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Lowe passes physical, closes $60M deal

ATLANTA -- The Braves finalized their $60 million, four-year
contract with Derek Lowe on Thursday after the right-hander passed a physical.

Lowe went 14-11 with a 3.24 for the Los Angeles Dodgers last
season. He likely will become the top starter in Atlanta's
restructured rotation, joined by fellow newcomers Javier Vazquez
and Kenshin Kawakami.

The 35-year-old Lowe will be introduced at Turner Field on
Friday, capping a comeback week for the Braves after longtime
starter John Smoltz signed with the Boston Red Sox, stirring up
bitter complaints by fans and even star third baseman Chipper Jones
about the direction of the team.

"This has been a very slow-developing offseason. I think the
economy probably has a lot to do with that," general manager Frank
Wren said. "I can understand people getting a little impatient. We
were getting impatient. We were wanting to get things done and have
an idea what our club was going to look like."

They have a much better idea now.

On Tuesday, the Braves announced the signing of Kawakami, a
Japanese league all-star, and Lowe fills out a rotation that was
devastated by injuries a year ago. Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Tim
Hudson all underwent season-ending surgeries.

Lowe will receive $15 million a year in a contract that runs
through 2012. Most enticing for the Braves, he's never been on the
disabled list, making him one of only three current players (along
with Livan Hernandez and Brad Ausmus) to play at least 12 years
without ever going down with an injury.

In another move that might interest the Braves, their former
center fielder, Andruw Jones, was released Thursday after one
dismal year with the Dodgers. Jones spent his first 12 seasons with
Atlanta, still lives in the city and attended a Georgia Tech
basketball game wearing a Braves cap the night before he was let go
by Los Angeles.

The Braves are in the market for another outfielder, and Wren
made it clear that defense is a priority. Jones fits that bill as a
10-time Gold Glove winner. Plus, he's only 31 and might be
attainable for the $400,000 minimum since the Dodgers are still on
the hook for $21.1 million he's due to receive for the next six
years.

Then again, Jones is coming off a truly horrible year. He
reported to spring training overweight, underwent knee surgery in
May and finished on the bench for the NL West champions, hitting a
career-worst .158 with three home runs in 75 games.

The 42-year-old Glavine had hoped to start throwing off a mound
this week, but had to push back those plans as he continues his
slow recovery from elbow surgery. The Braves have said they'll hold
off on offering him a contract until they know more about his
health, and the 300-game winner has said he'll retire if he's not
pitching in Atlanta.

Hudson, who underwent ligament replacement surgery on his elbow,
isn't expected back until August, sending the Braves into the
offseason with only one healthy starter under contract who had at
least 10 wins in 2008.

Now, Jair Jurrjens (13-10, 3.68 ERA) has some help. Vazquez, who
won 12 games for the Chicago White Sox, was acquired in a trade for
a package of minor leaguers. Lowe has at least 12 wins in each of
the last seven seasons and is one of the NL's top pitchers at
keeping the ball on the ground.

Wren said that was a priority in rebuilding the rotation,
especially since one of Atlanta's top rivals, defending World
Series and NL East champion Philadelphia, has a home stadium that
favors hitters. He's also heard the New York Mets' new park will
have similar tendencies.

"Philadelphia is a hitter's ballpark," Wren said. "If you've
got guys hitting the ball on the ground, it stays in the park."

The Braves also have Jorge Campillo, who went 8-7 with a 3.91
ERA as a rookie.