The Boston Red Sox have made only one new addition—veteran right-hander Ryan Dempster—to a starting pitching staff that finished 27th in ERA in 2012.
Another addition may be in the cards with pitchers and catchers just around the corner, and Kyle Lohse certainly stands out as a tempting option.
Tempting, yes. But smart, savvy, shrewd or other such synonyms for the word "smart?"
Nope. On the contrary, Lohse is the kind of investment the Red Sox don't want to make.
Ian Browne of MLB.com breathed some life into the idea of Lohse coming to Boston in a Monday mailbag piece. In response to an email question about Lohse, he wrote:
The longer a guy like Lohse stays out there, the more you wonder if there might be a fit for Boston. I suppose it all comes down to how much his price drops. One thing the Red Sox have going for them is a strong working relationship with agent Scott Boras. I have a feeling Lohse will wind up somewhere else, because I'm not sure the Red Sox still have the payroll flexibility to pay him what he might be looking for. But I wouldn't rule it out entirely.
Browne has a point about the payroll flexibility. Baseball-Reference.com is projecting Boston's 2013 payroll to be right around $145 million, and that's without Mike Napoli's agreed-to deal for three years and $39 million factored in. Once it's finalized, Boston's projected payroll will grow by $13 million.
But payroll flexibility isn't the main issue here. The major hang-up with the idea of the Red Sox signing Lohse is the fact that the club would have to surrender a draft pick to sign him, as the 34-year-old rejected a qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals earlier this winter.
The Red Sox have avoided players tied to draft-pick compensation, instead targeting players who were good enough to be candidates for qualifying offers, but not quite good enough to actually get them.
That they weren't willing to go after Adam LaRoche even after the problems with Napoli's deal arose says a lot about how much the Red Sox want to protect their draft picks. They could have justified giving up a pick to sign LaRoche to play first base—especially in light of the reasonable two-year, $24 million deal he ended up signing to stay with the Nationals—but they stayed their hands.
The Red Sox wouldn't be able to justify losing a draft pick to sign Lohse. He would cost a significant amount of money, but wouldn't be a significant upgrade for their starting rotation.
Signing Lohse sounds like a good idea when you only consider the 16-3 record and 2.86 ERA he compiled in 2012. He also compiled a 30-11 record, a 3.11 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP over about 400 innings in the last two seasons. His WAR over the last two seasons, according to Baseball-Reference.com, is exactly the same as that of Detroit's $80 million man, Anibal Sanchez.
There's no ignoring Lohse's pre-St. Louis track record, however. He was an above-average pitcher with the Cardinals, compiling a 3.90 ERA and a 101 ERA+ in five seasons. But before going to St. Louis, he was a below-average pitcher, compiling a 4.82 ERA and a 95 ERA+ in seven seasons.
Even Lohse's success over the last two seasons comes with some red flags. The 3.11 ERA he's put together since the start of 2011 is good for 15th-best among qualified starters, according to FanGraphs. However, advanced stats like FIP, xFIP and SIERA—which take into account only things pitchers can control—indicate that luck has been on Lohse's side the last two seasons.
Take Lohse out of the National League and off the Cardinals, and there's no telling what he'll do. His future is hurting him in free agency maybe as much as his past, as it's hard to project good things for him outside of St. Louis.
Especially not in the American League, and specifically not in the AL East. There are at least two thunderous lineups to be found in New York and Toronto, and neither the Orioles with all their home run hitters nor the Rays with a healthy Evan Longoria are to be underestimated.
Boston isn't a natural fit for Lohse either. He pitches to contact, and the Red Sox need to be careful with guys like that knowing Fenway Park's tendency to be very friendly to hitters. In 2012, it rated as one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the majors (see ESPN.com).
The Red Sox are already gambling on Dempster as a guy who could cut it in the AL East, and he failed to give any indication that he can during his stint with the Texas Rangers in 2012. He had his moments, but ultimately posted a 5.09 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP in 12 starts.
They'd be making a similar gamble with Lohse, but likely at a higher cost. He's a year younger than Dempster, so he won't be accepting a two-year contract. It's going to take at least three years to lure Lohse, and he'll probably want more than the $13.25 million per year Dempster got in his contract.
If the Red Sox were to give Lohse that kind of money, they'd be hoping for him to pan out as a No. 2 starter or maybe even the de facto ace of their staff if Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz were to continue their 2012 struggles in 2013. What the numbers and Lohse's track record suggest very strongly is that the Red Sox would be a lot more likely to get a back-end starter.
The Red Sox have already gone down the expensive back-end starter road with John Lackey, and they may go down it again with Dempster. They don't want to risk going down it with Lohse too. The results would be frustrating enough, and they'd feel all the more worse knowing that signing Lohse cost the organization a draft pick.
Draft picks don't grow on trees, after all, and the Red Sox are right to want to hold on to all theirs this year. Their protected top-10 pick will give them a shot at an elite draft prospect, and they'll be able to enjoy earlier picks than usual throughout the rest of the draft thanks to their horrid 2012 season.
As I've noted on several occasions in the last few weeks, what the Red Sox have constructed this winter is a temporary contender. The idea appears to be to hand the organization off to the kids a few years down the road. If so, the Red Sox are going to want to make sure their farm system is still well stocked with talent when the changeover happens. For that, they need to keep their draft picks.
Signing Lohse wouldn't wreck Boston's plans, to be sure. He'd only cost them one draft pick, and his contract would most likely be relatively short. If he were to crash and burn in Boston, the club's mistake would be short-lived.
But since the money would be significant and the likelihood of Lohse crashing and burning would be high, this is a gamble the Red Sox are better off not taking.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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