Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 10/31/11
Happy Halloween, Braves fans! Only instead of trick-or-treat, the Atlanta Braves gave its fans all treats. With a wealth of young arms and a shortage of dependable bats, the Braves made a pair of moves about 90 minutes apart Monday afternoon that should amount to a major step forward. At around noon, the Braves announced they were picking up the option on veteran Eric Hinske, while declining the option on Nate McLouth. Around 1:30, they confirmed a two-player deal with the Cleveland Indians that sent Derek Lowe to Cleveland for 23-year-old minor-league, lefty reliever Chris Jones. "We felt that we needed to give our young pitchers an opportunity to pitch in the rotation and this opened up that opportunity," said Braves General Manager Frank Wren. "It also frees up additional dollars to build our club for next year." Approximately 5 million, as reports say that the Braves will give Cleveland an estimated 10 million to help off-set Lowe's 15 million salary. He was in the final year of a four-year, 60 million contract. Something you can't put a price on is the opportunity for the Braves to get one of their bevy of quality arms into the rotation on a regular basis. The 39-year-old Lowe, who was coming off a nightmarish 2011 season (9-17, with a 5.05 ERA), would have had a difficult time getting a spot in a rotation that already features Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, and has a group of talented youngsters knocking on the door, including Brandon Beachy, who completed his first full Major League season in '11, Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran and Mike Minor, who showed they belonged in the bigs after being thrown into the mix over the last two months due to injuries, and Kris Medlen, who has already proved he belongs but missed the end of 2010 and most of 2011, recovering from Tommy John Surgery. The 15-year-veteran was a expected to be a key piece to the rotation when signed in January of 2009 but was only 40-39 with a 4.57 ERA in three seasons with the Braves. He won 31 games his first two seasons in Atlanta and was dynamic last September, winning N.L. Pitcher of the Month after, going 5-0, with a 1.17 ERA He then battled Tim Lincecum for 5 13 innings, taking a tough 1-0 loss in Game One of the NLDS, then dropped a tough Game Four. But 2011 was difficult for him. September typified his season, as he was 0-5, with an 8.75 ERA (23 earned runs in 23 23 innings). "When you're 9-17 with a 5.00 era, I can't just sugar coat and say I had a bad year," he said following his Sept. 27 loss to the Phillies, which would be his final appearance as a Brave. "I'm man enough to sit here and say I've had a terrible year." To his credit, he never quit, never lowered his fanatical work ethic, and never stopped being a positive sounding board for the team's younger pitchers. Wren recognized that Lowe did a lot of good things during his time in Atlanta. "I think anytime you can get 40 wins out of a guy in three years, that's a big help," he said. "He won a lot of games for us, and put us in a position to be in the playoffs a year ago and was a valuable guy for us." Lowe, who has a lifetime record of 166-146 with a 3.49 ERA and 85 saves returns to the American League, where he spent the first nine years of his career. The move was more than just a salary dump, as Smith could be a valuable arm down the road and not far down the road, at that. "We like Chris Jones, Wren said. "We think he's a good young left-handed reliever. He should go to Double-A this year for us and his numbers speak for themselves. Smith was 7-1 with a 3.36 ERA in 43 appearances out of the bullpen for the Kinston Indians (A) and limited lefties to a .145 batting average. A Tampa, Fla., native, he was a 15th-round selection by the Indians in the 2007 June Free Agent Draft and is 22-15 with a 3.47 ERA. While not garnering as much attention, the re-signing of Hinske is an important move in bolstering the teams depth. Hinske hit .233 with 10 homers and 28 RBIs in 2011, but his 10 homers were third in the N.L. with players who had fewer than 240 at-bats (he had 236). He also was versatile for Atlanta, taking three field at three different positions (left field, where he played 28 games, right field, where he played 15 games and first base, where he played in 12). His defensive versatility and leadership skills may only be topped by his ability to produce as a role-player off the bench. In only two seasons, he already ranks fifth all-time in Braves record books with five pinch-hit home runs, including his dramatic eighth-inning shot off San Franciscos Sergio Romo in Game Three of the 2010 NLDS that gave Atlanta a temporary 2-1 lead. His leadership by example has been crucial to younger hitters, like Brooks Conrad. "He's one of those veterans that you need on your ball club because he adds a lot in every way, said Wren. "It's one of the toughest jobs in all of baseball, pinch-hitting and coming in against late-inning pitchers. He's a guy that's a threat. That other team knows he's over there and they know he has a chance to come in and get a big hit for us at any time. "He and Matt Diaz, they're a perfect combo because they give us a threat from both sides. Hinske will collect approximately 1.5 million in 2012, his 11th Major League season. The Braves spent another 1.5 million to buyout the final year on outfielder Nate McLouth. The 30-year-old speedster hit .212 with 12 doubles and 16 RBIs in 2011 and hit .229 with 44 doubles, 21 homers and 76 RBIs in his two-plus seasons in Atlanta. McLouth, a former All-Star never, played more than 85 games, as he was consistently shackled by injuries. Mondays moves are just a first step in what could be an interesting off-season. "You try to go into an offseason with a game plan and this is one of the first steps in that game-plan, Wren said. "We wanted to open up a spot which one of our young pitchers could take in the rotation as well as to add a little financial flexibility.
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