Is Derek Lowe Worth Four or Five Years, at $15 Million Per Season? In a Word; No.
Derek Lowe began his Major League career with Seattle in 1997, and came to the Red Sox later that season.
After working out of the bullpen and spot-starting from time to time over the first few years, he became a full-time stater for the Sox in 2002. He had had a career year that season, going 21-8, with a 2.58 ERA, and looked like an ace in the making.
In 2003, he posted another solid 17-7 record, behind a powerful Red Sox offense that propelled the team to 95 wins. However, his ERA leapt to a worrisome 4.47.
In his free agency year, 2004, Lowe went backward, posting a 14-12 record and a bloated 5.42 ERA. His days in Boston were numbered. Despite going 3-0 that postseason, (all clinching game wins), with a 1.86 ERA, doing his part in the Sox first World Series Championship in 86 years, Lowe's ERA had been going in the wrong direction for two consecutive seasons. And then there were all the alleged off field distractions, to boot. The Red Sox elected to part ways with Lowe without making him an offer.
Lowe landed with the Dodgers that winter, receiving a four-year, $36 million contract. Pitching in the National League, his ERA dropped considerably, averaging 3.59 over the next four years.
And as a result , Lowe and his agent, Scott Boras, are now seeking a 4-5 year deal, at an average annual salary of $15 million.
The question is whether Lowe is worth that price.
The free agent has a career 3.83 ERA as a starter, has made at least 30 starts in each of the last seven years, throwing at least 200 innings in five of them, 199 in another. With his seemingly rubber arm, he is dependable and doesn't break down. He can be counted to take the ball and compete every five days. In fact, he is one of just two Major Leaguers to have avoided the DL for the last eleven seasons (Brad Ausmus s the other). All of this makes for a good upside.
However, Lowe has never developed into an ace, much less the Dodgers ace. Though he was the Dodgers Opening Day starter in each of his first three years in LA, the distinction of staff ace went to Brad Penny, who was the more overpowering of the two. Lowe is not a dominating pitcher; he has never struck out as many as 150 batters in a season, and has won 20 games just once. He consistently allows more hits than innings pitched, and has a WHIP of 1.27 as a starter. When Lowe takes the mound, runners take the bases.
Lowe has never finished higher than third in the Cy Young voting, which he did in his best season, 2002, as a member of the Red Sox. The highlight of that season was his no-hitter against Tampa at Fenway Park, the first by a Sox pitcher since Dave Moorehead in 1965.
The 35-year-old righty, is a two time All Star, both with the Red Sox (2000 & 2002). He finished second in wins in the AL in 2002 (21), and finished tied for first in the NL with 16 wins in 2006 – not a great year for NL pitchers.
In short, Lowe is a good, solid, reliable pitcher. However, he is not a great pitcher. He's had exactly one great season in his career, and that was six years ago. Despite this reality, he is seeking a contract worthy of a great pitcher, one that will take him through age 39 or 40. Perhaps that's why he's still unemployed as of New Year's Day. And the free agent won't likely find any takers at that price, or that many years.
The Mets reportedly offered a three-year deal, worth $36 million, which Lowe and Boras balked at. This would maintain Lowe's average annual salary at $9 million, and seems to be reasonable for a pitcher of Lowe's caliber.
The problem is the out of line contracts given to average, if not underwhelming, pitchers like Carlos Silva of Seattle (four years, averaging $12 mil annually) and Vicente Padilla of Texas (three years, averaging more than $11 mil annually) etc. These kinds of contracts, given to mediocre pitchers, have completely distorted the market. Lowe isn't getting better; he's getting older. Perhaps he's only worth $10 million per season, especially in a recessionary period like the one we're in.
Undoubtedly, Lowe is more dependable and predictable than AJ Bunett, who was granted an absurd five-year, $82.5 million pact by the yankees. What are the odds that he'll fulfill that obligation? They're certainly not good, and the Yankees investment will likely come back to haunt them in the next couple of years. Once again, that is a contract that distorts the market. Baseball executives realize this, and that's why Lowe may not find a better offer than the one the Mets have given him. And he doesn't deserve better.
If the Red Sox could get Lowe at three years, $30 million, they just might bite. A longer contract for a 35-year-old pitcher would be out of character for the Sox, as would more money for one who is good, but not great.
Lowe says he has finally matured and is a different person than the one who left Boston following the 2004 season.
Then again, there was his 2005 affair with Fox Sports anchor Carolyn Hughes, leading to a divorce from his then-wife Trinka, with whom he has two children. That was after he left the Red Sox. Well, at least the affair led to a marriage between Lowe and Hughes just weeks ago.
Who knows if the off-field distractions will ever end for Lowe? But we do know that he is not worth the contract he is seeking, and the Red Sox are better off sitting on the sidelines and observing these negotiations as they play out.
Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.