant, impossibly-dominant Conquering Hero set to make all my baseball-related troubles go away – and how that guy is gone.

Addison Russell, you’re up.

[1] Actual readership may be less than ten.


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