Buyer’s remorse: Braves pay D-Lowe $10 million to go away

Derek Lowe's final act as an Atlanta Brave. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This was Derek Lowe's final act as an Atlanta Brave. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Not every failure is a function of poor design. Yes, the Braves overpaid for Derek Lowe, but you always overpay for free agents. (That’s why they’re free agents — because the team that had them and therefore knows them best decided they weren’t worth their asking price.) The Braves paid high to buy Lowe for the best of reasons: They needed him.

Let’s return to the dark days of 2008. The Braves went 72-90, their worst record since the pre-worst-to-first 1990, because they ran out of starting pitching. John Smoltz got hurt. Tom Glavine, back after his New York exile, got hurt. Mike Hampton, as ever, got hurt. Tim Hudson got hurt and needed Tommy John surgery. Matters were so dire that the journeyman Jorge Campillo started 25 games, second-most among Braves behind the rookie Jair Jurrjens.

Frank Wren, the Braves’ general manager, entered the offseason determined not to let what happened in ‘08 happen again. Being Frank Wren, he overcompensated and bought Kenshin Kawakami for three years at $23 million having already traded for Javier Vazquez and landed Lowe for $60 million over four years. Kawakami, who’d never pitched outside Japan, was the mistake. Lowe was, at least at the time, the smart hire.

Wren was fairly specific in his demands: He wanted a starting pitcher capable not just of winning games but staying healthy, and if Lowe had proved anything it was that he’d answer the proverbial bell.  He’d worked between 182 and 222 over seven consecutive seasons for the Red Sox and the Dodgers, two high-profile clubs. He’d started and won Game 7 of an ALCS in Yankee Stadium, and he’d won the clinching game of a World Series for a club that infamously hadn’t won one since 1918.

Better still, he was considered a Good Clubhouse Guy, which not all starting pitchers are. He arrived at Lake Buena Vista in February 2009 and had the Braves buzzing about two things: His heavy sinker, which hitters made a point of pride to try and drive in batting practice (and not many succeeded), and his zeal for preparation. At 8 a.m.,  D-Lowe would be out in shorts and sweatshirt running the stadium steps. “Best workout routine I’ve ever seen,” pronounced Bobby Cox, who’d seen a few.

It should have worked. It just didn’t. Lowe was 15-10 in 2008, but it was a bad 15-10: He had an ERA of 4.67 and opponents hit .301 against him, which is indeed batting-practice stuff. Being Frank Wren, the GM tried hard to trade him over the winter. (Wren is, as we know, a tad impulsive.) Getting lucky, Wren found no buyers.

Because without Derek Lowe in September 2010, the Braves would be sitting on a playoff drought of six seasons. Lowe was 5-0 with an ERA of 1.17 over his final five starts, and if he’d been 3-2 the San Diego Padres would have snagged the National League wild card. He started two games in the Division Series, losing the first 1-0 and the last 3-2 but having finally held up his pricey end.

That stretch run seemed a sign that Atlanta had finally seen the real D-Lowe, but no. He was terrible last season, going 9-17 with an ERA of 5.17. After a 7-1 loss to Philadelphia that dropped the Braves into a wild-card tie with St. Louis, Lowe said: “I’ve always said that hitters will tell you how your stuff is,” and his, for reasons unclear, had become substandard.

That would be his final act as a Brave. Wren would say later that week that Lowe wasn’t in the team’s plans as a starting pitcher for 2012, and thus did the GM try again to dump the biggest purchase of his stewardship. He succeeded Monday, sending Lowe to Cleveland for a minor-league pitcher while agreeing to absorb two-thirds of the $15 million Lowe still is owed. That’s how much the Braves wanted rid of Lowe: The team that doesn’t have much to spend is willing to spend $10 million to make him go away.

It’s a trade that will please Braves fans, who never much cared for Lowe, but it’s also a cold reminder that the best-laid plans often land in yonder trashcan. As promised, Lowe ate innings — an average of 192 of them over his three seasons as a Brave. They just weren’t very good innings.

By Mark Bradley

95 comments Add your comment

mmgtfan

October 31st, 2011
3:10 pm

Steve

October 31st, 2011
3:11 pm

In hindsight, the Lowe signing was bad. But, it was not as bad as the guy that Wren originally wanted — AJ Burnett. Basically the same contract, and he has been a train wreck in New York.

Lesson Learned: Don’t sign a free agent pitcher in his 30’s, ever.

