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Lowe in win-win situation

He'll strike it rich with a contender

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / November 30, 2008
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He spent Thanksgiving with his family in Fort Myers, Fla., watching his beloved Detroit Lions lose again, working out like a fiend with former Red Sox and Pedro Martínez trainer Chris Correnti, and waiting for something to happen with CC Sabathia so the rest of the chips - including his own - can fall.

Four years after signing a four-year, $36 million contract with the Dodgers - after the Red Sox cut ties with one of the best money pitchers in the game - Derek Lowe, now 35, may make that deal look rather paltry, given the interest in the sinker-balling, rubber-armed righthander who might be the surest thing on the free agent pitching market.

While the list of teams interested in Lowe may be long, his list of preferred teams is far shorter. Boston, for sure, is high atop it.

"It's pretty easy to figure them out if you just sit back and go over the teams in baseball who win on a consistent basis," said Lowe. "If your No. 1 goal is to win, I would say there's only a handful of teams year in and year out that have a chance to win. Now, there are no guarantees, but there are teams who have a better chance than others."

Boston?

"Yeah, all because of what I just outlined," he said. "Even if I'd never played there. And I don't look at it as coming back, I look at it as who has the best chance to win? And they clearly do.

"If you're looking four or five years down the line, they fit the criteria of what I'm looking for. It's not just the fact I played there - but, yeah, there were a lot of things I enjoyed - but they're definitely a franchise that has a chance to win."

This Lowe doesn't bear much resemblance to the guy who left the Sox after 2004. Back then, his out-of-control personal life seemed to consume him. The Red Sox didn't want to deal with it and let him become a free agent. Lowe feels leaving was the best thing.

"I think I'm a lot better pitcher now, teammate now, than I was four years ago," he said. "Sometimes you have to learn, and I think getting out of Boston was the best thing for me.

"I was able to sit back and analyze what's going on. What's good, what's bad. And I think hopefully that's what happened. Sometimes you need a dose of reality as to why a team didn't want to keep you around.

"You have to be honest with yourself, and once you do that, it's all right to say I may have made some mistakes in my time there, as long as you can change them and understand them. And I think that's what has happened the last four years."

Does he feel the need to talk out the past with Theo Epstein and Sox management?

"No, I don't," Lowe said. "My [2004] regular season wasn't the greatest in the world. I don't think there were any grudges. I've always believed it's a business and people can do whatever they want. Just like we as players have choices. So there was never any animosity."

The view of his life now, compared with then?

"It's night and day," Lowe said. "The off-the-field distractions aren't there. It probably makes it easier for them because they know, 'Yeah, we know what he can do as a pitcher but how about this or that?' All those doubts are gone, so all I have to do now is worry about playing the game."

Lowe has not had any conversations with Epstein, but he said, "I could easily do that at some point, but right now there's been no financial discussions with any team, so it's still early in the process."

Returning to the Dodgers hasn't been ruled out, but it doesn't seem to be a high priority, and while agent Scott Boras has talked to the Dodgers about Lowe, the pitcher's exit meeting with manager Joe Torre never came off.

Lowe remains the only active major leaguer with 10 or more years of experience who has never gone on the disabled list. He attributes it to working hard rather than blind luck.

"Chris comes over four days a week, and I work out for about three hours four days a week," he said. "We do so much stretching. We do so much agility work.

"There's more to it than just the luck of not being hurt. I have a routine and I stay with it all year long."

Because of that good health, he thinks about pitchers like Jamie Moyer, who will be 46 next season.

"I have zero timetable," said Lowe. "I'll always be honest with myself. As long as I can be a starter or closer and be competitive and feel like I can help the team, I'll keep going.

"Scott told me four years ago that I'd get another contract. I thought it was b.s. I said, 'You're crazy.' Here we are again."

Trying to jimmy the door
Hall of Fame ballots will be in the hands of voters soon. This year, Jim Rice and Rickey Henderson appear to have the best chance to get in.

