Shortstop Jed Lowrie returns to Houston

HOUSTON (AP) One of the Houston Astros' top priorities this offseason was to improve their infield, and the return of shortstop Jed Lowrie does just that.

Lowrie played for the Astros in 2012 before he was traded to Oakland and spent two seasons with the Athletics. He rejoined the Astros on Monday when he agreed to a $23 million, three-year contract.

''We wanted to improve our infield particularly the output of our infield offensively,'' general manager Jeff Luhnow said on Tuesday when Lowrie was re-introduced in Houston.

Jonathan Villar started 78 games at shortstop for Houston last season and hit just .209 with 18 errors. Marwin Gonzalez also saw time at the position, starting 64 games and batting .277.

Lowrie said he felt he had some unfinished business with the Astros. He added he was excited to be part of a team that's been boosted by talented prospects who have reached the majors.

''There's this influx of young talent that is coming through and there's a willingness to add those veteran guys as well,'' Lowrie said.

The switch-hitter batted .249 with six homers and 50 RBIs last season. His best season came in 2013 when he played a career-high 154 games and hit .290 with 75 RBIs - both career bests.

The 30-year-old had a big season for Houston in 2012 and finished with a career-high 16 homers in 97 games. He had a .980 fielding percentage that season to lead all shortstops in the National League. He's a career .261 hitter with 56 homers and 284 RBIs in seven seasons.

The Astros targeted Lowrie and aggressively pursued him, helping him move past the fact that Luhnow had traded him two years earlier.

''It was one of the contributing factors to making the decision,'' Lowrie said of Houston's bid to sign him. ''Being wanted and knowing where you stand with the organization is a good feeling.''

The Astros hope that Lowrie can help mentor some of the young players that fill the roster. Lowrie said his leadership skills were shaped by the four seasons he spent with the Boston Red Sox to start his major league career. That taught him that it's more important to lead by example than to tell players what they should and shouldn't do.

''I learned a lot from those guys watching them and how they prepared for the game,'' he said. ''That's one of the best ways for guys to learn. I've never thought that it was appropriate to impose your will on a younger player.''

Luhnow saw Lowrie's leadership skills the first time he was with the team. He said in exit interviews at the end of the 2012 he asked each player to name which players they saw as good leaders.

''Almost everybody said Jed was a leader,'' Luhnow said. ''I know he has the leadership capability inside of him.''

New manager A.J. Hinch, who went to Stanford - as did Lowrie - was enthused to add another player from his alma mater. Catcher Jason Castro and 2013 top overall pick Mark Appel also graduated from the college.

''But I would have wanted Jed no matter what school he came from,'' Hinch said with a smile.

Hinch said it was way too soon to envision where he'll bat Lowrie, but likes that he can fit in ''a lot of different areas.''

''To me there's a lot of comfort in knowing Jed's here,'' Hinch said. ''His preparedness stands out to me representing what we're about moving forward.''

Houston designated infielder Gregorio Petit for assignment to make room for Lowrie on the roster.

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