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Lowe trade not out of question for Braves

Lowe trade not out of question for Braves

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ATLANTA -- When it became apparent that the Braves were going to move one of their two veteran starters, it was easy to dismiss the possibility that they might be able to move Derek Lowe.

Coming off a season during which he posted a 4.67 ERA -- his career high in the National League -- Lowe is owed $45 million over the course of the next three seasons. Normally, this wouldn't be a good combination for a club looking to deal a pitcher who will turn 37 on June 1.

But a quick look at the starting pitchers available on this year's free-agent market reveals that this isn't necessarily a normal year. With John Lackey standing as the only potential ace on this list, the Braves find even more reason to believe that they will be able to get a desired return if they end up trading either Lowe or Javier Vazquez.

If the Blue Jays opt to move Roy Halladay this offseason, the Braves may find themselves with one fewer potential suitor.

But even if former American League Cy Young Award winner Halladay is put on the trade market, the Braves are still seemingly confident that they could move Lowe and then possibly provide Vazquez his wish to stay in Atlanta beyond the end of the 2010 season.

Looking simply at the results of the 2009 season, it's easy to deduce that pitching-hungry clubs would have more of a desire to obtain either Halladay or Vazquez. The negative element would stem from the fact that both of these veteran right-handers are entering the final year of their respective contracts.

If the Blue Jays opt to trade Halladay, his $15.75 million price tag certainly won't be a deterrent to a big-market club that has the available funds. Over the course of the past four seasons, the 32-year-old right-hander has led all Major League pitchers in wins (69) and innings pitched (930 1/3). His 3.11 ERA has been bettered only by Johan Santana's 2.92 mark.

Vazquez's $11.5 million salary could even be viewed as a bargain based simply on the success he enjoyed during this year's 15-win season.

Among NL pitchers, Vazquez ranked second in strikeouts (238), strikeouts-per-walk ratio (5.87) and complete games (three); third in WHIP (1.03); fourth in strikeouts per nine innings (9.77); fifth in batting average allowed (.226); and sixth in ERA (2.87). He also finished fourth in NL Cy Young Award balloting.

While clubs may initially have more interest in Vazquez, their level could decrease when they realize the difference in the return the Braves would be seeking for him in comparison to Lowe.

In exchange for one season of Vazquez, clubs will likely have to supply Major League-ready talent plus prospects.

In exchange for the opportunity to have Lowe provide a veteran presence for three seasons, there has been indication that clubs may only need to supply Minor Leaguers who could help the Braves improve the crop of position players that currently exist in the lower levels of their farm system.

Based on the offered return, a team may also be able to entice the Braves to eat a small portion of the $45 million that Lowe is owed over the next three seasons.

Even as Lowe struggled down the stretch this year, two Major League scouts not associated with the Braves said that they believed his presence took a lot of pressure off Vazquez and the rest of the Braves during the early portion of the season.

While the Yankees no longer appear to be a suitor, the Angels and Brewers are believed to be interested in the prospect of putting Lowe at the front end of their currently inexperienced rotations.

Recognized by Braves manager Bobby Cox as one of the hardest workers he's ever seen, Lowe found himself frustrated by the mechanical flaws that led to him going 3-3 with a 6.84 ERA in his final nine starts this season.

Even with his late-season issues, Lowe still notched his fourth 15-win season and found his weighty ERA burdened by three forgettable outings against the Orioles, Yankees and Mets. Minus those three outings, the veteran sinkerballer, who ranked third in the NL with a 1.36 ground-ball/fly-ball ratio, would have found himself with a more respectable 3.88 ERA.

Over the past four seasons in comparison to this year's other free-agent starting pitchers who have totaled at least 600 innings during this span, Lowe has led the way with 80 quality starts and a .699 opponents' OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage). His 57 wins and 134 starts match Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte for the best marks among this group.

Sticking within this same group and using the same time span, Lowe (3.84) and Lackey (3.50) are the only pitchers to complete 700 innings and post a sub-4.00 ERA. In addition, Lowe (1.29) and Lackey (1.24) are the only pitchers to complete 600 innings with a sub-1.30 WHIP.

Given that clubs may initially be more interested in Vazquez, there's reason to throw him into this comparison that spans the past four seasons. Since the start of the 2006 season, Lowe is 57-43 with a 3.84 ERA in 823 innings. Vazquez is 53-46 with a 4.01 ERA in 847 innings.

Lowe, who is the only Major Leaguer with at least 12 wins over each of the past eight seasons, is obviously coming off a season that has created some doubts. But based on his history and the lack of talent available via free agency this year, there is still reason to believe that the Braves will be able to trade him.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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