It’s official: Derek Lowe’s a Yankee

The Yankees have officially signed Derek Lowe and will use him out of the bullpen, the team announced. They only owe the veteran right-hander the pro-rated portion of the league minimum with the Braves and Indians on the hook for the remainder of his $15M salary. Ryota Igarashi has unsurprisingly been optioned back to Triple-A to clear a room on the 25-man roster. The 40-man roster is now full.


David Phelps to start on Monday, Igarashi recalled

Via Marc Carig, right-hander David Phelps will start in place of CC Sabathia on Monday. The just-signed Derek Lowe will back him up out of the bullpen. Sabathia was placed on the DL with a stiff elbow earlier today. Joel Sherman says the Yankees will recall Ryota Igarashi for tomorrow’s game before activating Lowe in time for Monday’s game.

Yankees sign Derek Lowe

Beard’s gotta go, just ask the other Derek. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

CC Sabathia is headed to the DL with elbow stiffness, and the Yankees have replaced him with another innings eater. Marc Carig reports that the Bombers have signed Derek Lowe while Joel Sherman adds that he has agreed to pitch out of the bullpen as a long reliever. He’s expected to join the team on Monday. David Phelps will start in Sabathia’s place on Monday, and Ryota Igarashi will come up to fill the vacant roster spot for tomorrow. The Yankees have an open 40-man roster spot, so no additional move is required.

Lowe, 39, was released by the Indians earlier this week, meaning the Yankees will only be on the hook for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum. The veteran right-hander pitched to a 5.52 ERA (4.47 FIP) in 21 starts and 119 innings for Cleveland this year, though he walked more batters (45) than he struck out (41). He also got hammered in his last dozen starts, pitching to an 8.80 ERA. That’s why he was released. Lowe still generates a ton of ground balls (60.0%) with his upper-80s sinker, though left-handers have just crushed him this year (.412 wOBA).

Although he hasn’t pitched out of the bullpen since 2007, Lowe spent a number of years closing for the Red Sox earlier in his career. He’s familiar with a relief role, so it shouldn’t be a huge adjustment. The Yankees also don’t have to worry too much about him and the whole New York/big market/pennant race pressure thing after all his time in Boston, plus they know first hand that he can handle a playoff-type atmosphere. I don’t put much stock in that stuff, but at least there are no concerns here.

I kinda had a feeling this was coming after we learned about Sabathia’s injury only because it was an easy move to make. Lowe was a free agent with a fixed price (practically free), and a guy who could soak up some innings without issue — he’s thrown at least 180 innings every year since 2001. Adam Warren figures to remain in Triple-A for the time being, but he was the other alternative for Monday’s start and Sabathia’s roster spot. Lowe’s signing is a depth move, another example of an older and accomplished player accepting a reduced role with the Yankees.

Scouting The Trade Market: Derek Lowe

Three offseasons ago, everyone knew that the Yankees were going to make a major run at CC Sabathia. The rest of their starting pitching plans were a little unclear, but it seemed like a safe bet that they were going to pursue another free agent starter. They ultimately landed A.J. Burnett, but the other candidate was the sinkerballing Derek Lowe, who ended up with the Braves.

Atlanta has the most pitching depth in baseball, even after trading Rodrigo Lopez to the Cubs last week. Aside from their five Opening Day starters (Lowe, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, and the currently DL’ed Brandon Beachy), they also had top prospects Mike Minor and Julio Teheran in Triple-A and the lesser known but still effect Todd Redmond. The Braves are very much in contention and maintain that they have no interest in trading Lowe, but everyone has a price. Let’s start with the cons…

The Cons

  • It’s hard to believe, but Lowe will turn 38 on June 1st. And with that age comes with a loss of velocity, as his famed sinker now sits more 86-89 than 89-91 like it did a few years ago.
  • Lowe would be more than just a second half rental. He’s under contract next season for the decidedly not team friendly price of $15M. He makes the same amount this year, so he’ll cost about $2.5M per month the rest of the way. That is no bargain.
  • It’s been more than six years since Lowe pitched in the American League or in a hitter’s ballpark.
  • Lowe’s recent DUI case was thrown out, but it’s still an unnecessary distraction and an obvious character flaw.

The Pros

  • Despite his age and declining velocity, Lowe is still really effective. His 55.8% ground ball rate this year is his worst since the data started being recorded in 2002, but it’s still a top ten mark in all of baseball.
  • Lowe is one of the most durable pitchers in the game, throwing at least 190 innings in each of the last six years and in eight of the last nine. In the one off year, he still made it to the mound for 182.2 IP.
  • Lowe’s strikeout rate has actually been going up over the last few years, and right now it sits at 7.79 K/9 with 9.2% swings and misses. Both of those are career highs as a starter. Those whiffs are the result of an increased using of his sharp slider, which is often mistaken for a cutter. He’s also throwing his changeup more than ever as well.
  • I don’t put too much stock in postseason track record, but it can’t be a bad thing that Lowe owns a 3.30 ERA in 76.1 playoffs innings since becoming a full-time starter in 2002. He’s also pitched in the World Series, for what it’s worth.

One thing to keep in mind: all those ground balls are great because dinky little seeing eye singles are better than the extra base hits that tend to result from fly balls, but the Yankees have a pretty poor defensively infield. Aside from Mark Teixeira, everyone is below-average now that Robinson Cano seemingly forgot how to use his glove.

Lowe’s contract is far from ideal, but you’d have to think the Braves would be willing to eat some of it to move him. They simply won’t get anything of value back if they don’t. Part of the problem is that Atlanta doesn’t have any obvious needs. Jason Heyward is out with a shoulder issue, but when he’s healthy their outfield is pretty much set (Heyward, Nate McLouth, and Martin Prado). None of their four infielders (Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla, Alex Gonzalez, and Chipper Jones) are going anywhere, and neither is catcher Brian McCann. They have pitching as well. Of course these things have a way of changing and quickly, but right now there’s no obvious trade match between these two clubs even though Lowe’s appears to be one of the better trade candidates out there.

Braves lock up Lowe for four years

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Braves and Derek Lowe have come to terms on a four-year, $60-million deal. It’s a nice contract for Lowe and a solid signing by the Braves.

Meanwhile, this is a deal that echoes through New York for a few reasons. First off, when the Yanks opted to go for A.J. Burnett instead of Lowe, I never expected the former Dodger hurler to land himself a $15-million AAV deal. It seems that I was wrong, and it seems that the market for starting pitching is a bit more robust than the market for corner outfielders.

From that four-year deal, we probably have to reevaluate the Yanks’ one-year offer to Andy Pettitte. You could very easily make the argument now than $10 million for one year of Pettitte is indeed to low. It shouldn’t take Derek Lowe money to lock up Andy, but it may take $12-$13 million guaranteed.

Second, the Mets are looking at an off-season of futility. They low-balled Lowe and never had a real chance to up their offer. Instead, one of their top divisional competitors lands one of the bigger free agent pitchers left. Now, Omar Minaya will have to dole out the bucks for Oliver Perez and probably take a good, long look at Ben Sheets’ medical reports as well.