Longtime Red Sox publicist Dick Bresciani has brilliantly made a statistical case the last few years for Rice, who will be on the ballot for the 15th and final time.

Last year, Rice was named on 392 ballots (72.2 percent), just 16 votes short of election. According to Bresciani, it was the 21st time a player received more than 70 percent but less than 75 percent. On all 20 previous occasions, the player eventually was elected.

There have been five such instances in the last 20 years: Gaylord Perry, Orlando Cepeda, Bruce Sutter, Gary Carter, and Rich Gossage. A few more of Bresciani's points:

Rice ranked among the top five in AL MVP voting in 1975, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1983, and 1986. He is the only player to finish among the top five in AL voting at least five times between 1963-2005. He is one of 16 major leaguers to place among the top five in MVP voting at least six times. Of the 12 Hall of Fame-eligible players on this list, 11 are in Cooperstown, including eight who were elected on the first ballot. Rice is the only exception.

Rice is one of only 10 players to lead a league in runs, hits, home runs, and RBIs over a 14-year span. He and Rafael Palmeiro are the only players to accomplish the feat who are not in the Hall of Fame. Among the eight Hall of Famers on this list, five were elected on the first ballot.

Rice is one of 14 players to post four or more seasons of 200 hits and 100 RBIs. Among the retired players on this list, only Rice and Steve Garvey are not in the Hall of Fame.

From 1975-86, Rice was the most dominant player in the AL. During that stretch, he led the league in 12 categories and ranked among the top five in two others. He led the league over that period with 350 home runs, but unlike most sluggers of his day, he ranked fourth with a .304 batting average. He collected the most hits over that period and also ranked first with a .520 slugging percentage. He legged out 73 triples, including 15 in 1977 and 1978.

Outfielder is looking to reposition himself again
A few questions for former Red Sox outfielder Jay Payton:

You're a free agent again, and it seems now you're in a different place than a couple of years back?
JP: "Definitely. I'm gonna be 36 years old and I know now that my role is going to be as a fourth outfielder. I can definitely start and play every day if I ever was fortunate enough to have the opportunity, but I'm realistic about it now and I'm in the role now where I just want to help a team win."

There seems to be a shortage of righthanded fourth outfielders who can also play center.
JP: "That's what I'm hoping. I know there are a lot of guys who are corner outfielders who hit righthanded, but if I can offer that little extra thing on my résumé of being able to play center, I think that helps my chances. I can still run and go get the ball. I can definitely help a team."

It seems the Red Sox have a need for a righthanded-hitting outfielder. Any interest in coming back?
JP: "When I talked to my agent recently, Boston was the first team I mentioned. I don't know if it's in the cards or if I squished my chances of ever returning there. I know the circumstances of my departure from there a few years back were blown out of proportion. I've talked to Tito [Terry Francona] several times since then and we're OK. I'd love the chance to go back there because that's a winning organization and they're committed to winning. They do things the right way."

Enjoy your time in Baltimore and any chance of going back?
JP: "I wish we could have won more and I wish I could have played a little more, but it became obvious they're going with younger guys. I would never say never to anything, but it seems they're looking for younger players."

Etc.
Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. Red Sox-Yankees, Friday the (March) 13th; 2. Baseball needs a Mordecai; 3. What incredible work Johnny Damon does for the Wounded Warrior Project; 4. I guess I don't get the Rafael Furcal fascination; 5. Seems to me teams needing a closer would try to pry B.J. Ryan from the Blue Jays.

Catching up with . . .
A quick update on 10 players:

1. Ben Sheets: Rarely hear his name mentioned. Other than a push by buddy Roy Oswalt to make him an Astro, there doesn't appear to be much action on this high-risk (and sometimes high-reward) righthander. Sheets could wind up going back to Milwaukee, but even the Brewers, who have experienced all of his injury history, might be leery without protection in his contract.

