Last week, the White Sox made a surprising move in releasing infielder Brett Lawrie. According to the team, they are opting for future options over Lawrie, which will eventually include Yoan Moncada. By making the move now, Chicago was able to save a little cash since arbitration-eligible players’ salaries aren’t fully guaranteed until Opening Day. It’s the same rule people talk about when they suggest releasing Fernando Abad, but that’s a different discussion for a different day. Today, I want to focus on Lawrie himself and whether or not the 27-year-old fits well with the Red Sox roster?
First, a little background. If you remember correctly, Lawrie had a fair amount of hype around him in his younger days. As a Canadian high schooler he was drafted 16th overall by the Brewers in 2008. He made a name for himself after being selected in that draft, too, as he was a three-time top-100 prospect for both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. His peak on those rankings came prior to the 2011 season when he was the number 41 prospect on Baseball America’s list.
Lawrie’s never quite panned out in the majors, however, as he’s played parts of six seasons and has been just a league-average bat. If you remember correctly, he was among the big pieces Billy Beane and the A’s dealt for when they sent Josh Donaldson to Toronto, which put even higher expectations on the infielder that he’s never been able to live up to. Still, when you squint, you can see a useful player here, even if he’ll never live up to the expectations we once had.
Of course, it all starts with the bat. Oddly enough, he’s never really had that disastrous season at the plate you would expect from a player most would consider a bust and who was just released prior to his age-27 season. Instead, Lawrie has consistently put up wRC+’s in the 90’s, with his two best seasons also being the ones in which he played the fewest games.
There’s not really one part of his game that stands out in a good way or a bad way. His power is merely fine, with a career Isolated Power of .158 that essentially matches the league-average from a year ago. He’s been able to maintain a solid batting average on balls in play over the last few years, mostly due to his lack of fly balls and his solid base running skills. He’s never really walked much, but did carry a career-high 7.8 percent rate in 2016, which could be a good sign. Of course, he’s also been striking out much more over the last two seasons, a trend that culminated in a 28.4 percent rate. That was also backed up by a swinging strike rate that put him in the top 13 percent of the league.
So, there’s a little bit of good there with a little bit more bad, which makes sense for a player who has settled in as a slightly-below-average bat. The good news is that if he can somehow keep 2016’s walk rate while cutting his strikeout rate by 5-10 percentage points (admittedly a big ask), Lawrie could very well get back to at least league-average at the plate.
On the defensive side of things, the infielder brings a little versatility to the table. He’s played both second base and third base over his career, with the latter being his better position. In fact, by the metrics he was a plus defensive third baseman early in his career, although they’ve soured on him since that point. Still, he’s more than passable there. He’s a little shakier at the keystone, but if he needs to play there in a pinch he’s more than capable.
Overall, he’s just a little below average in about every facet of the game. That doesn’t sound too exciting, but he fits a role the Red Sox could very well use. Specifically, that is as a right-handed infielder to come off the bench. In other words, the Josh Rutledge role. Lawrie is a better version of Rutledge who represents a significant upgrade in terms of upside. Even better, Lawrie has a proven ability to perform against left-handed pitching, which is obviously a weakness of Sandoval’s. The former Brewers and Blue Jays prospect has a career 106 wRC+ against southpaws and put up a mark of 110 a year ago. That he can also play second for the days in which Dustin Pedroia needs a day off is just an added benefit.
It’s not quite that simple, though. For as much talent as Lawrie showed in the minors and as much as his mediocrity might actually fit with the Red Sox on the field, there’s how his personality meshes off the field. Throughout his career, there have been whispers (sometimes louder than whispers) of Lawrie’s attitude being disruptive in the clubhouse. To be fair, there have been others who have come out and said he was a good teammate, but the former has outweighed the latter. Either way, it’s something the Red Sox would have to consider when deciding whether or not to extend him an offer. It’s hard to say from the outside, but with Pedroia as a strong clubhouse leader, I would lean towards being willing to take that chance.
There is also the matter of health. Lawrie hasn’t exactly been a portrait of durability over his career, and appeared in only 94 games in 2016. Last year, it was leg injuries that ailed him. He’s had recurring leg soreness this spring, which has prevented him from playing in early games. Obviously, that’s not a great sign.
As of this writing, the Red Sox haven’t shown any interest in Lawrie. It’s not totally surprising, as they seem to like Rutledge a whole lot more than I do and it’s unclear how big of a contract Lawrie will be seeking. The Red Sox would like to keep a little wiggle room in the budget, if possible. However, if he’s willing to sign cheap — and he should be, as someone with an injury history who was just cut in spring training -- I think it’d be worth it for the Red Sox. It’s not something I’ll be too upset about if/when it doesn’t happen, but there’s enough of a fit to take a chance. If it doesn’t work out, whether due to performance and/or health, they still have Marco Hernandez waiting in the wings.