CD's Connect The Dots... Lying Low[e]

Admittedly, there are a dozen scenarios that seem more likely than this one. The Phillies rarely stray too far from their budgetary restraints and their recent successes indicate this is a prudent business practice. Yet, with the best free agent hurler still on the hunt for a mega dollar deal, the team may just swoop in and corral him simply by...lying low[e].

The name is Derek Lowe, to be precise, and the odds are still heavily in favor of a New York Mets team that seems to be outdistancing the field right now in their pursuit of the talented 35 year old hurler. In fact, the Mets believe they are now the only accredited team negotiating with the tall righty and because of this have been trying, so far without success, to ink him to a deal that he believes is well under market value. With his trusty agent, the contentious Scott Boras, always prepared to provide whatever facts will support his case, they use last years contract for Carlos Silva as Exhibit A of what a real legitimate offer looks like.

Silva, a thoroughly pedestrian hurler, orchestrated his one and only truly solid season in 2007 into a four-year, 44 million dollar bonanza with the Seattle Mariners. At the time critics bemoaned the foolishness of this deal and Silva's mediocre '08 campaign merely provided weighty evidence for the naysayers. However, Silva's deal was not lost on the ever present Boras and he now insists that his client, Derek Lowe, will not settle for a penny less than 16 million dollars on what he hopes is a four-year inking. The Mets so far have not gone above three-years and 36 million and feel that time is certainly on their side. Perhaps they are correct. Perhaps.

Still, the whispers are of another team quietly lying in the underbrush and hoping to sign Lowe from right under the Mets feet. Those whispers speak of the Atlanta Braves and the Boston Red Sox. And the Philadelphia Phillies. The Braves rumors make infinite sense simply because they have been "top of the rotation" starting pitcher hunting almost since the day after Philadelphia hoisted up only its second World Series trophy in over 125 years of operation. The Braves made daring but ultimately unsuccessful overtures to free agent A.J. Burnett and the San Diego Padres for the services of Jake Peavy.

Both Burnett and Peavy are the type of hurlers that a team can build a staff around, provided they are healthy. Ultimately, though, Burnett inked a mega-year deal with the New York Yankees and the Padres have so far resisted all efforts to pry the very talented Peavy from their grasps. With the impending ownership change in San Diego it would appear that the chances of moving Peavy anywhere just decreased to almost zero. New ownership generally likes to play their best concert performances in their initial appearances and for Jeff Moorad, the fledgling owner in San Diego, it will be a case of playing as many of his gold record hits as possible. Make no mistake, Jake Peavy will be one of them.

So, with both Burnett and Peavy off the market it makes logical sense for the Bravos to at least cast a knowing glance in Derek Lowe's direction and see if the interest is mutual. While Boras has never turned his back completely on Atlanta, their dealings have been problematical at best and it seems unlikely that there will be a meeting of the minds on this hurler. The same is probably true with the Boston Red Sox, who recently had anything but cordial relations over the Manny Ramirez situation last July. The Sox still believe, and rightfully so, that Ramirez, through his agent Scott Boras, basically coerced the team into moving him at the trade deadline to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Although the Red Sox still have several Boras clients in their stable, most notably J.D. Drew and Jason Varitek [who is expected to ink a new deal with the Sox any day now] it would be a huge exaggeration to suggest that Red Sox GM Theo Epstein sent Boras a Christmas card this past December as a token of the good will between the two adversaries. Not a chance.

Now this leads us to the Philadelphia Phillies. As any Phillie phan knows, the team has many reasons to shun Derek Lowe at this particular fork in the road. For one thing, the teams relationship with Scott Boras is even worse than is Boston's and that speaks volumes about the depth of their past troubles. For another, the Phils now find themselves ankle deep in potential arbitration cases, eight to be exact. These players, led by star hurler Cole Hamels and power-hitting first baseman Ryan Howard, commanded salaries that totaled 19 million dollars last season and might just double that number this year.

Besides Hamels and Howard, the other Phillie players now eligible for salary arbitration include hurlers Joe Blanton, Ryan Madson and Chad Durbin as well as outfielders Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino and super utility man, Greg Dobbs. While the Phils hope to minimize the difficulties by negotiating multi-year deals with Werth, Victorino and Madson, it seems highly unlikely that the team will be able to avoid the painful and often rancorous arbitration process with the likes of Madson and Howard. Both are in line for huge raises and will demand them in the negotiating process.

Finally, it has been widely assumed that the team feels that their starting rotation is basically set for the 2009 campaign with the recent signature of ancient lefty Jamie Moyer on the dotted line. The company mantra has been that with Hamels, Moyer, Blanton and returning righty Brett Myers in the rotation and the likes of youngsters Kyle Kendrick, J.A. Happ and Carlos Carrasco vying for the fifth spot the team was more than set for starting pitchers. Again, perhaps.

