Braves pitcher Derek Lowe was booed off the mound in his last start of the season, stripped of a guaranteed spot in the rotation shortly thereafter, and ultimately traded to Cleveland, completing a tailspin to close out his tumultuous three-year stint with the Braves.
The Braves traded the 38-year-old Lowe on Monday to the Indians, who have agreed to pay $5 million of the $15 million Lowe is owed in 2012 in the final year of his contract. The Braves, who will cover the remaining $10 million, got minor league pitcher Chris Jones in return.
With the additional $5 million they cleared in this deal, the Braves are believed to have about $10 million to purse additions at shortstop and the corner outfield.
“Once you know what you want to do, you want to get the dominoes falling, and that was the first one,” said Braves general manager Frank Wren, who said Lowe had at least one other suitor, but the Indians were ready to move faster. “(This) allows us to pencil in one of our young starters and also frees up some payroll flexibility for us, which gives us a better idea of the direction we’re going this winter.”
Wren made it known shortly after the season ended that Lowe would be relegated to the bullpen next season. Both Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson are expected to return from injury, and with Tim Hudson and Brandon Beachy back, the Braves have a wealth of choices for an additional spot with Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, and Julio Teheran, or even the versatile Kris Medlen.
It’s been hot or cold for Lowe since he signed a four-year $60 million deal with the Braves in January of 2009. He was the Braves’ Opening Day starter each of the last three seasons, led the staff with 15 wins in 2009 and was second in 2010 with 16. But he’s also been in double-digits in losses each of the past three years, including 17 this season which led the National League.
Wren said Lowe gave the Braves what they wanted when they signed him – stability and veteran leadership for their rotation at a time when it was decimated by injuries. Lowe missed only one of his 102 scheduled starts as a Brave, and after the one he skipped to rest a sore elbow, Lowe went on a 5-0 run to get the Braves into the postseason a year ago.
That was the highlight of Lowe’s time as a Brave, when he went 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA last September and became the Braves’ No. 1 starter in their first trip to the playoffs since 2005.
“He gave us 31 wins the first two years,” Wren said. “If you told me I could sign a free agent that averaged a little over 15 wins a year, you’d take it every time. He did exactly what we wanted him to do. This year, he had a tough time at the finish. But he still won nine games and won 40 in three years.”
There was no September push this year; Lowe went 0-5 with an 8.75 ERA this time around. He gave up five earned runs in four-plus innings in a 7-1 loss to the Phillies on Sept. 27, the second-to-last game of the season, and left to boos as the Braves fell into a tie for the wild card with St. Louis.
Lowe finished the season 9-17 with a 5.05 ERA. He was 40-39 with a 4.57 ERA as a Brave overall. He did not help his cause when he was arrested on April 28 for driving under the influence and reckless driving, though charges were eventually dropped.
The Braves had made attempts each of the previous two offseasons to trade Lowe but this time were able to make it work with his salary at a more manageable level.
The Indians were looking for a veteran starter after losing Carlos Carrasco to elbow reconstruction surgery. Lowe will join a rotation that features Fausto Carmona and Ubaldo Jimenez.
Wren said Lowe was gracious when he called him Monday morning to tell him about the trade.
“I thanked him for what he did for us for three years and just told him we were at a point where we wanted to give the young pitchers the opportunity to win those spots,” Wren said. “He wished us well, said he’ll be pulling for us, and said those young guys are going to be good, keep them healthy.”
As for the young piece the Braves will add to their minor league organization, Jones went 7-1 with a 3.36 ERA in 43 relief appearances for the Single-A Kinston Indians last season. The 23-year-old left-hander struck out 66 batters in 72 1/3 innings, while holding left-handers to a .145 opponents’ batting average. He was a 15th round pick in 2007 out of Gaither High School in Tampa.