Lowe: I'll love playing in Atlanta
Contract finalized, right-hander introduced at Turner Field
ATLANTA -- When Derek Lowe arrived at Turner Field for a Jan. 8 meeting with the Braves, it seemed like the team couldn't have picked a worse day to attempt to sell him on the organization.
But while many Atlanta residents were fuming about the fact that they'd just learned John Smoltz was heading to Boston, Braves general manager Frank Wren was intensifying Lowe's interest and simultaneously changing the course of what had been a rather tumultuous offseason for him and his organization.
"We had a tremendous meeting and I really got to know everybody in this organization, from pretty much every Minor League kid to every member of the Major League staff and what their goals were," Lowe said. "I left here feeling very comfortable about this being a place that I'd love to play."
Throw in the fact that the Braves provided a four-year, $60 million offer and it's easy to understand why Lowe was in such a good mood when he was officially introduced on Friday as the newest member of Atlanta's new-look starting rotation.
"This organization wants to get back on top and back on top fast," Lowe said. "I look forward to getting to [Spring Training] in three weeks and mingling with everybody. This is going to be a really good time."
Just a week ago, it wasn't a good time to be associated with the Braves. The heat created by unsuccessful attempts to lure Jake Peavy, A.J. Burnett and Rafael Furcal reached a boiling point when Smoltz decided to end his 22-year association with the Braves to pursue a better offer from the Red Sox.
But instead of buckling amid public pressure and worrying about the fact that some fans were calling for him to be fired, Wren stuck to his commitment to improve his rotation, and over the course of the next few days, he did so with the signings of Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami.
"It's been a very fruitful offseason and we feel very comfortable," Wren said. "Just from talking to the players the other day, I could tell they're excited to go to Spring Training. I don't know if they'd have said that 10 days ago."
Knowing that many of his players were worried about the offseason's events, Wren met Wednesday morning with Brian McCann, Chipper Jones, Jeff Francoeur, Kelly Johnson and Tim Hudson.
While talking about the need for veterans to change the clubhouse culture by serving as better examples for the young players, Jones, Hudson and the rest of group fed off the energy that had been created less than 24 hours earlier, when it had been revealed that Lowe had decided to serve as the top-caliber starter Wren had been seeking throughout the offseason.
"Now we're heading to Spring Training feeling like we can win," McCann said.
|"I left here feeling very comfortable about this being a place that I'd love to play."|
|-- Derek Lowe, on his initial impression of the Braves|
"This really gives us that top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher that we've been looking for all winter," Wren said.
To get Lowe, Atlanta paid more than they originally desired and some have questioned why the club would "overpay" and provide a four-year contract to a veteran pitcher who will turn 36 in June.
A simple response would be to say that Lowe was the only remaining available top-caliber pitcher who would provide a chance to be competitive. But more importantly, there would have been no chance to even think of being competitive had Lowe signed with the Phillies or Mets, two of the East Coast-based teams that interested the veteran sinkerballer.
Motivated by last week's meeting and under the belief that the Phillies might attempt to create payroll space by trading Brett Myers, the Braves acted quickly and provided an offer that Lowe couldn't refuse.
"We're very happy the way it's turned out," Wren said. "We're very thrilled that Derek is a part of our staff and I think we're in a position where he is the perfect fit."
Previously, the Braves felt Peavy and then Burnett would serve as the "perfect fit," and there's no doubt that both come closer than Lowe to meeting the definition of a true "ace." But Peavy and Burnett also would have come with greater costs and uncertainties.
To assume the minimum cost of $63 million to add Peavy to the rotation over the next four seasons, Atlanta would have had to part ways with Yunel Escobar, Gorkys Hernandez, Charlie Morton or Jo-Jo Reyes, and at least one other top prospect. Considering they were essentially bidding against themselves, the Braves never felt good about having to add to a package already highlighted by both Escobar and Hernandez.
It could be argued that the extra $4-5 million the Braves might have "overpaid" to get Lowe is actually cheaper than the cost of losing the wealth of prospects it would have taken to bring Peavy to Atlanta.
It could also easily be argued that the Braves saved $20 million and gained the greater guarantee by landing Lowe instead of Burnett, who declined their five-year, $80 million offer to sign with the Yankees.
While Lowe has averaged 15 wins and 208 innings during his seven years as a starter, Burnett has completed 200 innings just three times during his career, and two of those instances occurred when he was preparing to enter the free-agent market.
Instead of serving as Atlanta's latest ace, Burnett could have easily become the club's latest version of Mike Hampton. History shows Lowe is more like the anti-Hampton.
"I hope everybody expects a lot out of me," Lowe said. "I've always loved that challenge. I want people to expect me to beat the teams in our division, and if we don't, I want people to be upset."
Following Burnett's example, Lowe enhanced his own position in this year's free-agent market by going 6-1 with a 1.27 ERA in his final 10 starts for the Dodgers. By doing so, he showed he could be dominant in the heat of a pennant race and proved that his strict commitment to conditioning has helped him stay strong as he's approached an age where he's deemed "old."
Because Lowe was raised in the cold-weather environment of Michigan and spent the first five seasons of his Major League career as a reliever, the Braves contend his arm is stronger than many other pitchers of the same age. In fact, they've pointed out that despite being seven years older, he's thrown just 281 more innings than CC Sabathia.
"Pitching as a reliever helped him and extended what are now his peak years," Wren said. "We feel good about him. Everything we saw in the reports from the physical [on Thursday] shows that he's in tremendous shape and takes care of himself great."
Lowe's physical condition was one of the first things Braves manager Bobby Cox pointed out after he emerged from last week's meeting with a sense of optimism.
While Cox's presence at the meeting proved influential, so too did the presence of Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell, who got to know Lowe while he was a coach in the Dodgers system. McDowell remembers his fellow sinkerballer regularly displaying strong leadership around younger pitchers.
"He was not only a leader to some of the guys on that staff, but he also made guys better," McDowell said. "I think he'll make our pitching staff better. To have somebody at the top of the rotation with his capability is obviously a tremendous asset."
Lowe comes to Atlanta encouraged by the strong infield defense that Wren promoted during last week's meeting and excited to experience some of the same things that his good friend Greg Maddux enjoyed during his days of playing for Cox in Atlanta.
But most importantly, he arrives with a youthful exuberance that the Braves hope provides benefits on the mound and in their clubhouse.
"I've always taken great pride in working hard," Lowe said. "I don't take anything for granted. You have to be a certain age, and I don't think just because you're 35, you're going to go downhill from here. I work hard. I prepare hard, and I think when you take good care of your body on and off the field, good things can happen."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.