Kyle Lohse’s strong season is part of the reason the Cardinals are on track to return to the playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons. Lohse, who starts against the Astros tonight, has a 2.81 ERA with 5.8 K/9, 1.6 BB/9 and a 40.2% ground ball rate in 192 innings over the course of 30 starts this year. The 33-year-old right-hander has an eye-catching 14-3 record with an average fastball velocity of 89.4 mph and a swinging strike rate of 7.1%.
Despite his production, he’s not expected to return to St. Louis when he hits free agency this offseason, as the Cardinals already have an assortment of options for their 2013 rotation. Instead, the Scott Boras client figures to seek another multiyear deal in free agency when his four-year, $41MM contract expires after the season.
The Cardinals could make him a qualifying offer, even if they don’t expect him to return in 2013. Extending Lohse a qualifying offer would be the only way for GM John Mozeliak to obtain a compensatory draft pick next year. Without an offer, Lohse would leave and the Cardinals would get nothing.
If St. Louis does make Lohse an offer, he’d be tied to draft pick compensation and one of two things would happen: he’d accept and get locked in to a one-year deal at a salary of $13MM-plus, or he’d decline in search of a multiyear deal, setting St. Louis up for draft pick compensation in 2013.
The Cardinals will have other needs to address this offseason, such as bullpen help and a potential extension for Adam Wainwright, so spending $13MM on another starter might be considered a luxury. But they could move Lohse, who would generate trade interest on a one-year deal in the $13MM range.
If the Cardinals are willing to take this risk, they can set themselves up for draft pick compensation in 2013. If not, they can keep it simple and let Lohse depart without making him a qualifying offer. What should they do?