Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Will the Braves Compete With Derek Lowe?

Ahhhh, the $60 million dollar question. How much will this move impact the Braves?

In a nutshell, it helps them tremendously. Even though Derek Lowe is not your typical ace like Johan Santana or Cole Hamels, he will provide the Braves with a steady, consistent force at the front end of their rotation. Lowe should be a virtual lock to give the Braves 30+ starts with an ERA somewhere in the 3.40-3.70 range, which is exactly what the Braves need.

The signing of Lowe will also take the burden off of Javier Vazquez, who should never be counted on to lead a rotation in any capacity. Vazquez will now slid in nicely behind Lowe in the rotation to give the Braves two inning eaters at the front end of the rotation. If Jair Jurrjens and new addition Kenshin Kawakami perform as expected, then the Braves could have the makings of a really nice starting rotation.

However, the NL East is still one of the tougher divisions in baseball. The Mets and Phillies have improved drastically over the past three seasons and both appear ready to compete for a championship in 2009. Can we now include the Braves in the discussion with the Mets and Phillies?

I still say no. Even though Lowe makes the Braves a much better team, I doubt that he is the final piece of the puzzle. The Braves still have major questions marks about the back end of their bullpen and their outfield, which currently has Jeff Francoeur and a bunch of guys that no one has ever heard of. Speaking of Francoeur, will he bounce back in 2009? Can he take a freakin' walk?

And does anyone really think that Chipper Jones will stay healthy this season? It's incredible to think that Jones has not played in more than 140 games in a season since 2003. If the Braves are going to compete, Chipper has to be healthy.

So right now the Braves have too many question marks to be considered a serious contender. However, they are dangerous. They have the makings of a good team and have a solid lineup, but they will need their young guys in the outfield to step up and pray to the baseball Gods that Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano, and especially Chipper Jones stay healthy.

It's going to be hard to justify this move if the Braves do not seriously compete in 2009 or 2010. It's unrealistic to think that Lowe will be able to put up these numbers when he is 39 or 40, so the next two seasons have to be the time when the Braves go for it. So I look for the Braves to remain aggressive in free agency and look to sign a corner outfielder and a quality arm in the bullpen. Neither move will be expensive, but the Braves need to continue to make moves if they want to compete in 2009.

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