The Houston Astros got down to business with new American League West Division foes Oakland Athletics on Monday afternoon, putting the finishing touches on a five-player deal that looks to help both teams entering the new campaign.
The Astros acquired first baseman Chris Carter, A's No. 3 prospect Brad Peacock and catching prospect Max Stassi in exchange for oft-injured shortstop Jed Lowrie and reliever Fernando Rodriguez.
In Peacock, the Astros get a 25-year-old right-hander who shone in the Nationals system in 2011, but struggled following a trade to the A's prior to the 2012 campaign.
Peacock, moved to Oakland as part of the deal that sent Gio Gonzalez to Washington in December, entered the 2012 ranked No. 75 in MLB.com's Top 100 prospects after going 15-3 with a 2.39 ERA across two levels.
But after making his big league debut with the Nats -- and going 2-0 with a 0.75 mark in three appearances -- Peacock was unable to replicate his breakout year following the move to the West Coast. The Florida native, originally selected in the 41st round of the 2006 Draft, went 12-9 in 28 Triple-A outings with Sacramento, posting a career-worst 6.01 ERA.
Carter, meanwhile, gives the Astros extra depth at first base and offers a second option at designated hitter. The 26-year-old slugger has seen time in the Majors with the A's in each of the past three seasons, although 2012 represented the first time he proved the power numbers he displayed in the Minors could translate to big league success.
Originally selected in 2005, Carter's bat helped him advance to the Pacific Coast League by 2009. Carter led all Class A hitters with 39 homers and 104 RBIs for Advanced Stockton in '08, and he followed his big year up with a 28-homer, 115-RBI campaign in 2009 and a 31-homer, 94-RBI season in 2010.
Carter accumulated 114 at-bats in 39 Major League games between 2010 and '11, but he was unable to stick with Oakland, in part because of a .167 batting average and a .226 OBP.
Carter returned to the PCL to start 2012, but he earned a promotion in June and held on to his job at first base for the remainder of the season. In 67 games with the A's, Carter batted .239 with 16 homers and 39 RBIs.
The third player sent to Houston was backstop prospect Stassi. The catcher is the least experienced of the three players, but at age 22, he presents possibly both the biggest upside and greatest risk.
A fourth-round pick in the 2009 Draft, Stassi -- ranked No. 18 in Oakland's Top 20 Prospects at the end of 2012 -- offers solid production and power numbers with the added bonus of strong defensive abilities behind the plate.
Stassi repeated the hitter-friendly California League in 2012 after he logged just 121 at-bats and 31 games mainly as a DH the previous year before succumbing to season-ending shoulder surgery. The stocky California native batted .268 with 15 homers and 45 RBIs in 84 games in his return to the Ports before missing the final month of the season with a strained oblique.
"This trade gives us power, pitching and catching," Houston GM Jeff Luhnow told MLB.com. "Three valuable commodities that will help improve our organization."
In return, Oakland got two pieces who could fit into their immediate plans.
Lowrie gives the A's a Major League-ready shortstop and utility infielder, while Rodriguez provides bullpen depth.
The 28-year-old Lowrie has more than 1,300 big league at-bats under his belt in his five-year spell with Boston and Houston. A sandwich pick in the 2005 Draft, Lowrie hit a career-best 16 homers in 97 games with the Astros in 2012, and he is likely to be a key contender for an Opening Day gig when he reports for Spring Training later this month.
Plagued with wrist, shoulder, oblique and -- most recently -- ankle injuries throughout his career, however, Lowrie has not accumulated more than 346 at-bats in a full season (between the Majors and the Minors) since 2008.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, is a former starter-turned-reliever looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2012 season.
The 6-foot-3 right-hander went 2-10 with a 5.27 ERA in 71 outings out of the Astros bullpen last year. In 119 Major League games, Rodriguez has a career 4-13 record and a 4.89 ERA. He has recorded 136 strikeouts over 123 1/3 innings in his three big league seasons between the Angels and Astros.
"Our roster is very interchangeable," Oakland GM Billy Beane told MLB.com. "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."