Pitcher can still become free agent after next season

BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox picked up their $4.5 million
option Friday on pitcher Derek Lowe, giving him a $1 million raise
next year.

Lowe, who won 38 games for the Red Sox the past two seasons,
still can become a free agent after next season. He has been the
team's No. 2 starter the past two years behind Pedro Martinez.

"Derek is an integral part of the Boston Red Sox," general
manager Theo Epstein said in a statement. "He has been one of the
winningest pitchers in all of baseball since returning to the
rotation two seasons ago, and we're looking forward to his
continued success and contribution in this coming season."

The Red Sox had until next Monday to exercise their option or
pay Lowe a $500,000 buyout. There had been little doubt that they
would pick up the option.

Lowe, 30, went 21-8 with a 2.58 ERA in 2002, his sixth season
with Boston and first as a full-time starter. He followed that with
a 17-7 record and 4.47 ERA this year.

In 2000, he tied for the AL lead with 42 saves. He came out of
the bullpen in the fifth game of this year's AL division series
against Oakland and struck out Terrence Long to end Boston's 4-3

Lowe is 39-15 with a 3.40 ERA in 68 starts since joining the
rotation on Sept. 22, 2001. His 38 wins the last two seasons are
second in the majors to Roy Halladay's 41 for Toronto.