The Chicago White Sox filled a massive hole Wednesday. The club acquired third baseman Brett Lawrie from the Oakland Athletics for minor-league pitchers Zachary Erwin and J.B. Wendelken. Lawrie, 25, is coming off a season in which he hit .260/.299/.407 over 602 plate appearances with Oakland. Lawrie is under team control through the 2017 season. He made just under $2 million last season, but will likely receive a higher salary through arbitration.
While Lawrie has never lived up to expectations after hitting .293/.373/.580 in 171 plate appearances with the Toronto Blue Jays as a 21-year-old rookie, he’s a major upgrade over the White Sox current options at the position.
Chicago was slated to head into 2016 with some combination of Mike Olt and Matt Davidson vying for playing time. Lawrie may not have turned into the superstar hitter prospect analysts expected, but he’s better than anything the White Sox had. Over his career, Lawrie has a 102 wRC+, which means he’s been barely above average at the plate as a third baseman.
The move from Oakland to Chicago should help. O.Co Coliseum is notorious for being tough on hitters, particularly when it comes to power. U.S. Cellular Field is the is the complete opposite, a bandbox where the ball routinely flies out of the park.
Playing in Oakland does appear to have impacted Lawrie’s numbers at the plate. He hit just .247/.299/.385, with six home runs, at home last year. That improved to .272/.299/.429, with 10 home runs on the road. It’s unlikely Lawrie ever reaches the heights of his rookie season, but a modest improvement at the plate seems probable.
In his first full season as a professional, the 21-year-old Erwin posted a 1.34 ERA over three minor-league levels. He was the team’s fourth round pick of the 2015 draft. Wendelken, 22, put up a 3.20 ERA over two minor-league levels. He was able to reach Double-A last year, so he’s closer than Erwin.
Oakland’s offseason has been somewhat puzzling thus far. The team signed Rich Hill and Ryan Madson, both moves that signal maybe they want to contend. But they’ve also shipped off Jesse Chavez, Lawrie, Drew Pomeranz and Evan Scribner in separate deals.
While that’s not enough evidence to fully say Oakland is looking at 2016 as a rebuilding season, their two acquisitions in this particular deal were made with the future in mind.
After a disappointing year, the White Sox needed to find a way to make upgrades at multiple positions without spending too much money. While Lawrie isn’t a superstar, he accomplishes that. It might not be a move everyone is talking about in June, but it’s a definite upgrade for a team desperate for someone with talent at third.