On Thursday, the Mets signed infielder Jed Lowrie to a two-year, $20 million deal. The 34-year-old former top prospect has lost a lot of his former shine over the years thanks to an unfortunate habit of accumulating freak injuries. But he has been finally healthy over the past two seasons and turned out the two best seasons of his career. The switch-hitting utility infielder hit .272/.356/.448 with 37 home runs over those two seasons and posted wRC+ of 119 and 122.
Lowrie’s long road to the Mets started at Stanford, something he shares in common with his new general manager, Brodie Van Wagenen. While the two didn’t overlap at Stanford—Van Wagenen is about 10 years older—they did elsewhere: Van Wagenen was Lowrie’s agent at CAA. He’ll join a long list of Mets currently represented by CAA, including Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Todd Frazier, Jason Vargas and well, Tim Tebow.
After three seasons at Stanford he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the supplemental first round in 2005 as the 45th overall pick. He spent three seasons in the minors, posting strong numbers at every level. In 2007, after posting a .300/.356/.506 line at Triple-A Pawtucket, he was a member of the Eastern League All-Star team and the Red Sox Minor League Offensive Player of the Year.
He made his major-league debut in 2008 at the age of 24 on April 15. He was sent back down in May but came back up for good in the middle of July. He played 81 games in his first season, hitting .258/.339/.400 with 25 doubles, three triples and two home runs, good for a 92 wRC+. He also played regularly in the postseason, but had just six hits over the nine games he played before the Red Sox were bounced out by the Rays.
Lowrie started off his 2009 season by picking up a piece of pseudo-Citi Field history: in the second game of a two-game exhibition series against the Mets at the brand-new field, Lowrie took Oliver Perez deep for a grand slam in the first inning, technically the first home run by a major leaguer at Citi Field.
However, 2009 was also the start of Lowrie’s long struggles with fluke injuries. After dealing with a wrist injury starting pretty much right after he got called up and through the entire 2008 season, he ended up needing surgery on it early in 2009 and didn’t come back until July 18. The rest of that season was a wash, as he played in just 27 more games and hit just .180/.232/.340.
2010 would be his season then, surely. He would have a full offseason to rehab his wrist and was still just 26 years old. Well, that season started with him getting mononucleosis, of all things. He didn’t return to the majors until July 21 that season. He did manage to scrape out a pretty good season in just 55 games, hitting .287/.381/.526 and posting a 2.0 fWAR.
After a so-so 2011 where he played a then career-high 88 games (he spent time on the DL with a shoulder injury after a collision), he was subject to his first of three career trades, to the Astros along with Kyle Weiland for reliever Mark Melancon.
He bumped his games played up to 97 that season and posted a wRC+ of 110, but still landed on the DL twice, first with a sprained thumb suffered during spring training that delayed his Astros debut by about a week and then a sprained ankle in July that kept him out until the middle of September.
His first time being traded from the Astros to the Athletics, he was packaged with Fernando Rodriguez for Chris Carter, Brad Peacock and Max Stassi.
Maybe it was the Bay air, the spacious confines or some black magic coming as a result as sharing a field with a football team, but Lowrie finally had a fully healthy season in 2013. He played 154 games, hitting .290/.344/.446 with a 120 wRC+, then a career-high.
While he played 136 games in 2014, he also struggled with another fluke injury. Namely, he thought he bruised a finger while fielding a ground ball on August 4. But after getting an MRI, he found out he had actually fractured the finger. He finished the season and actually still played rather well, all things considered, still hitting .249/.321/.355 after suffering the injury.
Lowrie returned to the Astros as a free agent for the 2015 season, but missed most of the season after tearing a ligament in his thumb in a collision at the plate.
Before the 2016 season, he was traded back to Oakland from Houston for the second time, this time for pitcher Brendan McCurry. His 2016 in the Coliseum was not as healthy as the first. After spending two weeks on the DL with a shin injury in May, he landed on the DL again with what was described as a bunion on his left foot. While that is already sufficiently gross, it was actually worse. I’ll let Eno Sarris explain it so I don’t have to, from an article from 2017 that we’ll come back to shortly:
In 2016, he got a bunion. No, no, not a bunion, that’s what he thought it was when he showed me that red, enlarged nastiness late last year. After surgery, it turned out it was something worse, and it had been responsible for change at the plate. “I had a torn capsule in my foot,” Lowrie said before a game last week. “The swing I’m taking right now from the left side, I physically couldn’t take that last year.”
That brings us up to Lowrie’s last two seasons in Oakland, which I covered at the start of this article. But the other secret to his new longevity? Referring back to that same article from Sarris, he received septum surgery after dealing with a deviated septum that disrupted his sleeping for he says three or four years. As per usual it was caused by a freak injury: he was hit by a bad throw during a camp he was running four years prior. “I would sleep eight nine hours a night and wake up feeling like I got hit by a car,” he told Sarris.
Jed Lowrie, career WAR/yr average: 1.8— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) January 10, 2019
(makes the deal fine)
Jed Lowrie, WAR/yr since septum surgery: 4.3
There are risks in signing a 34-year-old coming off the best season of his career—he was named to his first-ever All-Star team in 2018. There are risks in signing an injury-prone player—though, as Lowrie argued in another article written by Sarris, back in 2013, most of his injuries are freak accidents, not wear-and-tear injuries like hamstring pulls or the ilk—especially to the seemingly-cursed Mets. There are risks with taking Lowrie away from the only place he has ever had healthy seasons in Oakland. But there is still a lot to like about Lowrie, if he is able to stay healthy.
He’s a switch-hitter with relatively even splits from both sides of the plate. When it comes to injuries, if he avoids the freak ones, he doesn’t have as much wear-and-tear as your usual 34-year-old. And, to go back to the Sarris well again, he has that oft-desired “veteran presence” (an Athletic article). He can play at least second and third and probably first (but probably not short; he hasn’t played more than 17 games there since 2014 and not at all since two games in 2016).
And hey, at least he isn’t Jose Reyes.