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Market Watch: Derek Lowe

RHP Derek Lowe, free agent
Age: 35 (turns 36 in June)
Career stars: 126-107, 3.75 ERA
Agent: Scott Boras

In the winter of 2004-05, these were the 10 biggest free agent signings among starting pitchers:

Pedro Martinez: four years, $53 million (Mets)
Carl Pavano: four years, $39.95 million (Yankees)
Derek Lowe: four years, $36 million (Dodgers)
Russ Ortiz: four years, $34 million (Diamondbacks)
Matt Clement: three years, $25.5 million (Red Sox)
Eric Milton: three years, $25.5 million (Reds)
Odalis Perez: three years, $24 million (Dodgers)
Kris Benson: three years, $22.5 million (Mets)
Jon Lieber: three years, $21 million (Phillies)
Jaret Wright: three years, $20 million (Yankees)

Let's see... By my count, that list includes five spectacular busts (Pavano, Milton, Ortiz, Clement and Wright), three run-of-the-mill busts (Perez, Benson and Lieber) and one very expensive semi-bust (Martinez). Yikes. That's a lot of wasted money.

Alone on that list -- as someone who, in hindsight, can be called a bargain -- is Lowe. For their $9 million AAV (average annual value), the Dodgers got 135 starts (only Greg Maddux had more between 2005-08), 850 1/3 innings pitched and 54 wins.

Four years later, Lowe is back on the free agent market -- during a winter in which far more money is going to be thrown around. And the events of the previous four years play heavily into his favor.

As the above list shows, free agent pitching is a notoriously volatile commodity, just as likely to explode in your face as to lead you a championship.

And that's precisely why Lowe is so valuable this winter. He is as close as you can get to a sure thing.

There are major questions about all the elite pitchers on the market, some of whom will nonetheless walk away with nine-figure deals. CC Sabathia is pushing 300 pounds. Ben Sheets and A.J. Burnett have both extensive injury histories and reputations for being soft.

But with Lowe, you have a very good idea of what you're getting: 32-plus starts (he has reached that threshold in seven straight seasons), 200-plus innings (five of the last seven years), 14-plus wins (five of the last seven years) and an ERA under 4 (five of the last seven years).

What you're not getting, however, is a bona fide ace. On a great pitching staff, like the Boston Red Sox's, he is a No. 2 starter, maybe even No. 3 (depending on Josh Beckett's health). The New York Yankees, who, like the Red Sox, have designs on Lowe, envision him as a No. 2 starter behind Sabathia, whom they also covet. Are No. 2 starters worth $15 million a year, as Lowe might command? When No. 1 starters, such as Sabathia or Johan Santana, are making $22 million or more, it doesn't seem like such a reach.

Lowe's age is another factor. He's got 6-8 years on the other elite pitchers on the market, which will give teams pause before they go offering him a four- or five-year deal.

In many ways, the Red Sox are the perfect landing spot for Lowe. He has a storied history there, having won the clinching game of all three postseason series during the Red Sox's march to the World Series title in 2004, and has recently professed his enduring love of Boston. He also would slot nicely into a rotation that would also feature Jon Lester, Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and (pick one) Clay Buchholz/Tim Wakefield/Michael Bowden/Junichi Tazawa/Justin Masterson.

But it also would not be surprising if the Red Sox were more interested in Burnett, whom owner John Henry loved when both were with the Florida Marlins and who is younger and possessing of better stuff than Lowe. Then, too, the Red Sox's pitching depth (see preceding paragraph) could cause them to steer clear of free agency altogether. Nothing wrong with a Lester-Beckett-Matsuzaka-Masterson-Wakefield rotation.

Beyond the Yankees and Red Sox, teams to watch in the Lowe sweepstakes are the Mets, who need a starting pitcher to slot behind Santana and have the money to spend now that Martinez's contract has expired, and the Detroit Tigers, who have said they aren't looking to spend after last winter's shopping spree but who might make an exception for Lowe, a hometown kid.

And what the heck, just to get y'all stirred up, let's throw this out there: I know for a fact the Nationals loooove Lowe, and they may be looking for somewhere to throw all that money once Mark Teixeira turns them down. He may be a No. 2 starter elsewhere, but here he'd be an ace all the way.

By Dave Sheinin  |  November 17, 2008; 12:09 PM ET
 
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Next: NL MVP: Albert Pujols

Comments

One interesting consideration in judging Lowe's age is that he did not become a regular MLB starter until 2002, age 29. So while his chronological age is high at 36, how does the wear on his arm than Burnett, Sheets or Sabathia?

MLB IP, GS
Lowe - 1940.1, 255
Sabathia - 1659.1, 254
Burnett - 1376.1, 211
Sheets - 1428, 221

Most innings pitched, but Sheets and Burnett have their innings suppressed due to injuries. Sabathia's mileage is about a season and a half less than Lowe. I guess a 36 year old Lowe is like a 31 year old CC. So if CC is a 6 year contract, then the 3 - 4 year range sounds OK for Lowe.

Lowe is a pretty unique bird in that he went reliever for 4+ years to starter. hard to find a comparable pitcher. Most go from starter to reliever (Smoltz went back). On baseball reference, they have his #2 comparison through age 35 as Danny Darwin, who pitched until 42 and popped between starter and reliever much of his career. Don Robinson is listed as his most comparable, but he went starter to reliever. Jerry Staley is way before my time. Maybe figure you get 3 years of Lowe as a rotation guy and then he finishes in the bullpen.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | November 17, 2008 3:08 PM | Report abuse

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