It’s hard to imagine the Braves being in a position where they would even consider trading Derek Lowe. Sure, he wasn’t great this past season. He won 15 games, but there’s little doubt he was inconsistent and needed to do more. But Lowe is still a veteran pitcher that can help any team.
That’s what depth can do for a team, however. The Braves are in a situation where if they bring Tim Hudson back, and they are expected to do so, they will have six pitchers for five spots in the rotation.
With Jair Jurrjens still being a year away from arbitration, there’s little reason to believe he would be dealt away. Tommy Hanson is probably about as untouchable as any player in the game. It seems Jurrjens and Hanson, who will both be 24 years old next season, are the cornerstones of the rotation.
If Hudson returns, he’ll arguably be the third starter. He was the ace before he was injured in August of 2008, so now that he’s proved in his seven starts he’s back, the Braves will probably want him in the middle of the rotation.
So then you have three pitchers for two spots. Javier Vazquez was the Braves’ best pitcher last season, but even with a year left on his contract, it seems Atlanta would have to be blown away to trade Vazquez. Bobby Cox really loves Vazquez, and it wouldn’t even be a surprise if he signed an extension this winter.
Kenshin Kawakami is a possibility to get traded, but the Braves may find him more difficult to deal away. Plus, if they trade Kawakami a year after signing him, they can forget about signing any more Japanese players.
And that leaves Lowe, who is scheduled to make $15 million in each of the next three seasons. The contract is obviously the biggest obstacle in trading Lowe, who would probably be the Braves’ fifth starter if he returned next season.
That’s one question the Braves have to ask themselves: do they really want someone making $15 million as the fifth starter? Sure, since Jurrjens and Hanson are still both very inexpensive, it doesn’t hurt to have someone lower in the rotation making that type of money. But if you took Kawakami out and kept Lowe, you’d have to say Lowe would be Atlanta’s fifth starter going into next season.
So if the preference is to trade Lowe, are the Braves going to be able to swing a trade? Well, with the pitching market being very thin this offseason, teams will have to consider Lowe as an option. But his contract does limit the number of teams that would be able to take on the remaining three years on his deal.
It might be easier, however, if the Braves take on salary in return for Lowe. It is hard to imagine any team simply giving the Braves a significant prospect for the veteran right-hander, who turns 37 next June.
For example, it might be easier if the Braves could trade Lowe to the Detroit Tigers, who have outfielder Magglio Ordonez making big money next season. The Braves need a right-handed bat, but they would have to decide whether or not they believed Ordonez had anything left in the tank.
It’s that type of trade, however, that might make it easier to trade Lowe. There will be only a few large market clubs that would be able to take on that big contract, and that’s where you need to look for possible fits that the Braves could explore this winter.
The Mets almost signed Lowe last winter, but it’s unlikely the Braves would want to trade inside their division. But would the Braves consider trading Lowe to the Mets for Carlos Beltran, who if healthy could really help the Atlanta lineup?
Beltran is owed $18.5 million for each of the next two seasons, so the Braves would still save $8 million in a deal like that. They could then put Beltran in center and move Nate McLouth to left in that scenario.
Again, just throwing out some scenarios to consider…
Looking at the National League Central, the Milwaukee Brewers are going to be in the market for a veteran innings-eater this winter. But the Brewers would want to push shortstop J.J. Hardy and/or outfielder Corey Hart on the Braves in such a deal. While the right-handed hitting Hart could be useful, the Braves would not need Hardy unless they traded Yunel Escobar.
Some have wondered if Houston could have interest in Lowe. The Astros need help in the rotation, but their farm system is pretty empty. The Braves might be tempted to ask if Houston would consider a Lowe-for-Carlos Lee swap. Lee is very expensive ($18.5 million for each of the next three seasons), but there is no doubt he could fill the Braves need for a power hitter.
The Braves aren’t sending Lowe back to the Dodgers, even with Los Angeles’s need for a veteran starter. The Giants’ rotation is full already, and it’s unlikely the other three teams in the division could take on Lowe’s salary.
In the American League, the Baltimore Orioles are a team that has talked publicly about going after more starting pitching this winter. The Angels are going to be looking for help, especially if John Lackey leaves via free agency.
And again, keep Detroit in mind. Lowe is a Michigan guy, and the Tigers might look for help this winter after Jarrod Washburn was a complete disaster after he was acquired at the trade deadline.
The Braves could move Lowe to the bullpen, where he had great success for the Red Sox earlier this decade. If they decide to let Rafael Soriano walk, the Braves will need a closer. But that would take away Atlanta’s flexibility to use the excess in the rotation to get another bat through a trade.
So the drama with Lowe will be one to watch during the offseason. The Braves don’t really want to trade Lowe. They feel he can bounce back and have a solid 2010 season. But it’s simply a numbers game, and there are several reasons why trading Lowe may make the most sense for the Braves.
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on
WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.