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Lowe and Braves nearing $60M, 4-yr deal
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Braves worked to bolster their rotation, closing in Tuesday on a $60 million, four-year deal with Derek Lowe, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.

Talks were continuing on final deal points and no letter of agreement had been signed, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the contract had not been completed.

Atlanta also finalized a three-year contract with Japanese all-star pitcher Kenshin Kawakami.

A 14-game winner for the Dodgers in 2008, Lowe visited the Braves last week after longtime Atlanta pitcher John Smoltz agreed to a $5.5 million, one-year deal with the Boston Red Sox.

Lowe, who also was sought by the rival New York Mets, would be a huge addition to a rotation devastated by injuries in 2008. Smoltz, Tim Hudson and Tom Glavine all had season-ending surgeries.

The Braves had hoped to re-sign Smoltz for a 22nd season in Atlanta, but he took a deal from the Red Sox that included more guaranteed money and the chance to earn another $5 million largely based on how much time he spends on the active roster.

Atlanta also must replace injury plagued left-hander Mike Hampton, who returned to the mound last season after missing two full years. He spurned an offer from the Braves to sign with Houston.

In an interesting twist, the Braves looked to wrap up a contract with the 35-year-old Lowe and scheduled an afternoon news conference with Kawakami on the same day Smoltz was being introduced in Boston.

Kawakami, the 2004 Central League MVP, has won 112 games in 11 seasons in Japan and was regarded as one of the top free-agent pitchers from Japan available this offseason. The 33-year-old was 9-5 for the Chunichi Dragons last year, though he missed several weeks with a strained back.

The Braves were confident in his health after the 5-foot-10 right-hander passed a physical on Monday. He will be the first Japanese-born player in franchise history.

"This is a very significant signing for the Braves," general manager Frank Wren said. "Not only is this a historically important day for the Braves franchise, but with Kenshin we have acquired a pitcher who will be an integral part of our pitching staff over the next three seasons."

Though many Atlanta fans were outraged over the loss of Smoltz, Wren moved quickly to shore up the beleaguered rotation. Lowe was a 21-game winner for the Red Sox in 2002 and spent the last four seasons in Los Angeles, where he went 54-48, never had an ERA higher than 3.88 and averaged more than 200 innings a season.

Last season, Lowe was 14-11 with a 3.24 ERA in 211 innings.

Kawakami is another important addition. The Braves have attempted to boost their presence in Japan in recent years, and manager Bobby Cox said scouts have closely followed the right-hander.

"We've had some guys watch him the last couple of years, and they like him," Cox said, who also was impressed after watching video of the Japanese pitcher. "He looked very good. He was able to throw the ball right where he wanted to with three or four pitches."

Kawakami will join Javier Vazquez and possibly Lowe as newcomers to a rotation that also includes Jair Jurrjens, the team's top starter last season with a 13-10 record and 3.68 ERA. Another rookie, Jorge Campillo, was 8-7 with a 3.91 ERA.

Vazquez was acquired from the Chicago White Sox for a package of minor leaguers after going 12-16 with a 4.67 ERA.

Hudson, who has a year remaining on his contract, isn't likely to return until the second half of the season as he recovers from elbow ligament-replacement surgery. Glavine remains unsigned as the Braves monitor his recovery from surgery to repair a torn tendon in his left elbow.

The 42-year-old left-hander pushed back original plans to begin throwing this week. He has said he will either pitch for the Braves or retire.

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