Al Avila's first offseason as the Detroit Tigers' general manager has been anything but uneventful, to say the least. He has already made several moves to shore up the team's roster, and the MLB Winter Meetings are just now starting on Monday morning. With additions already made in the outfield, at catcher, and to the pitching staff, one would understand if Avila took a back seat to the proceedings this week.
In the early hours of Monday morning, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Tigers were one of several teams interested in Oakland Athletics third baseman Brett Lawrie. ESPN's Buster Olney followed up by tweeting that the A's are "devoted to the idea of trading Lawrie."
Most people assumed that the Tigers would not tinker with their infield, which already contains four players under club control for multiple seasons. Adding Lawrie would put someone out of a job, but whether that's the underperforming Nick Castellanos or the potentially trade-able Ian Kinsler remains to be seen.
Who is he?
You may remember Lawrie as one of the players the A's received in last season's blockbuster trade that sent eventual AL MVP Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays. Prior to that, Lawrie was a former 1st round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008. He was traded to Toronto in 2010 for righthander Shaun Marcum. The following season, Lawrie set the hype-meter to 11 with an excellent major league debut, hitting .293/.373/.580 in 171 plate appearances. He was worth 2.6 fWAR in 43 games, still his highest single-season WAR total of his career. After three more injury-plagued seasons, Lawrie was shipped to Oakland, where he posted a .706 OPS in a career-high 149 games played.
Why should we care?
Although he has already been around for five years, Lawrie is still only 25 years old. His offensive numbers have been slightly underwhelming, but he is just now entering the prime seasons of his career, and has shown flashes of an above average offensive profile. He hits for a decent amount of power, which is needed to offset a low walk rate. Lawrie's career ISO is .157, and he posted a .174 ISO in 2014.
Lawrie's glove is also versatile, though advanced metrics are still unsure of how good it is. He has played both second and third base in his career, though is a natural third baseman. He has been worth +35 defensive runs saved in over 3600 innings at third, but cost his team three runs in 2015. At second base, the numbers are not so kind, but in a very small sample of 604 innings. Lawrie would be a massive downgrade from Kinsler were he to take over as the primary second baseman, but his league average glove at third is far better than what Castellanos has shown in his young career.
Why should we stay away?
While Lawrie is a better defender, his offensive profile is rather similar to Castellanos'. He drew walks in just 4.7 percent of plate appearances last season, resulting in a .299 on-base percentage. Lawrie's strikeout rate has also been climbing over the past few seasons, topping out at 23.9 percent in 2015, by far the highest of his career. He has been a below average hitter in three of his five seasons, and is not coming into 2016 on the upswing like Castellanos is.
Lawrie won't cost much in terms of dollars -- MLB Trade Rumors projects that he will make $3.9 million in 2016 -- but trading for him probably won't be cheap. The A's are reportedly asking for young pitching in return, something the Tigers have been reluctant to part with so far this offseason. Lawrie has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining before he reaches free agency following the 2017 season.
Will he end up in Detroit?
Given how redundant Lawrie is with the current roster, this rumor is a bit of a mystery. He is a better defender than Nick Castellanos, but his offensive numbers are close enough that the potential cost in prospects probably outweighs any additional defensive value he brings to the table. Plus, Lawrie is only under club control for two more years, while both Castellanos and Kinsler could be in Tigers uniforms through 2018 or beyond.