2. Andy Pettitte: It was always assumed he'd land in New York or Houston, but Joe Torre likes his old players and has the power of persuasion, so the Dodgers could be in play. The Yankees want Pettitte back, but the lefthander reportedly feels shunned. The Astros? It's up to owner Drayton McLane. The Astros seem to be in a shedding rather than an adding mode, and Pettitte's salary would be high; the baseball people are thinking much smaller.

3. Mike Lowell: One American League general manager said, "There's a market, but only after teams do their due diligence on the injury and after they see him play in spring training. He's a great team player, with righthanded power and a great glove. There's nothing not to like if he's healthy, including the fact he only has two years left on his contract." But another said, "I don't think there's much of one [a market] because of his age, but that shouldn't deter the Red Sox from going after [Mark] Teixeira." Possible destinations include the Dodgers, Angels, Indians, and Twins.

4. Fausto Carmona: Teams are inquiring about his availability, but would the Indians, who need to get back into the AL Central hunt, be inclined to deal him after trading off CC Sabathia? It would take a lot to get him.

5. Jermaine Dye: The White Sox right fielder fits so well with a few teams, including Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, and the Mets. Dye was a player the Red Sox were hot after before pursuing J.D. Drew. The Rays are trying to deal the back of their starting rotation - Andy Sonnanstine or Edwin Jackson - for a power-hitting righthanded bat, but the White Sox would want more.

6. Casey Blake: The Twins have been the most aggressive but have stopped short of an offer. The Indians are also considering bringing him back, but right now there's more of a wait-and-see mode on him.

7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia: The Rangers catcher is off to a nice start playing for Leones del Escogido in the Dominican League. The switch hitter, a possible target of the Red Sox, was hitting .435 with 4 homers, 2 doubles, and 8 RBIs in his first 23 at-bats. He's throwing well, too, putting to rest doubts about his sore elbow.

8. Russell Martin: There's a buzz about whether the Dodgers would trade him. Count Derek Lowe among his fans. "I would recommend anyone trade for him," said Lowe. "He works hard, he can hit, and he's going to get better and better." There's been talk of splitting his position - part-time third baseman, part-time catcher.

9. A.J. Burnett: J.P. Ricciardi reiterated to this reporter late in the week, "We're trying to re-sign A.J. If we can't, then I'm not sure what we would do." Boston and New York might be in, but for five years? Don't be surprised if he ends up back in Toronto or lands in Atlanta or Baltimore.

10. Willie Bloomquist: Always envisioned him as a Red Sox utility player, someone who could play the infield and outfield, supplanting Alex Cora. He and Minnesota's Nick Punto seem to be the top utilitymen on the market.

Short hops
Here are 10 thankful nuggets from the Bill Chuck files: 1. Mark Buehrle is thankful for throwing 34 double plays this past season, the most in the majors, and the White Sox are thankful for Buehrle, because in 218 2/3 innings, he committed no errors. 2. Trevor Hoffman is thankful to umpires who called 70.3 percent of his pitches strikes, the highest percentage in the majors. 3. The Rays are thankful to Akinori Iwamura, who in 627 at-bats only grounded into two double plays, the fewest in the majors. 4. The Yankees are thankful to the 4,298,655 fans who attended their games, the most in the majors. 5. The Diamondbacks are thankful for catcher Chris Snyder, who in 112 games made no errors. 6. The Brewers are thankful for left fielder Ryan Braun, who in 149 games made no errors. 7. Phillies starters are thankful to Brad Lidge, who was 41 for 41 in save opportunities. 8. Orioles pitchers are grateful to Nick Markakis and his AL outfielder-leading 17 assists. 9. Braves fans are thankful to Chipper Jones, who hit .399 in Atlanta, the highest home average of any batter in baseball. 10. A number of players are helping former MLB pitcher Ricky Stone, who was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in August 2008. The Rally for Recovery baseball auction to benefit Stone and his family has begun. The eBay auction ends this evening . . . If you see them walking down the street, wish Bob Tewksbury a happy 48th birthday and Steve Shields a happy 50th.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com

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