Jed Lowrie, being a one-time hyped prospect for the Red Sox, is probably overrated, at least as far as his value-to-name recognition ratio, but he should be able to help the Oakland A's.
Billy Beane acquired the shortstop from the Houston Astros, along with pitcher Fernando Rodriguez, in exchange for Chris Carter and prospects Brad Peacock and Max Stassi. Oakland's depth chart at shortstop included Japanese import Hiroyuki Nakajima plus a collection of 4-A players in Andy Parrino, Eric Sogard and Adam Rosales.
Considering the failure of other Japanese shortstops to stick at the position in the majors -- Kaz Matsui and Tsuyoshi Nishioka -- Nakajima is a risky proposition, despite his reputation as a strong fielder (he has won the Gold Glove Award in Japan). Now the A's can hedge their bets: If Nishioka sticks at shortstop, Lowrie can play third base, where converted catcher Josh Donaldson is stretched defensively. Or Lowrie could play short, Nakajima can slide over to second if the bat plays (he hit .311/.382/.452 in Japan last season) and Scott Sizemore can battle Donaldson at third.
Lowrie's biggest issue has been staying healthy, so the A's will need all four infielders regardless of where he ends up. He's never played 100 games in a season in the majors, but has averaged 1.8 WAR over 500 plate appearances. Over his career, he's been about a league average hitter (98 wRC+), which works just fine for a middle infielder, making for a glove that is considered a little below average at shortstop. He was better than that last year with the Astros, putting up 2.1 WAR in just under 400 PAs, so the A's should be looking at a two-win player if he can stay on the field.
Rodriguez is your generic right-handed reliever with a decent arm but with command issues to make him a bottom-of-the-staff reliever at best.
I like the trade for the A's, but the deal makes sense for the Astros in that they pick up some inexpensive players with some interesting upside. Carter was an important part-timer for Oakland in 2012, finally getting regular at-bats in a platoon role against lefties and mashing to the tune of a .239/.350/.514 line, good for 137 wRC+. The Astros have nothing to lose in giving Carter 500 at-bats and see if he can hit right-handers. He's a threat to lead the league in strikeouts, but he also is a candidate to hit 30-plus home runs with his home games now at hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park.
Peacock was one of the key parts of the Gio Gonzalez trade last winter, after posting dominant numbers in Double-A for the Nationals. He had a shot to make the A's rotation in spring training but instead got sent down to Sacramento and never got called up, even as Oakland shuffled through multiple starters. A 6.01 ERA will do that, but he did strike out 139 in 134.2 innings. Maybe a move to the bullpen is needed.
Stassi was the A's fourth-round pick in 2009 out of a California high school and is regarded as one of the best defensive backstops in the minor leagues, although his bat lags behind (.261/.331/.468 in the California League).
Still, it's one of those deals that makes sense for both teams. The A's get infield depth and insurance for 2013 and the Astros pick up a potential 15 years of service time from Carter, Peacock and Stassi for an injury-prone veteran.