The Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians kicked off MLB's hot stove season Monday when the Braves sent 38-year-old pitcher Derek Lowe and financial considerations to Cleveland for minor-league pitcher Chris Jones.
Atlanta will be on the hook for $10 million of Lowe's $15 million salary in the final year of the four-year, $60 million contract the Braves signed him to prior to the 2009 season. In his three years in Atlanta, Lowe compiled a 40-39 record with a 4.57 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP. The emergence of rookies Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy, the return of Kris Medlen (who missed most of 2011 following Tommy John surgery), and the arrival of promising prospects Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran, and Arodys Vizcaino leaves the Braves with an abundance of viable end-of-the-rotation options, thus rendering Lowe expendable.
The Braves' pitching depth wasn't the only factor leading to the trade, however. Lowe's 2011 season (9-17, 5.05 ERA, 1.51 WHIP) was easily the worst of his 15-year career, and his trademark sinker lost its effectiveness due to a drop in velocity. During the Braves' September collapse, Lowe lost all five of his starts and posted a horrid 8.74 ERA. The Indians, who will be without Carlos Carrasco in 2012 following Tommy John surgery, are hoping their relatively inexpensive $5 million investment in Lowe will result in the veteran returning to the solid form which saw him win 31 games in 2009-10.
The money saved in the trade leaves Atlanta with about $10 million to spend this offseason, writes mlb.com's Mark Bowman. The Braves could use upgrades at shortstop and left field, where Alex Gonzalez (.241/.270/.372) and Martin Prado (.260/.302/.385) struggled offensively. Gonzalez is a free agent and Prado will be needed to spell Chipper Jones at third base on occasion. Atlanta ranked 22nd in MLB in runs scored, and its outfield production was among the league's worst despite the mid-season acquisition of Michael Bourn. Among potential free agent options, Michael Cuddyer and Josh Willingham would both provide the power that Atlanta's outfield has consistently lacked (Jason Heyward returning to his 2010 form would help, too). At shortstop, Jose Reyes is out of Atlanta's price range, but Jimmy Rollins might not be. Signing the three-time All-Star would add speed and pop to a lineup sorely lacking both while simultaneously putting a dent in the rival Phillies.
Rob Smith is a contributing writer for the Business of Sports Network. He can be reached on Twitter @RobSmithUSF or on his personal blog, http://smithersports.blogspot.com/
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