Kawakami Outrighted — Buy Low Candidate?

Atlanta Braves pitcher Kenshin Kawakami of Tokushima, Japan, throws against the San Francisco Giants in the third inning at AT&T Park in San Francisco on April 11, 2010. Kawakami got the loss as the Giants defeated the Braves 6-3. UPI/Terry Schmitt Photo via Newscom

Kenshin Kawakami was outrighted to Double A by the Atlanta Braves today, taking him off their 40-man roster. It’s a move that makes sense for the Braves, who have more pitching than they know what to do with, but they’ll still be on the hook for his 2011 salary of $6.67 million unless they can move him.

And that’s why I’m posting on this.

Kawakami wasn’t great in 2010, but he deserved a better fate than 1-10 and a 5.15 ERA. Looking at some of his peripherals, they weren’t much different than they were in 2009, when he went 7-12 with a 3.86 ERA. His K/9 in 2010 was 6.08, compared to 6.04 in 2009. His BB/9 rose slightly, to 3.30 from 3.28. His FIP rose from 4.21 to 4.35, and his xFIP actually dropped from 4.61 to 4.56.

The main culprit for Kawakami’s demise in 2010 was a sudden spike in BABIP and an increase in his HR/FB rate. His .320 BABIP is bound to normalize in 2011, which makes him a very good buy-low candidate if the Brewers are looking for guys who could possibly fill out the bottom of the rotation.

So there is some cause for optimism. Bill James’ 2011 projections are even rosier, even if he only has him pitching 50 big league innings: 6.30 K/9, 3.24 BB/9, .303 BABIP, 4.32 ERA, 4.38 FIP. Those numbers would essentially make him the third best starter on the Brewers.

If the Brewers are going to stay away from the free agent market altogether, they’re going to need to improve their rotation through trades. Kawakami is the kind of guy they should target — someone whose value is low, who wasn’t as bad as his surface numbers would indicate, and whose team is ready to move on or wouldn’t require pitching in return. His salary, while not obscenely high, is still high enough that it shouldn’t require the Brewers or any other interested team to surrender too much talent in a trade.

He’s not young and it’s entirely possible he’s better served going back to Japan, but to me, he’s a better option than free agents like Kevin Correia.

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