Braves taking aim at Lowe, Kawakami
Free-agent righty, Japanese star could both end up in Atlanta
ATLANTA -- The Braves are expected to make an offer to Derek Lowe early next week, but by that time, they may have already added Kenshin Kawakami to their starting rotation.
Multiple Major League sources confirmed on Friday night that the Braves are nearing completion of a deal that would bring Kawakami to Atlanta to strengthen the middle of a rebuilt rotation.
Kawakami, who has spent the past 11 seasons as one of the top pitchers in Japan's Central League, is expected to arrive in the U.S. on Sunday. At that time, the 33-year-old right-hander and his agent, Dan Evans, are expected to move closer to finalizing their decision.
If negotiations continue to progress at their current pace, Kawakami could undergo a physical in Atlanta as early as Monday.
Though the Orioles and Cardinals have shown interest in Kawakami, the Braves seemingly emerged as the favorites earlier this week.
A source with knowledge of the negotiations revealed on Wednesday that Kawakami was impressed with the way the Braves have marketed themselves and the city of Atlanta.
Another benefit for the Braves is the presence of pitching coach Roger McDowell, who has shared a friendship with Evans for a number of years.
McDowell and Braves manager Bobby Cox joined general manager Frank Wren at Turner Field on Thursday afternoon to share a three-hour meeting with Lowe and his agent, Scott Boras.
While entertaining Lowe with a recruiting video that included clips from country music recording star Alan Jackson, the Braves got a better sense of what the veteran pitcher and Boras are seeking.
After completing preparations this weekend, Atlanta could make an offer to Lowe as early as Monday. It's still unknown whether it is willing to provide the 35-year-old right-hander with a guaranteed four-year offer.
Right now it appears that the Braves are cautiously optimistic about the odds of landing Lowe, who is also expected to receive continued interest from the Mets.
Lowe, who has averaged 15 wins and 208 innings over the past seven seasons, would provide Atlanta with the front-line starter it has been seeking and allow Javier Vazquez to move into the second spot in the rotation.
As for Kawakami, scouts believe that he could serve as a reliable third or fourth starter while getting his first taste of Major League baseball.
Kawakami went 9-5 with a 2.30 ERA in 20 appearances (16 starts) and 117 1/3 innings for the Chunichi Dragons this past season. He missed nearly three weeks in September with a strained back and pitched most of the season in a six-man rotation.
Kawakami enjoyed a stellar season in 2004, when he went 17-7 with a 3.32 ERA and two shutouts. He was named the winner of the Sawamura Award, Japan's equivalent of the Cy Young Award, and the Central League MVP.
There's reason to argue that he was actually better in 2006, when he went 17-7 with a 2.51 ERA while posting career highs in starts (26) and innings (215).
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.