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Lackey coveted, but Lowe price is right

Lackey coveted, but Lowe price is right

INDIANAPOLIS -- As pitching-hungry teams attempt to determine how much it would cost to add John Lackey to their starting rotation, the Braves find themselves willing to deal a starting pitcher with similar credentials that would seemingly serve as the more durable and cheaper option.

Because Derek Lowe is coming off of a disappointing season, there has been reason to wonder if the Braves will have to end their attempts to deal him and instead trade Javier Vazquez.

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But the Braves remain confident that they'll be able to deal Lowe, and part of their reasoning is based on the fact that his history provides reason to argue he could be every bit as attractive as Lackey, who stands as this year's top free-agent starting pitcher.

Some clubs have provided indication that they share this opinion. One American League scout told a Braves scout Sunday night that because of the small dimensions at his club's ballpark, they have interest in Lowe, who induced the third-most ground balls (389) in the National League this past season.

Without providing specifics, the Braves contend that multiple clubs have continued to show interest in the possibility of dealing for Lowe.

"Derek Lowe, he's been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball for a number of years now," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "One of the very best, if you look at his stats. He got off to a great start last year. I don't know if he shut out Philly, but he two-hit them [for eight innings] Opening Day. He hit a little rough groove at one time and got out of it. Very consistent. Very durable. Great guy."

While notching a 15-win campaign for the fourth time in eight seasons this year, Lowe found himself frustrated by the fact that he posted a 4.67 ERA and allowed opponents to produce a .301 batting average and .355 on-base percentage.

As for Lackey, he finds himself entering the free-agent market at the right time. His status as the top available free-agent starter comes after he went 11-8 with a 3.83 ERA for the Angels this past season. In the process, opponents produced a .263 batting average and .316 on-base percentage.

Based solely on these results and the fact that he is five years younger than Lowe, it's easy to see why Lackey might be the more attractive option. But the fact that he reportedly turned down a $72 million, four-year offer from the Angels and is seemingly seeking a deal that at least equals the five-year, $82.5 million contract the Yankees gave A.J. Burnett brings reason to wonder if Lowe would be the better option.

The attraction toward Lowe has seemingly increased as the Braves have made it known that they would be willing to eat a portion of the $45 million that he is owed over the next three seasons. By doing so, they would bring his cost down closer to the figures that were projected last year, when he was among the top three options available on a much more attractive free-agent market for starting pitchers.

One of the primary factors that attracted the Braves to Lowe last year was that he has proven durable while recording at least 180 innings and 32 starts over each of the past eight seasons. While Lowe has never been on the disabled list, Lackey has been disabled for a total of 86 days over the course of the past four seasons.

Dating back to the beginning of the 2006 season, Lowe has notched two more wins, made 17 more starts and worked 41 2/3 more innings than Lackey. Utilizing this same timetable of the past four seasons, Lackey (3.02) is the only current free-agent starting pitcher who has recorded a better strikeout/walk ratio than Lowe (2.38).

Lowe's frustrations grew as he battled mechanical flaws that led to him going going 3-3 with a 6.65 ERA in his final nine starts this season. But it wasn't as if Lackey entered this year's offseason with a blaze of glory. In his final nine starts, he went 3-3 with a 4.03 ERA.

Even with his disappointing second half, Lowe might have still entered this year's offseason as the top available free-agent starting pitcher.

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 the economic decisions that are seemingly affecting this year's market, perhaps clubs will start viewing the cheaper Lowe as being a more attractive option than Lackey.

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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