Turning things around, Braves sign Kawakami

The off-season has not been what the Atlanta Braves had in mind when they entered the market with money to spend. With the fall-out of John Smoltz‘s departure fresh on their minds, Atlanta agreed to terms with one of their free-agent pitching targets on Saturday, signing Japanese right-hander Kenshin Kawakami to a three-year contract.

Financial terms have not yet been announced, as the deal is still pending a physical which will take place on Monday. During an 11-year career with the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Central League, Kawakami is 112-72 with a 3.22 ERA in 1642.1 innings.

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Kawakami was 9-5 with a 2.30 ERA in 117.1 innings last season, missing some time with a back strain late in the year. Though he was part of a six-man rotation for the Dragons, most project Kawakami to fit into the middle of the Braves rotation, behind Javier Vazquez and Jair Jurrjens.

Some have compared Kawakami to Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who signed a 3-year $35 million deal with Los Angeles last winter, but his career ERA was nearly half a run better than Kuroda’s 3.69 mark. Kawakmi’s achievements include the 1998 Rookie of the Year award and the 2004 Sawamura Award, which is the Major League equivalent to the Cy Young Award. Kawakami hurled a no-hitter in 2002 against the Yomiuri Giants.

Signing Kawakami is the first of what Atlanta hopes will be a two-step process to take the bad taste out of the mouths of all involved with the “Winter Not to Remember.” The second, and more major move, could be the signing of veteran hurler Derek Lowe over the next few days.

Atlanta put on the full court press for Lowe this past week, meeting for more than three hours with the righty and his agent, Scott Boras. Reports had the New York Mets making a three-year $36 million offer last week, but Boras disputes that claim and has made it clear that those parameters will not get a deal done for Lowe.

Lowe is coming off a 14-11 season with a 3.24 34 starts. His 211 innings mark the fifth time in seven seasons that Lowe has surpassed the 200 inning plateau. His durability and his average of 15 wins per season since 2002 would fit the bill of the front of the rotation starter Atlanta was seeking this off-season. 

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