Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Braves Sign Actual, Factual Human Baseball Players

Atlanta inks Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami.

Kawakami's deal is official. Lowe's is not, and with the way the offseason has gone I don't want to jump the gun, but multiple news outlets say Lowe is a Brave. And his agent isn't going around telling everyone to chill, so this seems like a safe bet.

Once John Smoltz bolted, Lowe became a must-have for Frank Wren. That's not an enviable bargaining positioning, and Scott Boras quite predictably took good advantage of it. The Mets were offering merely three years and $36 million. The Braves ended up giving Lowe four years and $60 million. The $15 million is a slight overpay, but hardly disastrous. More troublesome is giving four years to the 35-year-old Lowe. Wren can't be doing cartwheels at the idea of paying a 39-year-old Derek Lowe $15 million in 2012.

But this signing has nothing to do with 2012 and everything to do with the winter of 2008 and the summer of 2009. After missing out on Jake Peavy, AJ Burnett, Junichi Tazawa, Rafael Furcal, Mike Hampton and John Smoltz, Wren desperately needed a splash to ameliorate the toxicity in Turner Field's atmosphere. More importantly, he needed some kind of reliable arm to plug into his rotation behind (or prefarably in front of) Jair Jurrjens and Javier Vasquez.

Well, he's got that. Since moving to LA in 2005, Lowe's put up ERA+s of 114, 124, 118 and 131. He's thrown fewer than 200 innings just once, and that was in 2007 when he tossed a paltry 199 1/3.

With Vasquez and his guaranteed 200+ innings, the Braves have brought in two pitchers who can relieve a lot of stress from Atlanta's overloaded bullpen. If nothing else, Bobby Cox knows he'll get six innings per start from Vasquez and Lowe, which is good, since the Braves aren't trotting out the Nasty Boys.

Lowe, Vasquez and Jurrjens will be joined by 33-year-old Japanese import Kenshin Kawakami. I can't pretend to speak authoratively about Kawakami. The clips I've found on YouTube show a pitcher with impressive control and an asthetically pleasing slow curveball. (Seriously, a top-notch 12-to-6 curve is one of the things I'd mention if a hostile alien overlord demanded reasons why humanity should be spared extinction) He's had some nice numbers for the Chunichi Dragons, but translating statistics from the Japanese Leagues to MLB is still an inexact science. And you always run a risk when signing Japanese pitchers, as they usually work in six-man rotations.

Regardless, Kawakami brings a little mystery and excitement to Turner Field, and that's a good thing. The Braves rotation looks to be Lowe-Vasquez-Jurrjens-Kawakami, with Jorge Campillo and several youngsters (Jo Jo Reyes, Charlie Morton, James Parr) competing for the fifth spot in spring training. Uber prospect Tommy Hanson waits in the wings and could see time later in the season. Tim Hudson's status recovering from Tommy John Surgery is unknown, though it's theoretically possible he could return in August or September.

There's something to be said for reliability, and while I don't think the Braves are in a position to seriously contend in the East (there are massive sucking chest wounds in the outfield), they're at least guaranteed the ability to go throw the rotation three or four straight times without needing to overhaul it.

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