Examining The Kyle Lohse Market

Few players have generated as much news as Kyle Lohse this winter, though they're not the headlines that Lohse and agent Scott Boras would've hoped to see at the beginning of the offseason.  Lohse posted a 3.11 ERA and a 3.18 K/BB ratio over 63 starts (399 1/3 innings) with the Cardinals over the last two seasons and looked well-positioned to find a nice contract and yet as Spring Training gets underway, Lohse is still looking for a new team.

There are a few reasons why Lohse is still on the market, such as his age (34), injury history and the fact that Boras seeks nothing less than top dollar for his clients.  That said, the main reason for Lohse's lack of success in free agency seems to be the draft pick compensation tied to him as a free agent who turned down a qualifying offer.  The teams with the 20 best records in baseball last season must surrender their first round draft pick in order to sign Lohse, and most teams see that first-rounder as more of an asset than Lohse's services.

Lohse has been connected to several teams this winter but seemingly just as many have declined their interest in the right-hander.  Here's a breakdown of where each team in the sport stands in the Lohse sweepstakes…

Braves: They aren't interested, and will probably use Julio Teheran as their fifth starter until Brandon Beachy is healthy.

Marlins: It will be a while before Miami again pursues significant free agents, and even longer before we see one of those free agents actually sign with the Marlins given the bad publicity generated by their fire sale this winter. 

Mets: While the Mets considered signing Michael Bourn (another qualifying offer free agent) and asking the league for an exemption to allow them to keep their 11th-overall draft pick, the club was willing to go to those lengths since it had a glaring need for Bourn in the outfield.  The Mets are well stocked with pitching, however, so they aren't a fit for Lohse. 

Nationals: Boras' relationship with the Nationals is well-documented, with several Boras Corporation clients (including Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg) already on the roster and Rafael Soriano joining the list this winter.  There was speculation that the Nats could pursue Lohse if Gio Gonzalez faced a suspension for his alleged connection to PEDs, but the latest news regarding the infamous Biogenesis clinic may clear Gonzalez's name.

Phillies: GM Ruben Amaro confirmed that his club isn't interested in Lohse.  The Phillies don't really have room for another expensive arm and they're set with Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan at the back end of their rotation.

Brewers: GM Doug Melvin has been open about his reluctance to pay what he feels are inflated prices for free agent starters this offseason, yet the Brewers have stayed on the fringes of the Lohse hunt.  Boras has had conversations with Brewers owner Mark Attanasio and Attanasio has said that his team could be interested at the right price.  ESPN's Jim Bowden, in fact, recently predicted that Lohse would end up signing with either Milwaukee or Texas before Spring Training is over.

Cardinals: As soon as the news broke that Chris Carpenter was out for the season and possibly facing retirement, speculation immediately arose that Lohse would re-sign with St. Louis, a possibility that seemed wholly unlikely at the start of the offseason.  The latest word is that the Cards still aren't interested, as they will first see how their young starters look before exploring Lohse or other external options.  The Cardinals wouldn't receive a compensation pick if they re-signed Lohse, of course, but having a familiar, proven veteran might be of greater value to a contending team than a sandwich pick.

Cubs: Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein surprised many by signing Edwin Jackson this winter, but as Hoyer explained, Jackson fit what they was looking for in terms of a durable, young pitcher.  Lohse is simply too old for a Cubs team that is still at least a couple of years away from contending. 

Pirates: Though FOX Sports' Jon Paul Morosi thinks they're "a great fit" for Lohse, the Pirates aren't interested.  I agree with Morosi — Lohse projects as the ace of a rotation that currently consists of A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Francisco Liriano and Jeff Karstens.  The Bucs would lose the 14th overall pick in next year's draft but they still have another first-rounder (ninth overall) as compensation for not signing Mark Appel last year.  Everything seems to work, except for the fact that Lohse is probably too expensive for the Pirates.

Reds: Cincinnati already has five starters and Aroldis Chapman is joining the rotation this season, so there's no room for Lohse.

Diamondbacks: No need for Lohse in the desert, as the Snakes already have several promising young arms competing for rotation spots.

Dodgers: Not only do the Dodgers already have eight pitchers for five rotation spots, their surplus is actually hurting Lohse's market since the Dodgers' spare starters come at a cheaper price, as ESPN's Buster Olney has observed.

Giants: The World Series champions are set for starting pitching.