Yet, if those whispers are correct, and if the oft times cantankerous Boras isn't merely using the Phightins to leverage himself to a better deal with the Mets, then Philadelphia might emerge as the unlikely winners of the Derek Lowe sweepstakes merely by the simple act of quietly and carefully lying low. The bombastic yet eloquent Daniel Webster defined the word "lying" in this case as "to remain in a position or state of inactivity in order to restrain or conceal." This would certainly define any Phillie designs on the ex-Dodgers hurler as they have seemingly gone about their winter business as if the Help Wanted sign was removed shortly after Moyer signed his contract.

In fact, new GM Ruben Amaro has denied any interest in Lowe and there is no apparent reason to doubt his sincerity. Except for the fact that the Phillie GM has long been an admirer of the righty and understands the baseball truism that the game is built around sound fundamentals, solid defense and deep and talented pitching. He acknowledges on an almost daily basis that the key ingredient to the Phillie recipe for victory in 2008 was not their power bats or swift and true base running, though both were indispensable assets to the cause.

Rather, it was pitching, pitching and more pitching that ultimately won the day for Philadelphia. On an almost nightly basis, the starting group of Hamels, Myers, Blanton and Moyer were giants on the hill and were more than ably supported by a deep and versatile bullpen led by Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, Scott Eyre, Chad Durbin and closer Brad Lidge. Yes, it was Hamels, and not Chase Utley, Ryan Howard or Jimmy Rollins who was voted World Series MVP and the closer, Lidge was a close second in terms of value. Pitching, pitching and more pitching.

It also cannot be lost on Amaro and Company that as currently constructed the Phillies and Mets are division favorites A and 1A right now, with the Braves, Florida Marlins and Washington Nationals not considered in the same class. There is no giant leap of faith needed to claim that the winner of the Derek Lowe sweepstakes, if it turns out to be either the Phils or Mets, that team will have catapulted themselves quickly into the proverbial "cat bird" seat as division favorites with the signing. Yes, Derek Lowe is that important to the causes of both franchises.

For the Mets, frustrated and angry after two fruitless seasons of competing against the Phils for the NL East title, it is their latest opportunity for redemption. Buoyed with the recent acquisitions of bullpen stalwarts Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz, the addition of the skilled and sturdy Lowe would only add further ammunition to the feeling that the Mets have now addressed their biggest weakness, pitching.

Derek Lowe would situate quite nicely in the number two position on the rotation, directly behind dominant lefty Johan Santana. He would immediately make the Mets a very difficult team to beat in any three game series. He would also add stability and confidence to a group of players badly in need of both right now after the past two seasons of frustration and defeat. In short, he would make the Mets the favorites to win the East.

Amaro must be keenly aware of this and has to know that it would be a major blow to New York should Philadelphia seemingly come out of nowhere to sign the top free agent pitcher. He also understands that having Derek Lowe situated between the oft times dominating stances of Cole Hamels and Brett Myers would make the Phillie staff arguably the best in the entire National League. Incredibly, the addition would immediately place the talented 16 game winner, Jamie Moyer, into the fifth spot on the teams rotation, an amazing and admirable position to be in. It can safely be stated without equivocation that no staff in baseball currently employs a hurler as skilled as Moyer in the fifth spot of any rotation.

If more food for thought is needed, then consider this scenario. The Phils are admittedly confused with the often times inconsistent performances of Brett Myers. The Myers story is well documented and completely verifiable. Long considered a future ace of the staff, Myers has rather gone through the proverbial tight rope walk between savior and saboteur during his tenure with the club. He has at various times looked like a staff ace, a bullpen ace, a staff misfit, a clubhouse lawyer and an embarrassment to the team.

Yet, it was Myers who saved the staff last season after his exile to the minor leagues in June. Upon his return he was a completely changed man, as well as pitcher. Gone were the complaints and bad performances that so dominated his early season woes. Instead, the new and improved Brett Myers model helped ignite the Phillie "engine that could" all the way into the World Series. He appears ready and able to take his place among the top right-handed hurlers in the National League, and precisely when he is scheduled to become a free agent after the '09 campaign. Ah, and herein lies the rub that might just be the tie that binds Derek Lowe to the Phillies before the story runs its course.

Given Myers admitted talent and desire to seek a multi-year deal at about 12-14 million a season after the 2009 campaign, it might just behoove Amaro and the Phillies to find out just what a Brett Myers might fetch on the trading market. It is not inconceivable that a team in search of a skilled right-hander might just provide the Phils with something desirable, dependable and not so costly. Precisely the kind of money saved that could be transferred into paying Derek Lowe.

The Phillies could also save some money [albeit just a tiny amount] by finding a team willing to take the albatross like figure of pitcher Adam Eaton off their hands. The team has let it be known that Eaton can be had for a proverbial song and is willing to pay as much as six million of the eight million still owed Eaton on the final year of his contract. This expiring contract becomes an asset for any team, Phillies included, who end up with the beleaguered Phillie hurler. The team would merely like to expedite the divorce as soon as possible.

