Billy Beane

As part of a five-player deal finalized Monday, first baseman Chris Carter (22) along with two minor league players from the Oakland Athletics’ minor league system were traded to the Houston Astros for infielder Jed Lowrie and right-handed pitcher Fernando Rodriguez. The Athletics and Astros will play each other in the AL West following the Astros’ move from the NL Central in 

Photo Credit: John Smith | Daily Texan Staff

OAKLAND, Calif.  — The Oakland Athletics acquired infielder Jed Lowrie and right-hander Fernando Rodriguez from the Houston Astros for first baseman Chris Carter and two minor leaguers on Monday.

Right-hander Brad Peacock and catcher Max Stassi also went to Houston in the deal between franchises that will be playing in the same division for the first time following the Astros’ move from the NL Central to the AL West in 2013.

Lowrie batted .244 with 16 homers and 42 RBIs in 97 games with Houston, missing two months with ankle and thumb injuries. Despite the limited playing time, Lowrie tied for the fourth most homers among all shortstops last year.

Oakland general manager Billy Beane said he has had interest in Lowrie for years and was glad to be able to get the chance to add him to the roster.

“He always had good power for a guy in the middle of the infield,” Beane said. “It’s just hard to find that kind of power from a guy who can play the middle of the infield and doing it as a switch-hitter.”

Lowrie played exclusively at shortstop last season but previously played first, second and third base as well during his four years with the Boston Red Sox. The A’s had previously signed Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima to a $6.5 million, two-year contract.

Nakajima starts off as the shortstop but Beane said there will be plenty of chances for Lowrie to play all over the infield.

“I feel most comfortable at shortstop,” Lowrie said. “But I’ve played some second base in my career as well. I’m certainly more comfortable up the middle than anywhere else on the diamond. But I’ve had some experience at third base.”

Lowrie, who played his college ball at nearby Stanford, agreed to a $2.4 million salary to avoid arbitration. The Astros are likely to have the lowest payroll in the majors in 2013.

The move sends Lowrie from a rebuilding franchise that had a major league-worst 107 losses last season to a young club coming off a surprising division title in 2012 and one with high hopes for this season.

“Considering everyone had pegged either the Rangers or Angels to win it, it was a great story to watch from a distance,” Lowrie said. “It’s a group of young guys that obviously knows how to win. Hopefully, we’ll just continue to get better.”

Rodriguez went 2-10 with a 5.37 ERA in 71 relief appearances last year. He struck out 78 batters in 70 1-3 innings. Despite the poor record and high ERA, Beane sees plenty to like from the hard-throwing Rodriguez.

“He’s got a real big arm,” Beane said. “His record, his ERA are probably a little bit misleading. He’s another guy to add to our bullpen depth, which was one of our strengths last year. We felt like we were giving them a pretty good package. This addition helped us get over the finish line.”

Carter batted .239 with 16 homers and 39 RBIs in 67 games with Oakland last year, platooning at first base with left-handed hitting Brandon Moss. He provides needed power for the Astros and could thrive at hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park.

Beane said it was difficult to part with a player like Carter who twice won the award as the organization’s top minor leaguer, but he saw little opportunity for Carter to get substantial at-bats with four regular outfielders who would rotate at designated hitter and Brandon Moss likely getting most of the first base at-bats against right-handed pitching.

Lowrie provided much more immediate help.

“Given where this club finished last year and that we have the chance to compete this year we wanted to do whatever we could to help us out right now,” Beane said.

Peacock was acquired by Oakland from Washington in the deal that sent Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals following the 2011 season. After going 15-3 with a 2.39 ERA in the minors in his final year in the Nationals system, Peacock was 12-9 with a 6.01 ERA at Triple-A Sacramento last season. He was ranked as Oakland’s top pitching prospect for 2013 by Baseball America.

The 21-year-old Stassi batted .268 with 15 homers and 45 RBIs in 84 games at Class A Stockton in 2012 and was considered Oakland’s top catching prospect.

“This trade gives us power, pitching and catching,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said in a statement. “Three valuable commodities that will help improve our organization.”

(Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

“Moneyball” isn’t director Bennett Miller’s first foray into fact-based drama — Bennett’s last film was Oscar winner “Capote” back in 2005. While “Capote” managed to tell a compelling story and featured an all-time great performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Moneyball” suffers from its true-to-life basis, dwelling on the facts of Billy Beane’s attempt to revolutionize baseball too much to tell an entertaining story.

Brad Pitt stars as Beane, a failed professional baseball player turned general manager for the Oakland A’s. As his star players keep getting yanked from under him because of the A’s disadvantaged financial situation, Beane turns to a theory pioneered by Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), which uses statistics to construct a hypothetical “perfect team,” much to the chagrin of other A’s officials, especially field manager Art (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
 
Pitt has been getting some considerable Oscar buzz for his portrayal of Beane, and the attention isn’t totally unwarranted. Pitt brings a tremendous nervous energy to Beane’s mannerisms that makes him undeniably fun to watch. While letting Hill and Pitt bounce off each other for extended periods of time may not sound like the best idea on paper, the two have a certain chemistry that makes for some very big laughs and their scenes are among the film’s highlights.

Unfortunately, almost everything else about the film is simply different levels of underwhelming. Many of the supporting characters are underused, especially Hoffman’s manager, who seems to exist solely to make Billy throw things and Chris Pratt as a down-on-his-luck player given a second chance. Hoffman and Pratt are both strong actors, but the script never gives them anything to do and as such, they never get a chance to impress in any significant manner.
 
The rest of the film requires a more-than-cursory knowledge of baseball, since the narrative of “Moneyball” strongly relies on lots and lots of facts related to the game, all of them presented with little to no context. This makes for a somewhat confusing experience for anyone without a relatively thorough knowledge of the game and a frustrating one when we see Beane’s strategy failing with little explanation. There’s no doubt that screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian know how to tell a better story than this and their dialogue never dips below serviceable, but the script is all facts and no flavor.
 
Everyone involved in “Moneyball” obviously tries to form a shapeless mass of baseball-related factoids into a compelling story and even succeeds in a few scenes. When the film actually cuts to the baseball field, both in moments of triumph and defeat, things become legitimately compelling, but these moments are few and far between — brief signs of life in what’s mostly a bland regurgitation of baseball statistics. While Pitt and Hill do their best to keep the film interesting, “Moneyball” ultimately isn’t up to the challenge of making its story relatable.

Printed on Friday, September 23, 2011 as: "Technicalities ruin potential of star-studded baseball film."