Calvin Mcdonald

October 31st, 2011
3:19 pm

Outside of his first every start for the Braves against the Phillies in 09 and that stretch in September of last year, he’s been quite terrible with a smattering of decent starts during the rest of his time here.

The Barves

October 31st, 2011
3:19 pm

hope he can bounce back well. i always liked him, and he seemed to be a good guy off the field. but when the results aren’t there and you have better, younger and cheaper options pushing to play behind him, it is not going to work out.

I just wish Fredi hadn’t started him on 161. We all knew how that’d go.

STRETCH

October 31st, 2011
3:20 pm

MB,

Can you tell us something about the new kid?

Lee Corso

October 31st, 2011
3:20 pm

jeffrey d

October 31st, 2011
3:20 pm

Burnett got one more year on his contract too.

Return to Glory

October 31st, 2011
3:29 pm

Hope he does well in Clevland, nobody wanted him to be a success more than himself,maybe he can find his stride. Good luck

Herschel Talker

October 31st, 2011
3:31 pm

MB:

What will you miss more about this clown – his bad pitching or his drag racing?

HT

fraedo

October 31st, 2011
3:34 pm

Buyer’s remorse implies the deal was totally bad. Yes, D-Lowe was signed in desperation by the Braves after horrible pitching the previous season. But he was certainly not the worst signing in baseball and provided a few good years and did well at some key times. It wasn’t his fault the Braves were stupid enough to do 5 years for that much money. It was time for him to go but I thank him for his time with Braves and wish him well.

Andre "Pulpwood" Smith

October 31st, 2011
3:34 pm

If Wren can somehow convince Fredi G. to follow LaRussa into retirement, we’re in business.

Tim

October 31st, 2011
3:35 pm

Wow this makes me happy in my pants

oldbird

October 31st, 2011
3:42 pm

Hate that it did not work out. I have always thought Lowe was a pretty good guy, He certainly gave effort and never complained.

crusher dawg

October 31st, 2011
3:45 pm

Thanks for your help. Wish you the best with the Indians………………

MitchC

October 31st, 2011
3:46 pm

Mark, maybe I’m misgiided, but.. I’m mixed on the Lowe deal.

Yes, he had an awful 2011, but that was his first really bad year for us. Also.. A budget concious team paying a guy 10 mil to pitch for another team? Er..

Woluldnt we have been better off keeping him, and letting him win 10 or 12 games for us?

I also read in the “Bleacher Report”, that the Braves are seriously considering trading Jair Jurrgens. It is said they may do this because he is a client of Boras, and they may not be able to sign him when he goes Free Agent. If they do trade JJ, they should hold out to get a good package for him.

Our rotation did get a lot younger by letting Lowe go. Now Tim Hudson is the only old man, and he was pretty good last season.

lanier

October 31st, 2011
3:51 pm

good guy in clubhouse and in public. he just got worn out like we all do. wish him the best in baseball afterlife. he can afford it

Mark (another one)

October 31st, 2011
3:53 pm

That the Braves overpaid for Lowe is debatable. The market when he signed had some higher priced free agents that did worse, and not having quality pitching in the minors will cost any team. The Braves signed Lowe and he was competitive and pitched a lot of innings. The other two free agents signed by the Braves were higher risks and provided much less service to the team.

If Wren hadn’t signed Lowe, imagine how the Braves would have done the last three years, and imagine all the empty seats. Frankly, Wren would not be with the Braves, as management would have replaced him long ago.

Wren had to overpay for free agents but he rebuilt the minors while keeping the Braves competitive. With Lowe gone, the Braves have nine potential major league starters for next year. Some still have minor league options but they also have more depth further down in the minors. Wren now has the money from Lowe’s, McLouth’s and KK’s contracts to try to resign Gonzales and fill some other lineup holes. He doesn’t need to acquire a proven major league starter, which would cost him top dollar.

Mikey D

October 31st, 2011
3:54 pm

This had to happen – who is going back to Gwinnett to make room for Lowe?? Now if we can just get Hanson healthy – we got Huddy, JJ Hanson, Medlen, Beachy, Minor, Delgado, Tehran….Yeah Lowe really would fit in nice this year! And on another note – how about we go after Michael Young form the Rangers – I’d give em on of those arms for him for a few years – Now ther’s a professional hitter!

