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Lowe pickup offers varying possibilities

November 7, 2011
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Derek Lowe (Photo: AP)
For once the Indians have come out of the gates aggressive in an offseason. Just three days after the Cardinals were crowned World Series champs the Tribe pulled the trigger on a deal to acquire a starting pitcher.

By acquiring Derek Lowe from the Braves the Tribe has acquired the rights to a 38-year-old starting pitcher who lost 17 games last year in the National League and posted a 5.05 ERA. While these numbers may not inspire a ton of confidence in Lowe, he should be viewed as a solid back-of-the-rotation option.

The Indians already have a pretty solid 1-3 in Masterson, Jimenez and Tomlin, so leaving 4 and 5 to the likes of Carmona and Lowe is not a bad option. They are two horses who consistently work over 180 innings and pound opposing batters with heavy sinkers. In fact, Lowe has worked at least 180 innings in each of his last ten seasons. With that kind of health history, Lowe’s ability to stay healthy this year should settle any questions about the Tribe’s training staff.

The kind of durability that Lowe and Carmona should bring to the table is not something to be brushed aside. Teams that contend rarely do so by going through 10-12 starting pitchers over the course of the year. Most teams have some starting pitching depth; the problem comes when the injuries start to pile up. As the injury list fills up the parent club is forced deeper and deeper down the depth chart to arms that are not MLB-ready or ones that come off the free agent scrap heap. Just ask the Red Sox if this is any way to put a playoff run together.

While the Indians appear to be slotting Lowe into their projected rotation, I think there is another option for Lowe that makes the deal even better for the Tribe. Between 1998 and 2001 Lowe worked out of the bullpen with the Red Sox. In fact, he made over sixty appearances in each of those years, and over seventy in two of them. (One year he even saved 42 games for the BoSox.)

With young, back of the rotation depth, like Jeanmar Gomez, Zach McAllister, and David Huff, the Indians should at least prepare for the possibility that one of these young arms pitches himself into the rotation at some point. Since the Braves have picked up $10 million of Lowe’s $15 million dollar salary Lowe remains an option to end up in the bullpen as a long-relief option or swing-man later on in the season if any of the young arms make a compelling case for promotion.

While the Indians have made it clear that, if healthy, Lowe will be in the rotation to start the year, the flexibility he provides the Indians makes the deal more appealing. Furthermore, it isn’t that difficult to imagine a scenario where Carmona is traded in an effort to plug the (now gaping) centerfield gap. With Carmona gone, Lowe would slide into that role, affordably eating up innings at the back of the rotation.

The other real possibility is that the Indians trade some of their back-of-the-rotation depth to fill some of their position-player holes. While the old maxim that you can never have enough pitching holds true, maybe the front office feels a little more comfortable moving Gomez or Huff if they know they have two starters with proven durability like Carmona and Lowe.

Of course we can’t know now how the trade will pan out. Lowe could come out and do his best Kevin Millwood imitation (either with the Indians or the Red Sox) or he could come out and eat innings at a reasonable salary. What we can begin to see is that the Indians’ front office has now jam-packed this rotation with sinkerball pitchers. Are the Indians infielders to the challenge?

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his latest book the 2011 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More is available for purchase for $20.95 to customers in the US (shipping and handling extra).

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