Dealing Lowe is risky but it may be Braves’ best option

The Braves mob (and douse) Freddie Freeman after the rookie's game-winning hit Sunday. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

The Braves mob (and douse) Freddie Freeman after his game-winning hit. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Alex Gonzalez brought the handfuls of dirt. Peter Moylan brought the cups of water. Everybody else just pounded Freddie Freeman into a celebratory submission and Baptism following his first career game-winning hit Sunday.

A win over the Washington Nationals normally wouldn’t seem like a cause for such a celebration, but these haven’t come easy. The Braves had to scramble and rally twice to beat a Nationals team that generally has been a punching bag since 2005  (459-607)  but insists on punching back against Atlanta (the all-time series would’ve been tied at 59-59 with a different result Sunday).

But if you’re the Braves, this game was a good sign. They somehow turned an ugly sequence of events — including an improbable poor start by Jair Jurrjens — into a win. They trailed 6-2 before a five-run fifth, punctuated by Brian McCann’s three-run homer. They trailed 8-7 before the .226 hitting Nate McLouth hit his first homer in two months with two outs to tie it.

In the ninth, Freeman, the 21-year-old rookie, hit a two-out single to score Martin Prado to win it 9-8. Then came the dirt-and-water shower. Boys.

“I think it shows our character, and it shows how good our bullpen is,” said McCann.

The first series after the All-Star break only reaffirmed the Braves aren’t going anywhere. They remained 3½ games behind Philadelphia in the National League East and now head on the road for seven games. But they’ve got some decisions to makes, and one of those involves Monday’s starting pitcher in Colorado: Derek Lowe.

Will Derek Lowe soon be tipping his cap and saying goodbye to the Braves?

Will Derek Lowe be tipping his cap and saying goodbye to the Braves before the trade deadline? (AP photo)

The baseball trade rumor mill has Lowe possibly sitting in the Braves’ departure lounge. The latest is a Foxsports.com story that indicates interest from Detroit. When asked if he could comment on the report, general manager Frank Wren smiled and responded, “Yeah. We don’t comment on any trade rumors.”

That’s true, of course. But if Wren had been asked about a rumor that McCann might be traded, the response would’ve been something along the lines of, “Are you nuts?”

Know this: There is interest in Lowe, and the Braves are listening. But this will be their most difficult decision before the trade deadline (July 31).

Wren hasn’t finalized what he is shopping for, but a right-handed hitter and a middle reliever are the team’s greatest needs. It’s both logical and risky that Lowe might be the bait.

First, the logic. He is the Braves’ highest paid player ($15 million per year) but has been only their fourth-best starter this season behind Jurrjens (Sunday not withstanding), Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson. The organization also is pitching-rich again, which makes Lowe expendable.

Here’s the risk: Down the stretch and in the playoffs last season, Lowe was the Braves’ best pitcher. He won his last five regular season starts with a 1.17 earned run average, 29 strikeouts and three walks. He lost both of his National League Divisional Series starts to San Francisco but that was mostly a byproduct of the Braves’ offense: He allowed only three runs and six hits in 11 2/3 innings.

Lowe’s exit also would leave the Braves with a young rotation for the pennant stretch. Hudson is 36, but he’s followed by Jurrjens (25), Hanson (24) and Brandon Beachy (24). If Lowe goes, the fifth starter could be Mike Minor (23) or Julio Teheran (20).

Lowe and trade rumors have intersected frequently since his signing his four-year, $60 million contract. He was upset when his name was floated in the winter following his first season in Atlanta, telling MLB.com: “It’s well-documented that I stunk the last two months of the [2009] season. But as I look at it, ‘Am I the only guy who has struggled for a couple of months in his first season after signing as a free agent?’”

He’s handling the rumors better this time. He joked in the clubhouse, “Hey, I’m going to the American League,” and told our Carroll Rogers, “Why stress over something that you have no control over? … People say we may need a hitter and we have a lot of pitching and I make money. So it’s kind of obvious why you’re named. And we have a lot of good young pitchers.”

Give him credit for laying out the logical argument that could lead to his own departure. Lowe’s contract is far more palatable for a trade partner now than it was last year. The Braves may need to make one more move, and using Lowe as the bait is starting to make too much sense.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

196 comments Add your comment

Common Sense

July 17th, 2011
7:32 pm

Cfarm

July 17th, 2011
7:32 pm

First and agreed!!

TruthSeeker

July 17th, 2011
7:34 pm

“(Lowe) has been only their fourth-best starter this season behind Jurrjens (Sunday not withstanding), Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson.”

Although he’s missed some time, Beachy has been more effective than Lowe as well.

