It’s no secret that second base has been a point of concern for the Red Sox this season. Sure, things have gotten better as of late and it appears bullpen upgrades will be a priority as the trade deadline approaches, but I think Boston needs to take a good long look at the options at second base too. One phone call I hope Dave Dombrowski makes is to Oakland to ask about Jed Lowrie.
Lowrie will be a free agent at the end of the year and is one of the most attractive trade chips the Athletics have. Dealing him now would give Oakland a chance to get something for him before he pursues what could be his final major-league payday this offseason depending on the length of the contract. Lowrie has been the most productive member of the A’s offense this season, heating up over the last month. Since June 15, he’s slashing .329/.415/.671 with seven home runs and 22 RBI over that 22-game stretch. His trade value couldn’t be higher for a team that, while on a legitimate hot streak, still appears to be on the outside looking in.
The Red Sox appear to be a legitimate contender through the first half of the season, but second base has been a big old question mark from the get go. Dustin Pedroia still seems a ways away from resuming baseball activities and Eduardo Nuñez has been frustrating to watch both at the plate and in the field. I love Brock Holt but I don’t think he’s reliable enough to be an everyday option and it appears Alex Cora agrees.
Lowrie is an obvious upgrade and an easy player to plug in elsewhere if a healthy Pedroia does end up reclaiming his spot in the middle infield at some point this season. Lowrie can also play shortstop and third base — which would allow Cora a chance to give Rafael Devers or Xander Bogaerts the occasional night off down the stretch without sacrificing production. In the worst-case scenario, Pedey never gets back to 100 percent and then trading for someone like Lowrie becomes more of a necessity than a luxury.
Lowrie is an exceptional short-term option and would be a good guy to have around if the Pedroia era is in fact over. Of course that means the Sox would have to re-sign him in the offseason but maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world. A switch hitter who was originally drafted by Boston in 2005, the 34-year-old is in the midst of a career year. He leads AL second basemen in extra-base hits with 42 and Fangraphs has him ranked in the top 20 in all of Major League Baseball in WAR at 3.3, while Nuñez is much closer to the bottom of that list at -0.4. Lowrie has tied a career high with 16 home runs and he’s also on pace for his first 100-RBI campaign, racking up 62 through 89 games. Nuñez is on the absolute opposite end of the spectrum as he’s heading for career lows in batting average (.256), on-base percentage (.286) and slugging percentage (.370).
What’s behind Lowrie’s resurgence? He credits an offseason focus on lower body strength for that, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. He thinks he simply swings the bat better now than he did two years ago.
“I look back at the success I’ve had in my career hitting, and the focus has always had to be on my legs, getting the most out of my legs as I can. I have to be very efficient with my swing. Starting from the ground up is the best way to say it,” Lowrie told the Chronicle in April. “Some guys are strong enough to manipulate their mechanics and get an ideal launch angle. I’m trying to maximize bat speed to maximize exit velocity.”
The Oregon native is making hard contact with 39.2% of the balls he puts in play according to Fangraphs, his best percentage since 2010. His strikeout percentage is also trending upward at 19.6% — up from 15.5% last season — but so is his BABIP at .327, which would be a career high. His win probability added has nearly doubled in one year, going from 1.54 to 2.97. Even if every fifth at-bat is a strikeout, it will still be more enjoyable than watching Nuñez play second base.
The question is: What do the Red Sox have to offer and who would Oakland want? Boston is not the only team that should be in the market for a second baseman at the deadline, which could raise the price tag for Lowrie. It’s unlikely he would attract an all-out bidding war, but the Red Sox may be short on the resources to get the deal done regardless, especially if the bullpen is in fact the priority. That said, Lowrie is still a rental so the price shouldn’t be overly exorbitant. I truly think the pieces are already in place for the bullpen here to be successful, but it feels like Boston is one good infielder away from winning a World Series. And Jed Lowrie is one good infielder.