Joseph F. McNulty

October 31st, 2011
3:58 pm

Expect Lowe to have a comeback season in Cleveland next year, making the Braves look foolish (not a challenging assignment for a team that has not made a brilliant trade since Fred McGriff arrived). Who did the Braves trade for one year of Mark Texiera (who beat a path to the Yankees as soon as he could)? Wasn’t his name Feliz, and isn’t he 21 and ALREADY acknowledged as one of the best closers in the American league? Wasn’t he in the World Series, unlike the Braves?

No, this is just one of many picher bad trades

October 31st, 2011
4:01 pm

That moron Ted Turner paid gazzilions and gazillions $$$ for Bruce ( Split finger ) Sutter from the Cubs and he never pitched an inning in regualr season or if he did, only a game or three max. His deal, at that time was mega huge and the world knew that he would not work out. He simply SOAKED the Bravos. I’ll bet that he is still getting paid mega dollars.

Then, the first REALLY MEGA $$ free agent in like 77 or 78 was that pitcher Andy Mezzerschmidt from LA to Atlanta. He also failed badly in like his first two or three games, had the Dr. Jobe/TommyJohns surgery and retired to salmon fish in Washington or trout fish in Wyoming at what ………..33? He is still getting paid, I supect, like maybe $1,000,000.00 only per year now,after millions and millions each for the first 10 years. Dumb we are sometmes.

juice sourcer

October 31st, 2011
4:01 pm

Another example of why Atlanta will continue to be “losersville USA”

Phatty

October 31st, 2011
4:07 pm

Good, now he can go get drunk somewhere else!

bravo bravos

October 31st, 2011
4:20 pm

Like others I have mixed feelings on the deal. It seems the Braves get stuck often with eating salaries and not getting much in return on trade. Beyond that, I really want Lowe to succeed. Even if in Cleveland rather than here, I hope he has a good season. I would have liked to see him hang around as a reliever for the Braves. His veteran presence could have been a positive for a youthful staff. Of course if he was not open to that then trading him away was best for all.

Felix

October 31st, 2011
4:34 pm

It’s about time he was sent packing! I know this is a bit of speculation on my part, but it may reveal for us the real reason Frodo pitched Lowe in the Fillies series that ended the Braves season. It never made sense to me to pitch Lowe. But FW had already made his decision to unload Lowe, so he told Frodo to pitch Lowe; hoping he would pitch better and reduce the price the Braves had to pay to get rid of him. That was more important to FW than getting in the postseason.

I don’t need to remind everyone of the awful Wren decisions to sign K.K. and McLouth. Next, I hope FW is cut loose. The man is the ‘Master of Disaster’.

Felix

October 31st, 2011
4:38 pm

I wonder if they are going to deal Uggla next for running around with porn tramps?

Joey

October 31st, 2011
4:45 pm

That’s a really good point about Burnett, Steve (3:11 pm).

I’m gonna remember Lowe leading an unlikely charge to the playoffs in ‘10, only to face a red hot Giants team on their way to a championship.

This is an era when players in their free agency year, lose weight, and are highly motivated, only to fall back to previous levels after the giant payoff, and don’t really seem to care if fans are offended.

I always had the feeling that Lowe gave his very best, every time he was handed the ball, and read about his workouts – running stadium stairs, etc. In games, it seemed he was almost desperate to earn his money.

Hopefully, our young pitching staff, and even everyday players, paid attention to his professionalism and workout habits, and will be inspired to mimic him.

Derek Lowe was a “big game” pitcher. He proved that with his World Series with the Sox.

Don’t blame Lowe for not getting the Braves to the WS. He only played every 5th day . . .

Mark Bradley

October 31st, 2011
4:57 pm

I don’t think there’s any question that Lowe gave it his best shot. This wasn’t a case of a guy sitting back because he got a big contract.

Ted M

October 31st, 2011
5:03 pm

he proabably have a bounce back season for the Indians. But Wren had to do it.

tmc

October 31st, 2011
5:04 pm

“The team that doesn’t have much to spend is willing to spend $10 million to make him go away.” – line of the year in any article.

I’ve said for a long time that the Braves portray themselves as a “small market” team. Oh golly shucks, we just can’t spend more than 80 million…

There isn’t ANY small market teams who would pay a player $10 million dollars to not play. (add another almost 2 million dollars for nate mclouth too).

When will this fan base realize they are being bamboozled?

Ted M

October 31st, 2011
5:04 pm

Mark,

Do you think McGuire is gonna get the Cards jobs?

Mark Bradley

October 31st, 2011
5:05 pm

I’d bet on Jose Oquendo.

fraedo

October 31st, 2011
5:07 pm

Lowcountry Bulldawg

October 31st, 2011
5:09 pm

It got so bad that when Lowe was pitching I didn’t even bother watching the game.