JP

July 17th, 2011
7:35 pm

This is a risk I’d readily take.

Alan

July 17th, 2011
7:36 pm

They also have KK in Macon ready to pitch!! Lol. So proud of Freeman! He seems to be a much more mature situational hitter at this time than Heyward. Need another RH arm for the bridge to the final innings. Proctor brings a can of gas and a match when he comes in! Pleased as to how Uggla kept a great attitude and kept plugging along. It seems to be paying off now!

buzz is wiser

July 17th, 2011
7:37 pm

I agree Lowe seems to be the perfect person to trade right now, but for what. What are the Braves expecting to receive in return for Lowe, a right handed hitter. Sounds good, here is the real problem, where is he going to play? There is no place for a new player on the infield, and the corner outfield positions are solid, is it center, we have two of those already. I say keep him and see what happens.

ted williams head

July 17th, 2011
7:39 pm

okay if Wren doesnt let him go for another McLouth which will probably happen

Bryan

July 17th, 2011
7:39 pm

I like minor shaeffer and a prospect for hunter pence. Or Bourne as a second choice but wouldn’t have to give up minor.

Common Sense

July 17th, 2011
7:40 pm

Has anyone else started to compare McCann and Francoeur to Freeman and Heyward? Francoeur and Heyward got the hype, but McCann became the real keeper, and it looks as though Freeman might follow in his footsteps.

LakeDawg

July 17th, 2011
7:41 pm

I agree. I’ve never understood why the Braves payed so much money for a mediocre pitcher. He throws a “slow” ball that sinks at the end, because it doesn’t have enough momentum to reach the plate. Hitters have figured out that they should just take his pitches and force him to elevate the ball to get called strikes. Then they Tee off on him. He pitches a gem from time to time, but he has to be about perfect to pitch a good game. And that doesn’t happen often. Zero room for error.

tjhook

July 17th, 2011
7:41 pm

Well, I’ll say thank you to Derek Lowe for his performance. He has pitched well for the majority of his time here but the contract is definitely going to be the reason he is traded. At the most, he would be traded after the season.

buzz is wiser

July 17th, 2011
7:42 pm

Is Pence on the trading block? and why would Houston add Lowe’s contract?

dawg4u

July 17th, 2011
7:47 pm

I would be hesitant to trade Lowe until after this season given his playoff record last year and experience. The Phils need the same things we do a RH bat and a middle reliever. The question is can the Braves afford not to make a move and what would we have to give up. I cannot see anyone taking Minor in a major deal with minor league talent. I think we would have to give up Beachy who I think could be the next great pitcher for this team. In order to add a bat we would have to give up either Lowe or Beachy and I wouldn’t part with either. Then again another series of us only scoring 5 or 6 runs could change my mind again. That is why Frank Wren is making the big bucks to make those decisions. I say stand pat and don’t make a major move because our hitting has to get better especially Uggla. Sometimes the best moves you make are the ones you don’t make.

dougefreshtb87

July 17th, 2011
7:48 pm

Buzz is right, I know lowe hasnt been great. but at least i know what to expect from him down the stretch and into the playoffs. Unless we somehow turn lowe into getting a bonafide star as SS, where is this new “right handed” bat supposed to play??? Btw our starting lineup coming out of st has been together for 11 whole games this year. Keep lowe get a right handed reliever and maybe a right handed bench player and call it a day.

Bryan

July 17th, 2011
7:48 pm

Buzz, never mentioned Lowe. Pence can play either corner move heyward to center.

dougefreshtb87

July 17th, 2011
7:51 pm

yes he did earlier “agree Lowe seems to be the perfect person to trade right now, but for what. What are the Braves expecting to receive in return for Lowe, a right handed hitter. Sounds good, here is the real problem, where is he going to play? There is no place for a new player on the infield, and the corner outfield positions are solid, is it center, we have two of those already. I say keep him and see what happens”.

choozer

July 17th, 2011
7:58 pm

I could see them trading Lowe for prospects and trading prospects to Houston for Kleppinger to replace Lugo and give us a solid right-handed hitter off the bench who can play all infield positions so we improve our bench. Even if Kleppinger’s not the man, the idea is get prospects for Lowe and then trade prospects for the player or players you want.

Rupert

July 17th, 2011
7:58 pm

Ok first, Lowe would most likely be dealt in a SEPERATE deal, to clear money for both this year and next. The Braves would probably get a prospect or 2 back, but not much. The key would be they would free themselves of the $ next year, which is huge.