Padres: This could be a dark horse option, though only if Lohse's price drops significantly.  From Lohse's perspective, there are few better places for a pitcher to rebuild value than at Petco Park.  The Padres went into the offseason looking to acquire veteran pitching depth and only picked up Jason Marquis.  It has been reported, however, that the Friars are more likely to acquire a pitcher through a trade than through free agency if they do make another move.  Signing Lohse would also cost San Diego the 13th overall pick in next year's draft. 

Rockies: Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post recently noted that the Rockies aren't willing to spend on major free agent starters, and Lohse probably has no interest in pitching at Coors Field anyway.

Blue Jays: Toronto addressed its pitching needs by acquiring R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, so there's no room in the rotation for Lohse.

Orioles: Lohse would become Baltimore's ace and would provide valuable innings to a young rotation that has a lot of injury-related question marks.  Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reported last month that the O's are keeping tabs on Lohse in case his price dropped or if he was willing to sign a one-year deal, though Connolly didn't think the Orioles would be willing to give up the first-rounder.

Rays: Even if Tampa Bay wasn't loaded with young pitching, Lohse is too expensive and the Rays are loath to give up draft picks.

Red Sox: There were some rumors tying Lohse to Boston early in the offseason but the Sox lost interest after signing Ryan Dempster instead.

Yankees: Phil Hughes' injury has left the Yankees looking for pitching depth, but GM Brian Cashman said that he wasn't looking at Lohse.  The Yankees don't want to sacrifice the draft pick, plus they're trying to get under the $189MM luxury tax limit for 2014 so Lohse is too expensive for the moment.

Indians: The Tribe aren't interested, according to Buster Olney, but they make sense as a landing spot for Lohse.  Cleveland's rotation is still a weak point and since the Indians have already splurged by signing Bourn and Nick Swisher, you could argue they might as well spend some more to address their pitching.  The Indians' first round pick is protected, and they've already given up their second-round and competitive balance round (69th overall) picks for Bourn and Swisher, signing Lohse would only cost the Tribe a third-rounder.  Sacrificing three draft picks may be a step too far for a smaller-market team like Cleveland, however.

Royals: James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana all joined the Royals' rotation this winter, thus satisfying K.C.'s need for starting pitching.  The Royals' first-round pick is protected, so signing Lohse would only cost money, but it would be very surprising to see Kansas City make a move here.

Tigers: Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly are fighting to be Detroit's fifth starter and one of the two could end up being traded, so the Tigers don't have room for Lohse.  I guess you can't completely rule them out given Boras' relationship with Tigers owner Mike Ilitch but it's very improbable.

Twins: I actually predicted Lohse would sign with the Twins in this year's MLBTR Free Agent Prediction Contest, but Minnesota instead went with low-cost starting pitching options.  They're not going to suddenly decide to start spending now and pursue Lohse.

White Sox: There's no room in the Chicago rotation, as the Sox have Gavin Floyd on hand if John Danks isn't healthy.

Angels: Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton project as the Halos' rotation, plus they have Garrett Richards and Jerome Williams.  Despite this depth, the Angels could use another solid arm to boost their World Series hopes, and only Weaver presents a clear upgrade over Lohse.  This is no doubt the argument that Boras has himself been making to Angels management.  L.A. isn't interested, however, since they don't have payroll space and isn't sure how Lohse will perform in the American League.

Astros: Even if Lohse has to settle for a reduced contract, that deal might still end up being worth more than the entire payroll of the 2013 Astros.  It will be at least a few years before the rebuilding 'Stros pursue even mid-tier free agents.

Athletics: Lohse is too expensive for the A's and unnecessary given Oakland's young pitching depth.

Mariners: Spending on a major free agent starter doesn't make much sense for the M's given the number of top pitching prospects on the way up and the fact that their stadium transforms most pitchers into Lohse-level starters anyway.  Combine this with Seattle having to surrender the 12th overall pick to sign Lohse and this looks like a bad fit.

Rangers: Despite Bowden's prediction, Texas reportedly has no interest in Lohse.  Martin Perez is the favorite to be the Rangers' fifth starter until Colby Lewis is healthy.

Looking at the field, I'd say that the Cardinals seem like the most logical candidate, with the Pirates, Orioles, Brewers, Indians, Padres, Angels, Rangers and (only because of the Boras factor) Nationals as longshots.  You see Scott Boras' problem — every team has at least one reason to not sign Lohse.  That said, Boras is known for finding healthy contracts out of seemingly impossible markets for his clients.  If a team loses confidence in its pitching situation during Spring Training or a top ace gets injured, Lohse's long wait may pay off after all.



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