MicG

October 31st, 2011
5:09 pm

Keep in mind as well that the price for a decent starter was rising quickly when his contract was signed. The economy crashing and burning has stalled the rise in salaries considerably the past three seasons.
There were also very few people who believed he would remain effective for the whole contract because of his age!

Tyler

October 31st, 2011
5:24 pm

@MitchC

That guy on Bleacher Report is just stoking wild imaginations. JJ needs to be traded, but there is no way that Matt Kemp would be the return. Maybe last year at the All-Star Break (if we threw in Minor), but now that’s just crazy to even speculate about. I could see a trade like JJ to the White Sox for Carlos Quentin, but nothing on the scale of Kemp.

Tyler

October 31st, 2011
5:26 pm

Also, Steve’s point is excellent. Had Wren gotten his first choice, we’d still have to deal with Burnett. Lowe did a good job while he was here. I just wish that his sinker ball had kept sinking.

Mike

October 31st, 2011
5:35 pm

Good article, Mark. A lot of people forget the Braves were absolutely desperate for pitching that year. They didn’t have the wealth of young talent like Medlen, Delgado, Beachy, or Minor that could fill in as rookies and pitch like veterans. Its not like they just handed him the contract for no reason, or just in case he was an upgrade. They flat out did not have a starting rotation…period.

This team has more starters now than they know what to do with. Otherwise, Lowe would probably be needed for next year’s rotation. haha

ToeMeetsLeather

October 31st, 2011
5:40 pm

Now if Chip would take about 8 million and a box of shotgun shells and just go hunting(forever). We could then put Prado at third, bring in a big bopper in left and go after the Phillies next year.

Joey

October 31st, 2011
6:09 pm

Forget that, Toe.

Chipper ain’t about to leave that $$$ on the table. When he did that interview with DOB last ST, and gave those answers to us Braves fans questions about him hanging around for the money, Chipper, instead of assuring us that he wanted to come back to win a championship, told us this: “they need to see my bank acct,” and they can kiss my ass.”

That day, I decided Chipper could kiss my ass . . .

Opinions R Infinite

October 31st, 2011
6:14 pm

Dang. Why didn’t they get a 3B or OF prospect instead of another P ?

Pete

October 31st, 2011
6:16 pm

I wish Lowe luck with the Indians. Mark, do you expect him to be a starter? @ToeMeetsLeather , your comments about Chipper reveal a lack of class on your part.

Opinions R Infinite

October 31st, 2011
6:17 pm

I think Lowe’s best SHOTS were from SHOT glasses at the bars…

Opinions R Infinite

October 31st, 2011
6:20 pm

What’s the lowdown on the minor leaguer Braves got in return ? Average,future star,closer,starter ?

Opinions R Infinite

October 31st, 2011
6:22 pm

I agree. Braves 3B need to hit .290 25 100. You know Chipper ain’t staying healthy enough to do that.

ToeMeetsLeather

October 31st, 2011
6:23 pm

Yea Pete, I got close to Chip’s level of class as he was leaving Hooters that night.

Robert from Woodstock

October 31st, 2011
6:25 pm

The reason the Braves are thinking about trading Jair because they like Tommy more. Ever since Jair came to the Braves he is injury prone and always breaks down. I believe the front office thinks Jair could be in better shape and avoid some injuries.

ToeMeetsLeather

October 31st, 2011
6:28 pm

Thanks Pete, I needed a good scolding. You are right, they should throw in a shotgun to go with the shells, oh and a hooters cap. get it? Now that’s class.

Angie O'Plasty

October 31st, 2011
6:35 pm

I like Lowe better than Jurrgens and Hanson. At least he answers the bell when called upon.

Gumby

October 31st, 2011
6:37 pm

Best of luck to D-Lowe. I always liked him. He came here with good credentials and it just didn’t work. He really got the shaft when he was crucified over his arrest. Then when the charges were dismissed all of the crucifiers (AJC sports writers included) could not say a simple “sorry”.

ernisTbass

October 31st, 2011
6:38 pm

wish Lowe the best, he didn’t hold a gun to Wrenn’s head for the money he just took what was offered and I think he tried to contribute his best and did at times, all in all he has had a career that many only dream of, his biggest crime has been getting older, hope we all get the same opportunity. When he stunk up the mound he admitted at and didn’t blame the umps or phantom injuries, he has much more class than most posters on todays blogs