Second, Jeff tries to make some kind of argument of a risk. HA. There would be such MORE risk of not making a deal, not just for this year but for next year. 15 mil when the team has to many younger, BETTER starters and needa at other positions? That’s a risk. He pitched his tail off for a month and half last year. But basically that has been it.

Finally, they have severall options as to where they can put a bat. Center (Beltran, Pence, Bourne), SS (not sure who they would get). Heyward can play center for a few months if need be as well. This team is going to the playoffs, and is too good to go in without the best possible team. Too many times Shuerholtz set on his hands, liked his team, and didn’t add. The team then came up short in October. Go for it.

TruthSeeker

July 17th, 2011
7:58 pm

It’s true that Lowe has been a big-game pitcher, but if Jurrjens, Hanson and Hudson stay healthy, then that’s going to be your rotation in the first round of the playoffs. If the Braves make it to the NLCS Lowe might start the fourth game, but that’d be it.

I like Lowe, but moving him makes perfect sense.

Bob

July 17th, 2011
8:06 pm

Just getting rid of of his contract is a big add by subtraction. They can trade for someone and pay him oor free $ for a free agent this winter

extremus

July 17th, 2011
8:06 pm

As long as it is for a LONG-TERM, immediate-impact player (and an ABOVE AVERAGE hitter at that, with consistent average/power numbers and/or SPEED), I say go for it.

Is that asking too much? Depends on whether you think the Rangers “asked too much” for a partial-year Mark Texiera rental. The Braves would be MUCH better served to stand pat than repeat a mistake of that caliber, and with the abundance of great pitchers they have to work with right now (plus the fact that so many teams are NEEDING said pitching), they should be able to name their price for Lowe or several other pitchers/prospects. If Wren acts carefully and wisely he could utilize the current bumper crop of pitching in the Braves’ organization to shore up EVERY offensive need, and then some, for years to come.

collegeballfan

July 17th, 2011
8:10 pm

Would the Astros entertain a Lowe and another player for Hunter Pence?

choozer

July 17th, 2011
8:12 pm

Against left-handed pitchers, until Chipper returns, they could play Kleppinger at 3B and put Prado in LF. If he’s a tough lefty, they could sub Ramirez for Heyward. Only lefties in that lineup would be Schafer in CF, McCann and Freeman.

Banner229

July 17th, 2011
8:13 pm

The braves would have to give up D Lowe and top level prospect for Pence.

Lee Turner

July 17th, 2011
8:18 pm

The braves should not be hesitant to trade Lowe. He is costing the team way too much money for the output he’s given. Get rid of him and use the money to keep the young pitching talent.

Lee Turner

July 17th, 2011
8:20 pm

Repeat! No trade, just give him away and pay a small percentage of his contract. The money saved is the best value of any possible Lowe trade.

TK

July 17th, 2011
8:20 pm

#6

July 17th, 2011
8:21 pm

The trend with Lowe during his tenure with the Braves has been that he doesn’t pitch well in the heat of the summer. He tends to do very poorly in the middle of the season, but come September and October when the games mean more he transforms into this big game pitcher that is worth his money. I think some forget how big time he was with the Red Sox when they won it all in 2004. Playoff time is Derek Lowe time, so I say keep him because the playoffs isn’t just about being good, it’s about experience and Lowe has it.

Find a bat by some other means. We have plenty of stock.

DaveinNEPA

July 17th, 2011
8:22 pm

Forget the Astros taking on Lowe’s salary. Not gonna happen. If, and I think it’s a very big if, the Stros decide to trade Pence, it will be for a boatload of prospects. They want to rebuild and quite frankly Pence is probably one of the players they want to build around, not dispose of.

IMO it wouldn’t be a good idea to trade Lowe until the offseason. I like what the guy brings to the table in big games. He always seems to rise to the occasion and if we plan on going deep in the postseason, we’re going to need that.

Bobrobert

July 17th, 2011
8:23 pm

Detroit doesn’t have anything the Braves need. The idea of getting prospects and flipping them to another team for an impact player would be ideal course of action.

NickGranite

July 17th, 2011
8:25 pm

The astros need a major overhaul. Why would they take on a 38 year old pitcher still owed 21 million?

NickGranite

July 17th, 2011
8:28 pm

I think the idea is to just dump his salary. You could argue that giving him away for nothing and and maybe paying half the salary owed this year (3 mil on our side) would be to our advantage in the long run. If we get anything in return all the better.

1eyedJack

July 17th, 2011
8:28 pm

If somebody is willing to pay $14.99 a lb. for worn-out warhorse meat…I say have at it.

1eyedJack

July 17th, 2011
8:31 pm

Marinated in Budweiser.

