The first trade of the hot stove season! It was announced today that the Cleveland Indians have acquired right-handed veteran sinkerballer Derek Lowe from the Atlanta Braves. The Braves will cover $10M of the $15 million on Lowe’s 2012 contract.
This move represents salary relief for the Braves and an excellent buy-low for the Indians. Lowe’s time in Atlanta wasn’t exactly filled with great memories (our own Joe Lucia reacted with a "glory, glory hallejulah"). Then again, Lowe’s extreme ground ball rates have not regressed much and he has posted xFIPs of 3.54 and 3.56 over the last two seasons. He also fell victim to a .327 BABIP last season. That rise in BABIP came with very little change in his batted ball data.
Lowe is 38 years old and will turn 39 on June 1st of 2012, so it’s very unlikely that his stuff simply gets better. He’s also moving from the NL to the AL, which is always seems to affect pitchers in a negative way. That being said, he could certainly turn his heavy ground ball rates into more success in 2012 and perhaps an ERA closer to four than five.
The problem is the projected defense that will be playing behind him. While Asdrubal Cabrera found himself all over the highlight reels last season, he has graded out as well below average defensively over the last three seasons, posting negative numbers in ultimate zone rating (UZR), total zone (TZ) and defensive runs saved (DRS). At second will be Jason Kipnis, who also graded out well below average according to UZR, though his 305 innings sample size is pretty small. However, Kipnis was never considered a prospect that would excel defensively as a major leaguer. Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein wrote this about Kipnis’ defense before last season:
“Kipnis will never be a Gold Glove defender as his range, like his speed, is merely average. His arm is weak, and his throwing motion a bit funky, but it's less of a hindrance at second. He needs to work on his double-play turn.”
At third will be young Lonnie Chisenhall, who has the skills to be a good defensive third baseman. The Indians’ first base situation is open at the moment, though it’s safe to say that Carlos Santana will spend some time there. His defense at first also graded out as below average.
The big problem is clearly up the middle, where both Cabrera and Kipnis lack range. This means that Lowe’s success will depend greatly on defensive positioning and probably a little luck.
The Braves recieve 23-year-old lefty Chris Jones in the deal. Jones is very tough on lefties and projects as a possible future LOOGY, according to Kevin Goldstein.
All in all, this is a good move for both teams. The Braves shed some payroll and open up a rotation spot for one of their extremely talented young arms. The Indians add a veteran ground ball machine that could very well see better results in 2012 and should serve as a mentor to younger ground ball machines Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Fausto Carmona. Between those four pitchers, the Indians infield is sure to see a lot of work in 2012. As it stands, either the players need to improve defensively, or the Indians need to make some more bold moves to improve that aspect of their team.