Braves, Lowe agree to terms
Right-hander goes to Atlanta with four-year deal, pending exam
ATLANTA -- Whether Derek Lowe is capable of serving as a front-line starting pitcher for the next four seasons remains to be seen. But he's obviously already altered the mood of his new Braves teammates and their fans.
"I certainly feel a whole lot better than I did 48 hours ago," Chipper Jones said early Tuesday afternoon after learning that Lowe had accepted the challenge of anchoring Atlanta's reconstructed starting rotation.
Through some biting words aimed toward his employer, Jones expressed exactly how he was feeling last week when he learned that John Smoltz had decided to prolong his career with the Red Sox. It was another hit that the veteran third baseman didn't want to take during what had been a rather forgettable offseason for the Braves.
Stepping to the plate to provide some relief on Tuesday was Lowe, with the revelation that he and the Braves have agreed to the terms of a four-year, $60 million contract. The deal is expected to be officially announced on Thursday or Friday, after the 35-year-old arrives in Atlanta for his physical.
With Lowe's acquisition, Braves fans no longer have to dwell on the fact that general manager Frank Wren hadn't been able to complete his previous pursuits of Jake Peavy and A.J. Burnett.
With Lowe, the Braves have found their ace -- albeit one who is less prototypical than Peavy or Burnett -- and completed the final step in the rotation-reconstruction process that had consumed Wren since the offseason began.
"I would call Lowe an ace," Jones said. "He was the No. 1 [pitcher] in Los Angeles, and they were a playoff team. He's certainly No. 1 for our team. He's not the hard-throwing strikeout guys that 100 percent of the teams want as their ace. But he works hard, throws strikes and gets ground balls. Some guy named [Greg] Maddux did that around here for a while, and it worked out pretty good."
With their sights previously set on Peavy and Burnett, the Braves didn't show much initial interest in Lowe. But their interest recently increased, and they attempted to prove this during last week's meeting.
Proving yet again that he has the ability to make players feel wanted, manager Bobby Cox played a large role in Lowe's decision. So, too, did pitching coach Roger McDowell, who was able to relate to many of the tales and pitching philosophies that a fellow sinkerballer -- Lowe -- provided during last week's meeting, which one attendee described as "one long and enjoyable baseball discussion."
In the end, the Braves made a larger financial commitment than originally desired. But in doing so, they erased some of the public relations sting created by Smoltz's departure, prevented the Mets and Phillies from gaining Lowe, and, most important, gained a legitimate workhorse to place at the front of their rotation.
"When you get a horse like Lowe in the rotation, that takes so much pressure off the rest of the rotation," reliever Blaine Boyer said. "This is good for the bullpen, the starters and all of the position players. This does so much good for the psyche of the players and the fans."
While serving as a starter for the past seven seasons, Lowe has averaged 15 wins and 208 innings. The right-hander went 14-11 with a 3.24 ERA for the Dodgers last season, and he increased his stock by going 6-1 with a 1.27 ERA in his final 10 starts.
The acquisition of Lowe, combined with the one that brought Javier Vazquez to Atlanta in December, provides the Braves with a pair of durable right-handers who have consistently completed 200-inning seasons throughout their careers.
Adding depth to this reconstructed rotation is Kenshin Kawakami, a 33-year-old Japanese right-hander who was officially introduced during a news conference at Turner Field on Tuesday afternoon.
"This changes everybody's mind-set on the team," All-Star catcher Brian McCann said. "With all of the injuries and stuff, we took a little bit of a beating at the end of last season. Now we're heading to Spring Training feeling like we can win."
Though Lowe might not have the power arm of a prototypical ace, his power sinker has been considered one of the game's best. The pitch proved quite effective on July 9, when he limited the Braves to two hits and one run over 7 2/3 innings.
"To me, the sinker is the hardest pitch to hit in the game," McCann said. "When Derek Lowe is on, you're not going to hit him. I went 0-for-4 against him this past season, and I didn't see a single pitch that I could have hit that entire game."
With the sinker being his primary pitch, Lowe was looking for a team that could provide him with a defensively sound infield. Though this aided Atlanta's cause, it also hurt the Mets, who had been among the teams showing interest in the veteran hurler.
The 1,456 innings that Lowe has completed since the start of the 2002 season is the ninth-highest total among all Major League hurlers. Making this more important to the Braves is the fact that Vazquez ranks third during this span, with 1,502 1/3 innings.
With Lowe and Vazquez, the Braves project to have the durability that was lacking this past season, when each of the top four projected starters missed at least two months because of injuries.
This should only strengthen a bullpen that was burdened by the rotation's inconsistencies this past season.
The Braves' rotation will include Lowe, Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens and Kawakami. Jo-Jo Reyes, Charlie Morton, James Parr, Tommy Hanson and Tom Glavine could potentially compete for the fifth spot.
Those looking even farther into the future could certainly be encouraged by a rotation that could include Lowe, Tim Hudson (who will miss most of 2009 season recovering from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery), Vazquez, Jurrjens and Kawakami or Hanson.
Suddenly, the Braves once again have pitching depth and, more important, with Lowe, they finally have their ace.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.