Vain Jangling

July 17th, 2011
8:34 pm

Unfortunately, trading Lowe would primarily benefit Liberty Media’s bottom line. Under their ownership, the Braves are never going to be players in any knock-your-socks-off free agent signings. Every two or three years we’d better be content with rolling the dice on someone like Uggla. We’re never going to get an everyday starter for Lowe. At best, we’re probably looking at a serviceable bench player. So, where’s the upgrade? That being said, I’d rather stand pat with what we have this fall, and work to move Lowe over the winter. I don’t know what kind of clubhouse guy he is, but he’s a veteran, and he appears to be a gamer, which we want around because, unless this club goes comatose, we’re looking at the playoffs. Go Braves!

Supes

July 17th, 2011
8:34 pm

Unless the Yankees come calling this is all smoke and mirrors

Detroit would like to get rid of a “bad contract” of their own, but we are not taking on any of their aging vets, and don’t even bring up Carlos Q from the White Soxs, it’ll be about the same…if by some crazy scenario a team is willing to take on Lowe it’ll probably be the Yankees.

As far as adding a RH bat and Middle Reliever, what makes this so tough for Wren is the fact that you don’t know what you’ll get out of Chipper and Moyland when each comes back, if they’ll stay healthy, etc…if you did that right there is your RH bat (Chipper switch but irrelevant here) and Middle Reliever, as well known Moyland would be perfect for the 7th 8th innings.

Supes

July 17th, 2011
8:35 pm

Astros aren’t trading Pence unless they get a rich deal…which the Braves aren’t going to be offering. Quite frankly Pence is a fine player but he’s not a great player…and they are asking for a lot apparently.

#6

July 17th, 2011
8:45 pm

Moylan. Not MOY-LAND.

Solid Corners ?

July 17th, 2011
8:46 pm

Re: dougefreashtb87 @ 7:51. “the corner outfield are solid”? J-Hype and his 220 avg and mediocore fielding is solid ? When are we going to realize what a lot of writers otside of Atlanta have been saying for awhile now, that Heyward is just an average player at best are probably correct.

Milt Famey

July 17th, 2011
8:49 pm

@NickGranite The Astros will not trade for Lowe. They are not about to take on such a salary. If Lowe goes, he will go to somebody with $ who is in the pennant race, i e Detroit or NYY. Any additions to our roster will probably be from a 2nd trade

#6

July 17th, 2011
8:51 pm

Just looked at Detroit’s roster and I have no idea what the Braves would trade for. There isn’t anybody that is either worth the trade for Lowe or fits with our plans on our roster. I’m calling shanangans on this one. Sounds to me like either Wren or Detroit is trying to fool their other opponents.

Matt from MN

July 17th, 2011
9:02 pm

Trade him, I say.

jmor

July 17th, 2011
9:06 pm

I am sure any deal to take Lowe would have to include 10 million cash from the Braves. No team is going to take a 38 year old pitcher with a 4.30 era still owed 21 million.

P. Bull Terrier

July 17th, 2011
9:09 pm

If Detroit wants Lowe, then forget about getting a hitter or middle reliever from their major league roster. Just ask for one of their minor league starting pitchers and make the deal. Detroit does a nice job of grooming All-Star pitchers for the Braves.

Joe

July 17th, 2011
9:15 pm

Uhhh….he’s their 5th best starter….Beachy has been better.

Paul in RDU

July 17th, 2011
9:21 pm

Lowe to the Tigers? Maybe the Braves will get Verlander.

NorCal Brave

July 17th, 2011
9:22 pm

I see Giants adding Beltran and Philly getting Pence, making our need to add a solid RH bat that much greater. Lowe had a remarkable September/October last season, but he’s entirely expendable now if we can get the right players. Best OF on Tigers roster is Boesch, and of course he’s left handed.

Outside Observer

July 17th, 2011
9:23 pm

Lowe is the player we would most want to get rid of, and the player we would get the least for in return. Makes things a little tricky. I think the best value is getting rid of the younger guys for a bat. A Hanson or Jurrjens paired with an expendable player could get a top bat, a Beachy or Minor with an expendable player could fetch a solid bat. Trading Lowe would get us an average player at best, very little return in the short and long term, and a loss in value. Make the difficult choice and trade a young gun.

PMC

July 17th, 2011
9:26 pm

like anything else, it depends on the deal. What they can get back. The question is do they think they have enough experience in the staff to win in the postseason of they trade Lowe and if not, will what they get back help overcome that discrepancy.

smyrnabob

July 17th, 2011
9:32 pm

The Braves would have to give up a bat and cash for someone to take Lowe. This is a rehash of the article written in May where a Lowe for Granderson trade was suggested.