Derek Lowe may have pitched his final game as a Brave.
The recent announcement by the Braves that Derek Lowe will not be a starting pitcher in 2012 means only one thing, that Frank Wren is going to try to trade the high-priced veteran.
Lowe, who has one year and $15 million left on his contract, is too expensive for a club like the Braves to just release. He's also not going to get moved back into a late-inning relief role due to the presence of Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, and Eric O'Flaherty, and is too expensive for a middle relief role.
A trade could get the Braves a useful bat to help a lineup that was anemic in September, although due to Lowe's contract they would likely either have to pay some of his salary or acquire a hitter with an equally bad deal. This article looks at five potential suitors for Lowe and what they can send back to Atlanta after studying which hitters have bad contracts.
Bobby Abreu could be expendable for the Angels.
The Angels have some issues with depth in their outfield, but the issue is that they have too many players to give regular playing time to. The top prospect in the game, Mike Trout, is ready for an everyday role that only deepens the depth.
Trout and young Peter Bourjos won't be moved, but the trio of Vernon Wells, Bobby Abreu, and Torii Hunter will be available because you can't plus five guys into three spots and each has a significant contract.
If the Angels believe star first baseman Kendry Morales will be healthy after missing the last year and a half, the logjam at first with Morales and potential Rookie of the Year Mark Trumbo will further deepen the amount of players looking for at bats.
Hunter is the least likely to move because he has full no-trade protection, and isn't likely to be open to making the move. If he was available, he may be the most attractive of the three options since he has some pop left in the tank and provides leadership. He has one year and $18 million left on his contract.
The next most attractive option to the Braves would be Bobby Abreu, a player that will be 38 years old before the start of the 2012 season. Due to reaching contractual goals, Abreu's $9 million dollar option for 2012 vests. Despite his age Abreu put together a solid 2011 season with a triple slash line of .253/.353/.365 with eight homers, 60 runs batted in, and 21 steals. Abreu played 108 games as the designated hitter, but can still play either right or left field.
Vernon Wells isn't likely to happen because (assuming he doesn't opt out of his contract) he has three years and $63 million left on his deal, money the Braves can't really afford to pay unless the Angels can pay some of his salary. If the Braves were able to take him and pay him most of his salary it could potentially help convince the Angels to include starting shortstop Erick Aybar in the deal. Despite the Braves need for a shortstop, paying $63 million over three years for a guy that only hit .218 this year seems unlikely.
Aybar is potentially available because his salary is likely to increase after a strong 2011 and the Angels also having Maicer Izturis ready to plug into a starting role. Aybar, who hit .279/.322/.421 with 10 homers, 59 runs batted in, and 30 steals this year, isn't necessarily even on the trading block despite the fact that there are some rumors in the media.
The Angels could potentially have interest in Lowe for a back of the rotation spot following their trio of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana. After those three, the Angels rotation has few answers as veteran Joel Pineiro is a free agent, rookie Tyler Chatwood's peripheral numbers suggest he was lucky this year and due for some regression next year, and comeback story Jerome Williams needs to prove over a longer time frame that he belongs in the rotation of a playoff contender.
Carlos Lee is another unwanted veteran with a large contract in 2012.
Carlos Lee is a guy with little future in Houston despite the fact that the Astros owe the 35 year old $18 million for next season. Never a good defender, Lee has been splitting time between left field and first base the last two seasons. That wouldn't normally be an issue, but he has regressed with his once feared bat to hit just .275/.342/.446 with 18 homers and 94 runs batted in this year.
Lee is the equivalent of Lowe, in that they are both aging veterans playing for teams that don't have much payroll space and are better off on the bench so that young players can get a shot. The Astros are clearly in rebuilding mode and would like to play Brett Wallace at first to see if he's able to be a starting caliber player, and promising youngster JD Martinez appears ready for a full time job in 2012.
The Astros have some high-priced veterans in their rotation in Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers to go with talented Bud Norris and young Jordan Lyles. That leaves Houston with an open rotation spot, and possibly two as they nearly traded Rodriguez during the season and could try again this winter.
