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Why Derek Lowe

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LoweFriday I blithely suggested the Giants should go after Derek Lowe. It was obviously a half-baked idea, and several of you told me so. But I baked another quarter of it over the weekend, and I still think it’s worth pursuing with several caveats.

Before we discuss the conditions, here’s why I kind of like the idea: Not only is Lowe well above average, he would keep the bullpen out of the game. What would you prefer to spend: $8 million on two middle relievers, or $10 M-plus on someone who’ll throw more innings than two relievers combined? More on the salaries in a minute.

In his four years with L.A. Lowe averaged 6 1/3 innings per start. Even though he’s 35, he throws 75% sinkerballs (that’s a guess) and has a good chance of staying healthy in his late 30s. For the record, PECOTA projected 164 IP in 2008; Lowe threw 199. PECOTA also projected IP totals in the 165–170 range through 2012. I’ll bet the revised projection this winter adds a few innings to that.

Unscientifically, I’d say he’s got at least a 50% chance to throw 200+ innings in the next couple years. So he’s not only good at taking away innings from the bullpen game to game, he’s liable to make most of his starts.

WilsonAdd to that his extreme ground-ball tendencies. They’re good enough anywhere but a huge asset in Arizona and Coorstastrophe Field.

Plus, he looks like Owen Wilson, no?  

One more point about Lowe’s eatings of innings. It would take pressure off the other Giants starters to go deep. And when I say “other starters,” I really mean Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. How many times last year were they pushed a bit extra because the bullpen really needed a day off? (Or the bullpen really sucked?)

Lowe won’t be cheap. He averaged $9 million a year with the Dodgers, and even with the recession, I expect his annual average to be in the $12 M range. But it’s worth a phone call. Maybe he wants to stay on the West Coast. Maybe he’ll let the Giants get creative and, say, tie a couple mil a year to innings-pitched incentives. Or maybe he’ll let the Giants overpay for a short, two-year contract that would expire right when the Bumgarner/Alderson reinforcements were closer to taking over.

One could argue, too, that some of the money spent on Lowe is money the Giants don’t have to give a middle reliever who’s only going to pitch 60–80 innings. But they’d still have to move some salary to make Lowe make sense. How about Rowand?

Critics howl: Save the money for offense! We don’t need a 35–year-old pitcher! But I don’t think the Giants are best suited spending their free-agent money on offense this year. Teixiera? Not gonna happen. Pat Burrell? Adam Dunn? Casey Blake? Really? The Giants are better off trading Sanchez and a prospect or two for a big, young bat, preferably at an infield corner.

*DING! We interrupt this post to marvel at the news that Billy Beane has traded three young players for Matt Holliday, who will no doubt walk after 2009.* 

Back to Lowe: I don’t think the Giants have a shot at him, to be honest. I think he’ll have his choice of teams better positioned to compete. A 35–year-old with a history of big postseason performances who’s staring at what could be his last contract probably won’t take two or three years from a rebuilding team in a town with cold summer nights. But if it’s true the Giants have up to $20 M before they hit next year’s payroll ceiling, the addition of Lowe would still give them between $5 M and $10 M for cheap bullpen and offensive help, with more room cleared if they can trade Roberts and Rowand. 

It never hurts to ask.

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