Breaking Down Kyle Lohse's Free-Agent Market with Edwin Jackson off to the Cubs
Somewhere out there, free-agent right-hander Kyle Lohse is waiting for his phone to ring and for Scott Boras to tell him some good news.
He may be waiting a while still, and the news may not end up being as good as he's hoping.
Lohse can hope for the best for the time being, as he's very clearly the best pitcher left on the market now that Edwin Jackson is spoken for. He agreed to a four-year, $52 million contract with the Chicago Cubs on Thursday.
That deal must have been music to Jackson's ears. If a guy with a spotty track record that includes a 4.06 ERA over the last five years can get such a nice deal, then a guy with a less spotty track record and a 3.90 ERA over the last five years should be able to do better. Or at least, just as well.
If only it was that simple. For that matter, Lohse's situation has been the exact opposite of simple ever since he first set foot on the free-agent market.
Lohse's value is complicated in more ways than one. His success over the last two seasons is appealing, but maybe misleading. His track record is good, but not great. He's not ancient, but at the age of 34 he's not young either. He'd be a good addition, but he'd cost his new team a draft pick. Et cetera, et cetera.
The success Lohse has enjoyed over the last two seasons is the best thing he has going for him, as he's compiled 30 wins, a 3.11 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP and just about 400 innings over his last 63 starts. He was particularly good this past year, going 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA.
Baseball-Reference.com puts Lohse's WAR since 2011 at 6.1, which equals that of Anibal Sanchez and puts him ahead of Josh Johnson, Mat Latos and Yovani Gallardo among right-handers.
Well below Lohse on that list is Ryan Dempster, who just signed a two-year, $26.5 million deal with the Boston Red Sox. Lohse is a year younger and better, so he deserves a much better deal, right?
Perhaps not. Sabermetrically inclined general managers can point to statistics like FIP, xFIP and SIERA—which only look at things that pitchers can control like walks and strikeouts—and make a legit argument that Lohse overachieved in 2011 and 2012. These stats say that Lohse's ERAs both years should have been higher (see FanGraphs).
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This is where Lohse's track record hurts him, as he can't hide that he indeed wasn't a good pitcher before he joined the Cardinals in 2008. In eight seasons prior to joining St. Louis, Lohse compiled a 63-74 record, 4.82 ERA and 1.43 WHIP.
Lohse may only be able to provide maximum value on a new contract with a team that can offer him circumstances similar to those that he's enjoyed in St. Louis. That means a generally reliable defense, a big ballpark and, ideally, a home in the National League.
There are only so many teams that meet a couple of these requirements, let alone all three, which could explain why Lohse's market is so quiet.
Then there's the matter of what Lohse's rejection of St. Louis' qualifying offer means for interested parties. In choosing to reject the club's $13.3 million offer for one year, Lohse made it so that any team that signs him will have to surrender a draft pick. He also signaled his intent to do better than $13.3 million per year in his new contract.
There hasn't been any word on what exactly Lohse is looking for, but Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com said earlier this month that he wants more than a three-year deal, and the writing is on the wall that Lohse will only settle for three years if the money is right (i.e. high).
A four-year deal for a 34-year-old pitcher with a resume full of performance red flags probably isn't going to happen. A three-year deal worth a significant amount of money is much more likely, but who out there still has excess cash lying around to spend on Lohse?
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The Rangers have a need for a pitcher and the cash to buy a good one, but they aren't a good fit for Lohse because of their ballpark and the depth of the AL West. It's no surprise, then, that Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com has heard that Lohse is not on Texas' "front-burner."
The Brewers have a need for Lohse in their rotation as well, but he'd be more than a little on the pricey side for them. And indeed, he and Miller Park may not mix, as it rated as the best park for power hitters in 2012 (see ESPN.com).
The Orioles could be interested in Lohse as a guy who could provide some stability for a rotation that had none whatsoever in 2012, but he may be too rich for them. Their guy may be Joe Saunders, who ESPN's Buster Olney says they'd love to re-sign.
In addition, the Orioles may not be willing to surrender a draft pick to get Lohse, as they have to replenish a farm system that has already lost Manny Machado and will soon lose Dylan Bundy.
Judging from their attempts to sign Shane Victorino and Nick Swisher, the Indians clearly have some cash to spend. And after watching their rotation crash and burn in 2012, they could certainly use a pitcher like Lohse.
However, they may prefer Swisher, who Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer says got a four-year offer worth as much as $50 million from the Indians this week. They'll probably wait to turn to Lohse until they know they can't get Swisher, in which case Lohse would be a Plan B for Jackson. Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com reported that the Indians made a run at him before he signed with the Cubs.
But, again, the Indians are another team that could be turned off by the draft pick thing. Their farm system is weak, so the last thing they want to do is deny themselves a means to strengthen it.
The Padres are another team that could turn to Lohse as an alternative to Jackson, but Jim Bowden of ESPN and SiriusXM says that they bowed out of the running for Jackson because he wouldn't settle for anything less than four years. Lohse may also be unwilling to settle for anything less than four years, and the Padres may not have the funds to make him an eye-catching three-year offer.
Even Lohse's old team may not want him. The Cardinals could invite Lohse back if he ends up having nowhere else to go, but their rotation is crowded enough as it is and they may not want another veteran blocking the way for young guns Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal.
What kind of deal will Kyle Lohse get?
If no mystery team comes forward, Lohse could accept a one-year deal and try his luck again next winter. The odds of that happening, though, are beyond slim because Lohse and Boras both know that Lohse isn't getting any younger, and that asking him to have another season like the one he had in 2012 is asking a lot.
In retrospect, Lohse may have been better off signing quickly rather than waiting for all the other dominoes to fall. He now has no choice but to wait and hope, and he has no guarantees that either his leverage or the interest in his services will increase.
In the end, Lohse may be the only one of this year's top free-agent pitchers to not get what he wants.
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