Shortstop returns to Houston after two seasons with A's
By Brian McTaggart
After two years in Oakland, veteran shortstop Jed Lowrie is returning to the Astros.
Lowrie, who spent the 2012 season in Houston before being traded to the A's, has signed a three-year contract to play shortstop for the Astros with an option for '18. He will make $23 million over three the years (through '17) and could make $28 million with an option for '18.
"I can't explain how excited I am to be back," Lowrie said."I feel like I left with maybe a little unfinished business. I'm happy to be back and I think it's an exciting time to be an Astro."
Lowrie lives in Houston in the offseason, and he had an opportunity to meet recently with manager A.J. Hinch -- a fellow Stanford product -- to talk philosophy and approach to the game a few weeks ago.
"That really helped me see where the future and the direction is for this organization, and I think it's an exciting time to be an Astro," Lowrie said. "I think there's a lot of good, young talent, and I think they're trying to get a mix of veteran players. Everybody is going in the right direction."
The signing is the third by the Astros in the past week. They added relievers Pat Neshek (two years, $12.5 million with an option) and Luke Gregerson (three years, $18.5 million) last week, and signing Lowrie upgrades them offensively on the infield, where only batting champion Jose Altuve had a productive season at the plate while playing second base.
"He was a clubhouse leader and a leader on the field," general manager Jeff Luhnow said of Lowrie. "He's comfortable here and been a very productive Major League player, and with a young team he helps us shore up one of our greatest weaknesses and that was production on the infield.
"Altuve had a tremendous year, but beyond Altuve, our infield production offensively is probably the lowest in the American League, if not all of baseball."
Last season, the Astros used a mix of Jonathan Villar, Marwin Gonzalez and Gregorio Petit at shortstop while awaiting top prospect Carlos Correa, who broke his right leg midseason just prior to getting promoted to Double-A. Correa, a former No. 1 overall pick, is still the future, but Luhnow said the Astros needed to upgrade shortstop for 2015.
"We're excited to have him back here," Luhnow said. "He was a great member of our community and our team for the year he was here. We identified one of our priorities this offseason to improve our infield, and Jed was one of the premier free agents out there.
"Jed's been a shortstop ever since he got to the big leagues and he did a nice job for us a couple years ago. It is a leadership position for our team."
Astros shortstops hit a combined .258 with 14 homers, 54 RBIs and a .302 on-base percentage last season, but Lowrie should be an upgrade offensively and defensively.
"The reality of it is this is a player who will help us immediately," Luhnow said. "Carlos will get here as soon as he's ready, and he's going to have to prove himself when he gets here. You have to plan for today, and that's what we're doing with this move."
Lowrie, 30, began his career in Boston and was traded to the Astros prior to the 2012 season, so this is the second time Luhnow has acquired him. He hit .244 with a career-high 16 homers and 42 RBIs and had a .331 on-base percentage for the Astros in '12, playing in just 97 games because of injuries.
Lowrie was dealt to Oakland on Feb. 4, 2013, along with right-handed pitcher Fernando Rodriquez in exchange for current Astros right-handed pitcher Brad Peacock, outfielder Chris Carter and catcher Max Stassi. He proved more durable in Oakland, hitting .290 with 15 homers and 75 RBIs in 154 games in '13. Lowrie batted .249 last season with six homers and 50 RBIs.
Lowrie had a highly publicized run-in with former Astros manager Bo Porter last season when Porter took offense to Lowrie's decision to bunt in his second at-bat of the first inning with Oakland leading, 7-0. Paul Clemens, who's no longer with the Astros, nearly hit him with a pitch in his next at-bat, and Porter later came out and shouted at Lowrie.
He'll undoubtedly have a stronger relationship with Hinch.
"I just love his preparedness, the way he sees the game, his expectations of himself and how he prepares," Hinch said. "He brings sort of a quiet intensity to the field every day with a preparedness to win. That was very apparent talking to him. I think he will be a good addition."
"I'm excited to see what A.J. has in store for us in Spring Training and moving forward, because I think based on our conversations, he has a real good direction of where this team needs to go," Lowrie said.
Luhnow said the team would like to add someone who could play first and third. Astros first basemen hit a combined .168 last season, with 19 homers and 62 RBIs, with rookie Jon Singleton struggling in his debut. With Matt Dominguez getting most of the at-bats, Astros third basemen hit .212 with a .255 on-base percentage with 16 homers, 57 RBIs last season.
"We know we have Lowrie and Altuve up the middle and that's going to be productive offensively and defensively and takes some pressure off the other guys," Luhnow said. "I think Matt's going to have a bounce-back year and go back to the production he had [in 2013]."
The Astros are still in the market for starting pitching, which could be added through free agency or a trade. The club will announce a move on Tuesday to open space for Lowrie on the 40-man roster.