I’m sure we’ll revisit this after the season. But on a slow trade rumor day, let’s take a closer look at a free agent pitcher who could cash in after this season: Kyle Lohse. It sounds absurd to say that about a guy who posted a 5.83 ERA last year, but Lohse might be primed for a three year, $24MM contract.
Lohse was never ranked among Baseball America’s top 100 prospects. But as a 20 year-old pitching well in High A ball, he was enough to snag the Cubs a closer from the Twins in Rick Aguilera. The need had surfaced for Chicago after Rod Beck came down with bone spurs in his elbow.
So Lohse became a Twin, and initially struggled to master Double A. It didn’t matter, as he was very young for his levels and reached the Majors in ’01 as a 22 year-old. He didn’t fare well in his 16 starts, though his command wasn’t bad.
Lohse won the Twins’ fifth starter job out of camp in ’02, beating out Johan Santana among others. He had a fine year, winning 13 games with a 4.23 ERA. Lohse even tossed five scoreless postseason relief innings.
2003 was more of the same – 33 starts, 14 wins, and a strong 1.27 WHIP. His propensity to allow home runs kept his ERA in the mid 4s, but it was still a good year. A five win season, according to Baseball Prospectus.
He added a sinker in 2004, but it didn’t help his home run rate. That worsened; his strikeout rate continued to drop, his control wasn’t great, and he allowed tons of hits. Lohse made 34 starts but posted a 5.34 ERA.
That winter he reached arbitration for the first time. No agreement could be reached, so a hearing was conducted. Lohse was the winner and snagged $2.4MM despite coming off his worst season.
His first possible serious injury surfaced in ’05, as he felt shoulder stiffness in April. The MRI came up clean and it turned out to be a non-issue. He pitched tolerably in the first half, generating talks of a swap to the Blue Jays for Shea Hillenbrand.
The trade didn’t happen. In September of that year, Lohse badmouthed Ron Gardenhire in the media and also punched several clubhouse doors, injuring his finger temporarily. The two sides made amends, but the finger injury lingered a bit.
That winter, Lohse again went to arbitration with the Twins and beat them, winning $3.95MM. It wasn’t a bad year – a 4.18 ERA in 30 starts.
In the spring of 2006, Lohse scrapped his curve to go with only his fastball, changeup, and slider. Somehow, he earned a rotation spot over Francisco Liriano out of camp. The new approach didn’t work – Lohse was awful in April and earned a trip to Triple A. He was angered by the demotion, but pitched well in four starts. The Mets, Red Sox, and other clubs expressed interest. He returned to the Twins in June and worked as a reliever, posting a 4.44 ERA out of the pen in 26 innings.
Twin-loving Reds GM Wayne Krivsky traded for Lohse at the deadline, giving up prospect Zach Ward. So far in 14 National League starts, Lohse has found the league very much to his liking. His strikeout rate is way up, and his command looks great. Is it a first-time-around-the-league mirage? We’ll need more data to be sure, but many pitchers have rejuvenated their careers in the NL.
As far as I can tell, Lohse has a decent repertoire. He is said to throw harder than Bronson Arroyo or Aaron Harang, and his manager raves about his changeup. Reds pitching coach Dick Pole loves his stuff. He finally avoided arbitration as a Red, as seems to enjoy it there. Lohse considers the American League "Arena Baseball," so he probably won’t be going back.
Lohse doesn’t turn 29 until October, making him one of the younger free agent pitchers out there. He also has a fine health history. Lohse’s next contract should fall somewhere between Jason Marquis’s 3/21 and Gil Meche’s 5/55. It’s not inconceivable that Lohse could get $8-10MM annually and three years. Given his age, a team might even have to add a fourth year to win his services.