Following the 2008 season, Braves GM Frank Wren made it clear that he was looking to acquire at least two starting pitchers to bolster the rotation and lead the Braves back into the playoffs.
While Javier Vazquez and Kenshin Kawakami eventually made their way to Atlanta, the Braves wanted an ace, and targeted a couple big name pitchers.
It’s tough to find anyone who would consider the Braves signing of Derek Lowe a success (or even mediocre, for that matter), but things actually could have gone worse for the Braves.
Before we begin going into who has performed better, we can take a look at the contracts of all three players.
Lowe, as many Braves fans know, was given a four-year, $60 million deal, to become the staff ace. The contract was broken up evenly, so Lowe would earn $15 million in each year.
Burnett, whom the Braves targeted before Lowe, was signed for the Yankees for five years and $82.5 million. His contract was also broken up evenly, so he makes $1.5 million a year more than Lowe.
Peavy’s contract is a bit more complicated. He made just $11 million in 2009, and is making $15 million in 2010. Over the next two seasons, he will make $33 million, meaning his four year total ($59 million) would make him the cheapest of all three options. Peavy also has a club option of $22 million in 2013.
One thing that is important to note about Peavy is that he would have cost more than just the money, as the Braves would have had to give up prospects (the Padres wouldn’t settle for any package that didn’t include Tommy Hanson) which essentially makes him cost more than Lowe.
But it’s not surprising that Lowe costs the least; after all, he is easily considered to be worse than the former Cy Young winner Peavy and the electric Burnett.
But you can make a case that Lowe has been better than Peavy or Burnett in the first two years of his contract.
Lowe vs. Peavy
When looking at Lowe vs. Peavy, the stats clearly favor Peavy (although Lowe actually has a better ERA so far in 2010, Peavy was much better, ERA-wise, in 2009).
Despite making fewer starts, Peavy has a WAR of 4.4 over 1.5 seasons compared to Lowe’s 4.2. The reason the numbers are so close is that Peavy has spent a significant amount of time on the DL (where he will be spending the rest of this season).
By time 2010 closes, Lowe will likely have a higher WAR than Peavy, although Peavy was more dominant when on the hill.
This doesn’t make Lowe better than Peavy, but considering Peavy’s major durability issues, I wouldn’t want to be on the hook for $33 million over the next two years.
Lowe vs. Burnett
Interestingly enough, Lowe has bested Burnett in both FIP and xFIP in 2009 and 2010. More importantly, Lowe seems to be on the upswing while Burnett is busy injuring himself in the dugout.
Lowe’s 4.39 ERA in 2010 is much better than Burnett’s (4.99) and both pitchers are a little higher than their FIP right now.
WAR wise, Lowe has won the battle 4.2 to 3.8 over the life of the contract, and these two are more comparable since they have made roughly the same number of starts.
The Derek Lowe signing could have gone a lot worse for the Braves.
If I had to rank the three pitchers, with nothing else included, I would take Peavy, Lowe, and then Burnett.
When financial aspects become involved, Lowe is clearly a better option than Burnett so far, and the Braves will get his contract off the books sooner than the Yankees can.
With money considered, I would take Peavy over Lowe. With the Braves' great pitching depth, they could afford a guy like Peavy who could dominate when healthy even if that was only part of the season.
But when you throw in the fact that the Braves would have had to give up a large package of prospects (again, likely including Tommy Hanson), I think that the Lowe move was the best of any possible deals the Braves could have made prior to the 2009 season.
As the season progresses, I’m sure everyone will be frustrated to watch our $15 million pitcher muddle in mediocrity; but it’s important to know that had the Braves acquired Peavy or signed Burnett (especially if the Braves had signed Burnett) things likely would be even worse.