A trade makes sense for both clubs as both guys make similar amounts and are both on the outside looking in. Lee could get some time at first as well as in left while Martin Prado gives Chipper Jones and Dan Uggla some time off. It's certainly not ideal, but it makes sense.
Brandon Inge is the only contract the Tigers would like to shed.
Since the Tigers have been linked to Lowe in recent years when he has been rumored to be on the trade block, they have to enter this discussion. Without many bad contracts, Brandon Inge is the obvious choice since he has one year and $5.5 million left on his contract.
Inge, who was designated for assignment in August, hit just .197/.265/.283 with just three homers in 102 games this year. Inge's value to the Braves would be strictly as a bench bat able to give Chipper a few nights off and fill in elsewhere after catching 60 games and playing 13 in center field for the Tigers in 2008. He may be less valuable of a player than Lowe, but he also makes $9.5 million less.
The Tigers may not have room for Lowe this time around though after acquiring Doug Fister from Seattle at the trading deadline; Fister joins Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello to give the Tigers four solid starters.
If the Tigers feel top prospect Jacob Turner is ready they will use him as the fifth starter, but despite the fact they are usually aggressive in handling young pitchers, many scouts feels Turner could use a year in Triple-A to become more well rounded.
Another top prospect, Andy Oliver, could challenge for a spot after spending this year in Triple-A, but he had below average results there due to issues with walks.
Could the Orioles be looking to trade Maek Reynolds?
Mark Reynolds rebounded from his awful 2010 season after being sent to the Baltimore Orioles, but the slugger still couldn't replicate his 2009 numbers—numbers that look to be an anomaly as he strikes out enough to lead the league the last four years in a row.
Although Reynolds isn't likely to reproduce that 2009 line where he hit .260/.349/.543 with 44 homers, 102 runs batted in, and 24 steals, that doesn't mean Reynolds can't produce similar numbers to what he did this year, when he hit .221/.323/.483 with 37 homers, 86 batted in, and nine steals while he plays first or third.
With one year at $7.5 million plus a club option remaining on his contract, the Orioles could shop the veteran if they believe Chris Davis and Josh Bell are ready to play every day at the corners.
A deal for Reynolds would likely cost the Braves some money because Lowe makes double his salary, but at least Reynolds would have a role and the Braves are still on the hook for that $15 million. He'd likely be an expensive pinch hitter who gives Chipper Jones some days off, but have a bigger role than Lowe and if he impresses could have a starting job in 2013 if Chipper were to retire following 2012.
The Orioles could use Lowe's veteran presence in a young rotation to help out talented but inconsistent players like Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, and Jake Arrieta. They do already have Jeremy Guthrie in a similar role and may not want to try the Davis/Bell combo, so this deal may be one of the least likely unless Buck Showalter has soured on Reynolds due to his strikeout numbers.
The intense Nick Swisher is a long shot to acquire via trade.
This is by far the least likely of all five scenarios for two reasons.
The first is that when, not if, the Yankees try to upgrade their pitching staff this offseason, they will look at better options than Lowe.
The second reason is because Swisher has to have his $10.25 million option picked up for next year, so if the Yankees believed he had a bad contract they could just decline his option, unless they just wanted to use him as trade bait.
Swisher got off to a slow start to 2011, so it's not a surprise that his numbers fell a little from his All Star campaign in 2010. Swisher still managed a line of .260/.374/.449 with 24 homers and 85 runs batted in.
The best news for the Braves is that he has some versatility defensively, playing at both right field and first base this year and having experience in both left and center in the past. Swisher could come in and challenge for the left field job or platoon there while playing in right when Jason Heyward is out of the lineup.
Lowe could give the Yankees a veteran at the back end of their rotation, an area they struggled with this year. Lowe's value to the Yankees may only be because he's a former Red Sox starter and closer who would love to beat his former team.
It's highly unlikely to happen, but I needed five options and the only other bad contract that belongs to a hitter and is close to being over is the one that the Giants Aubrey Huff has—and the Giants don't need to trade for starting pitching.