Lowe dealt to Tribe for Minor League reliever
Braves to pay $10 million of righty's $15 million salary in 2012
ATLANTA -- Braves general manager Frank Wren said he did not see a way Derek Lowe would be part of his starting rotation next year. Now Wren can be satisfied that Lowe's salary will no longer be a heavy burden on his 2012 payroll.
Making a cost-cutting move that will aid the attempt to upgrade their offense, the Braves traded Lowe and cash considerations to the Indians on Monday in exchange for left-handed Minor League reliever Chris Jones. The Indians have agreed to pay $5 million of the $15 million still owed the 38-year-old Lowe as he enters the final year of his contract.
Along with slashing $5 million off the payroll, the Braves also opened a rotation spot that will likely be filled by either left-hander Mike Minor or righty Julio Teheran, who is widely considered the game's top pitching prospect.
"This allows us to focus on the next step," Wren said. "As you're going through the offseason, you're always trying to keep your priorities in order so that you can make the moves you want. This was one of the first priorities for us, to not only open a spot for our young pitchers, but to also allow us to have some more financial flexibility to build the club."
When Wren signed Lowe to a four-year, $60 million contract in January 2009, he didn't envision having to eat $10 million during the final year of the deal. But this is better than the alternative, which would have kept the Braves on the hook for all of the $15 million still owed a veteran pitcher who no longer fits their rotation plans.
With the additional $5 million freed up, the Braves should have just slightly more than $10 million to spend as they look for a starting shortstop, search for potential outfield upgrades and find a versatile utility man who can play both middle infield positions when necessary.
"We've got a lot of discussions going on," Wren said. "There may be trades that impact our lineup. Or there may be signings that change things. It's just too early in the offseason to know exactly what it will be."
Two days after the conclusion of the regular season, Wren met with a few reporters and essentially said Lowe did not fit in his future plans. The veteran's late-season struggles combined with the tremendous strides Minor and Teheran made this year influenced this mindset.
"We feel like it's going to be a good battle in Spring Training with some of those young guys," Wren said. "I don't think anybody knows right now who it's going to be. But we do know we have good options and that's all you can ask."
Finishing a three-year tenure in Atlanta, Lowe went 9-17 with a 5.05 ERA in 34 starts this past year. In 101 starts with the Braves, he went 40-39 with a 4.57 ERA. Lowe served as the club's Opening Day starter each of the past three years, and he started two of the four games played against the Giants in the 2010 National League Division Series.
Age has seemingly diminished Lowe's once-effective sinker, forcing him to spend most of the past couple seasons making adjustments. His most beneficial adjustment came late last year, when he regained feel for the slider that he found success with a few years ago while pitching for the Dodgers.
Proving less predictable toward the end of the 2010 season, Lowe went 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in five September starts. This surprising turnaround was a significant reason the Braves clinched the NL Wild Card entry on the regular season's final day that year.
But the optimism surrounding Lowe was short-lived as he struggled through the final five months of 2011. He went 0-5 with an 8.75 ERA in five September starts; the Braves were eliminated from the playoff race on the final day of the regular season.
Even with Lowe's recent struggles, Wren said there were at least four teams that showed definite interest in trading for him.
Jones posted a 3.36 ERA in 43 relief appearances for Class A Kinston this past season. The 23-year-old southpaw recorded 65 strikeouts in 72 1/3 innings and limited left-handed batters to a .143 (12-for-83) batting average.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.