The Atlanta Braves are becoming well known for making notable moves within days of the beginning of the offseason. Last year it was a trade for Dan Uggla in mid-November, a few years ago it was trading Edgar Renteria to the Detroit Tigers. They’ve done it again, this time it’s Derek Lowe to the Cleveland Indians. The Braves will include Lowe, and all but $5 million of his salary in return for Single-A reliever Chris Jones.
Lowe certainly hasn’t been the pitcher for the Bravos that he was in Los Angeles and the team had already noted that he would be moved to a relief spot if he was on the team still in 2011. Yet, even with his regression (10.2 H/9 and 3.4 BB/9), Derek owned the second largest groundball rate in all of baseball last season. But that doesn’t typically work out too well with Uggla at second and an aging Chipper Jones at the hot corner.
With Lowe, the Indians now have three of the top groundball pitchers in baseball in their rotation. Between he, Justin Masterson, and Fausto Carmona the Indians infielders will not be bored in 2012. Lowe also brings a veteran pressence and signficant post season experience to a rotation that also includes Ubaldo Jimenez and Josh Tomlin. If Derek can survive in his return to the American League, he should be a good addition to this young team.
The Braves on the other hand free up $5 million in dedicated payroll and open up a spot in their rotation for Randall Delgado or top pitching prospect Julio Teheran, as well as allow Mike Minor to move out of the 5th spot. Either pitcher was likely to outperform Lowe in 2012 and certainly beyond. When teamed with the $9.4 million the team will save in paying the buyout on Nate McLouth‘s recently declined option, the Braves have freed up approximately $14.4 million of possible payroll. However, declining McLouth’s option was already assumed and the team has a couple players eligible for healthy jumps in arbitration in Michael Bourn and Jair Jurrjens.
Reliever Chris Jones is nearly a throw-in on the deal. Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein notes that he has a good breaking ball and deception and profiles as possible future LOOGY. It’ll be a bonus if Jones develops into that relief role, but not something the Braves are ultimately counting on.
It’s possible that the extra $5 million will help the team land a notable free agent bat in the outfield, but it is unlikely. Though it has surpassed a $100 million payroll a couple times in the past decade, the team keeps crying “poor”.
But you never know what GM Frank Wren has up his sleve. Rather than letting Jair Jurrjens retire for the offseason, they sent him to instructional league, possibly as a showcase. With Delgado, Teheran, and Arodys Vizcaino knocking on the door and Kris Medlen returning, the Braves are stocked with pitching talent. Don’t rule a Jurrjens trade for a big bat out of the question.
Overall, this is a decent move for both sides. It’s a relatively risky move for the Indians if they want to count on Lowe in the rotation. But if that doesn’t work out, Lowe pitched well as a closer in the past. A $5 million reliever isn’t all that bad.