There is much to like about a Derek Lowe in anyone's rotation. He is a winner who has shown his meddle under some of the most difficult of circumstances. His performance in the 2004 playoffs and World Series while with the Red Sox is still spoken of in hushed tones throughout the Beantown area as he complied a 3-0 record for the World Champions. Although 36 years of age this coming June, he has not been overused since he was a relief pitcher during the early years of his career.

He has been the picture of consistency during the last seven seasons [2002-2008] with totals of 32, 33, 33, 35, 34, 32 and 34 starts. In fact, during this time he has not missed a start due to injury or illness while his innings pitched totals ranged from a low of 183 to a high of 222 innings . What this means is that on any day that Lowe hurls a team can expect a yeoman like effort with a minimum of six innings pitched or better. On a staff like the Phillies, which features a deep and durable bullpen, this type of hurler could prove indispensable.

His record of 106-75 over the same seven year period speaks of his consistency and ability to win ball games, which is ultimately the true worth of a starting pitcher. Perhaps even more impressive was the fact that he has done some of his most impressive hurling very recently. His pitching, along with the hitting of Manny Ramirez, provided the cornerstone for an improbable Los Angeles Dodgers trip to the playoffs in October of 2008. In fact, it was the dominating dealings of Derek Lowe which caused many to think that the Dodgers would eventually win the National League pennant. In September, he was 3-0 with a minuscule 0.59 ERA. Dominating numbers and ones that might just make a Hamels-Lowe duo the envy of teams in the entire league.

What Amaro could do if he was so inclined would be to convince Boras and his client that the Phils and the hurler would best be served with a back loaded contract, one that really hits the teams pocketbook at a time when the salaries of Eaton, Jim Thome [yes, he is still on the payroll!] and possibly Myers would be coming off the books.

Sound fiscal management and a seeming win-win for both team and client. The Phils, who loathe pitcher contracts for more than three years, might be able to sign Lowe for three seasons with a vesting fourth year option, especially if the money offered is either comparable or tops the Met offer. In the end, it still might not be enough to satisfy the seemingly insatiable appetite of Scott Boras.

For one thing, his relationship with the Phillies has been a long and acrimonious one, even going past the now infamous J.D. Drew non-negotiations. It was widely acknowledged among scouts and baseball insiders everywhere that when the Phils gleefully announced the signing of then first round draft pick Carlton Loewer back in the mid 1990's it was against the advice of his agent, the aforementioned Scott Boras. And it was Boras who so opposed everything connected with Phillie red that he refused to even provide his client, former Phillie pitcher Kevin Millwood, with a contract offer of three years and 30 million dollars while Millwood was on a hunting trip during the winter of 2004.

In fact, history dictates that only second baseman Mark Lewis, before the 1998 campaign has willingly inked a Phillie contract as a free agent represented by Boras. His ability to keep his clients away from Philadelphia has become almost legendary and is the primary reason that most baseball people expect reliever Ryan Madson to depart as a free agent after the '09 season. Yes, he is represented by Scott Boras.

On the other hand, the relationship between Boras and Mets GM Omar Minaya are at worst cordial and at best, respectable. They have negotiated many long-term deals and have a history and protracted, but ultimately successful negotiations. Simply put, it would appear that Boras has a greater regard for the power of New York than he does the city of Philadelphia. He might also remind Lowe that pitching at Citizens Bank Park can be highly injurious to a hurlers mental health, a fact that the free agent pitcher can readily attest to.

Who will ever forget the stunned look on Lowe's face after surrendering what he considered to be no more than a pop-up to Pat Burrell during the sixth inning of Game One of the National League Championship Series? That pop-up went for a home run and might well have changed the entire outcome of the series from a Dodger point of view, especially Lowe's. He might not be inclined to desire to pitch in such a hitters ballpark on a regular basis. Then again, it is also quite advantageous to be pitching with a lineup that includes such heavyweight hitters as Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth on a nightly basis.

Famous transplanted Philadelphian, the sage Benjamin Franklin once observed that "necessity never made a good bargain." The acquisition of Derek Lowe would not come out of necessity but rather desire. Amaro and Company want to repeat as National League Champions and understand that the New York Mets, along with the Chicago Cubs, are the two teams that seemingly most stand in their way. Using any means possible to accomplish that task would be deemed as fortuitous and intelligent.

It thus appears from afar that at this stage of the off-season, perhaps the most fortuitous and intelligent decision the organization has made in regards to acquiring the highly sought after free agent hurler would be the skillful art of...lying low[e].

Spring Training Announcement!!! What better way to celebrate the 2008 Champions than to attend Spring Training in Clearwater, Florida with Allen Ariza [aka CD from the Left Coast]. We will spend 4 days, March 20-23 at the Phillies spring site, watching the team prepare to defend their title while also visiting with the players in the sun and fun that only Florida can provide. The trip will include 3 nights stay at a 3 star local hotel, several outstanding meals, many baseball related activities, and at least two spring training games. For more information on this once in a lifetime opportunity, please email me at allenariza@earthlink.net for more information and cost. See you in Clearwater!!!

Columnist's Note: Please email all questions and comments to allenariza@earthlink.net and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast



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