- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
TAMPA, Fla. -- Kyle Lohse started on Opening Day for the defending champions last season, and by the end of the summer, he had the best season of his career. A 2.86 ERA, which was the eighth best in baseball, a 1.09 WHIP, a career-high 211 innings. He even got some NL Cy Young votes.
But Lohse is still looking for a job today, and one of the most-asked questions in baseball these days is: Who is going to sign Kyle Lohse? Because the offseason music has stopped, most teams have spent their winter dollars and Lohse is still left standing, without a team.
A producer for "Baseball Tonight" called Tuesday morning as we prepared for the show and asked where I thought Lohse would land.
The answer was as pathetic as it sounded: "I have no idea."
There don't seem to be any big-market options. The Los Angeles Dodgers have eight starting pitchers and don't need another. The New York Yankees aren't going to do it, and the Boston Red Sox have clearly placed a high priority on keeping their first-round draft pick, like a lot of teams. The New York Mets never got any assurance that they would be able to keep their first-round draft pick if they signed Michael Bourn, and as one baseball official mentioned the other day, that would be the same if they decided to pursue Lohse.
St. Louis Cardinals GM John Mozeliak has said repeatedly in the aftermath of the announcement about Chris Carpenter's uncertain future that he doesn't expect to pursue pitching; neither do the Texas Rangers. The Seattle Mariners just spent a lot of money on Felix Hernandez, and have veteran depth in Joe Saunders, Jon Garland and Jeremy Bonderman. The Detroit Tigers have surplus in their rotation.
You go through this exercise over and over, and because of Lohse's salary requirements -- club officials say that earlier this winter, Lohse's agent, Scott Boras, was looking for an Anibal Sanchez-type deal ($80 million) -- and the fact that he's linked to draft-pick compensation makes him an imperfect fit for a whole bunch of teams.
Eventually, he'll sign, because he's a pitcher and this is the work he chose. But like Bourn, he'll probably have to take a whole lot less money than he might've envisioned last September.
Some baseball officials speculated about the following teams being a possible landing spot for Lohse, given their needs and his desperate position:
The fact that Gio Gonzalez was asked to participate in the WBC has been taken as a sign in the Washington camp that Gonzalez may be able to get through the Miami PED stuff without a suspension. Going into spring training, there is no urgency within the Nationals' organization to rush out and acquire a starter as a contingency plan, to prepare for the possibility that Gonzalez might get nailed for 50 games.
The Nationals have five starters lined up and ready to go, in Stephen Strasburg, Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Dan Haren and Ross Detwiler. But Boras, who represents Lohse, has a strong relationship with the Nationals (see Rafael Soriano, Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, et al), and as the saying goes, you can never have enough pitching. The Nationals already have surrendered their first-round pick to sign Soriano, so the draft thing wouldn't be a major consideration.
But it's hard to imagine Washington will seriously consider this unless the Nationals can get a big-time, team-friendly deal -- like the Soriano deal, which was backloaded with deferred money. It was announced as two-year, $28 million deal, but was valued by MLB, in present-day dollars, at something close to $10.9 million annually.
Adam Kilgore, who first linked the Nationals to Lohse, wonders whether Lohse could be the backup plan for the Nationals.
They signed Bourn because they got a good player on a good deal. But as of Tuesday afternoon, they had no plans to pursue Lohse, whose 2012 performance doesn't look as good when evaluated through the prism of advanced metrics; he was 23rd in FIP.
Their rotation is considered their weakest link, and Boras has tried to engage them about Lohse repeatedly, according to one source. So far, they've passed. Because they signed Hamilton, they've already sacrificed a top draft pick.
Starting pitching is their biggest question, but midway through the winter, they decided that they would take a run at Ryan Dempster and if they didn't sign him, they would move on. Dempster signed with Boston, and the Brewers have intended to fill their rotation with internal options. If Lohse's price tag drops into the range of the two-year deal they offered Dempster, could that change? We'll see.
The Brewers are putting together the pieces for their rotation and other elements of their team, as Tom Haudricourt writes.
They could use a veteran anchor, but all winter, their preference has been to hold off on the expensive move and preserve their first-round pick.
They were aggressive in their search early in the offseason, making a big offer to Hiroki Kuroda. But as the prices for starters skyrocketed, that changed. Now we'll see if Lohse appears more attractive at a cheaper rate.
They lingered on the fringe of the Bourn conversation, prepared to make a deal only if was completely on their terms. Their first-round pick is protected, and if they signed Lohse, they would have to give up a high second-round pick -- so the only way they would probably ever entertain the notion of signing Lohse would be if they could get him on a complete white-flag-of-surrender contract. Even then, they might pass, because of Lohse's age; he's 34 and might be 36 before the Cubs contend again, so would there really be a point to giving up a draft pick?
Around the league
• The Mariners finished their $175 million deal with Felix Hernandez. I was told that minor concessions were made in contract language to give the Mariners some protection against whatever was seen in Hernandez's elbow last week.
The deal shows a commitment to a player needed by the Mariners fans, writes Kurt Wagner. That's an interesting theory that some rival executives chatted over Tuesday.
"They finished in last place with him last year," said one official. "Their attendance has fallen with him on the team. I'm not sure how this [contract] changes anything about the team."
• The best thing about spring training is that everybody has a new pitch, everybody has a new idea, everybody's record is pristine, and not smeared by results.
It wasn't unreasonable, then, that Yankees Manager Joe Girardi had a lot of glass-half-full thoughts. They've got Andy Pettitte coming back, and Mariano Rivera is recovering from a knee injury, rather than an arm injury. Speaking of Derek Jeter, who is coming back from a broken ankle, Girardi said, "In my mind, I think he'll be an everyday shortstop. But you have to see it."
The questions about the Yankees might be as numerous and thick as they have been in many years. But context is important: There are a lot of questions about all five teams in the division.
Tyler Kepner wonders if there's too much old glory this spring for the Yankees. Alex Rodriguez is going to stay away from Yankees camp. This could be a blessing for the Yankees, writes Bob Klapisch. The Yankees could be duds, writes Joel Sherman.
• Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information has this on Michael Bourn's defense: Baseball Info Solutions provides us with play-by-play based defensive data. They chart every ball put into play and credit or debit a player based on how often a ball hit to that spot at that speed is turned into an out.
Credit is assigned from 0 to 1. For example: A fielder gets a 0.8 credit if he makes a play on a ball that is typically turned into an out 20 percent of the time (1-0.2=0.8)
Basically, the less frequently the ball is turned into an out, the more credit the player gets.
In 2012, Bourn made 35 plays with a plus/minus credit of 0.5 or greater, which was the best of all center fielders.
In addition, Bourn made 10 plays with a plus/minus credit of 0.8 or greater, which was second best to Angel Pagan (12) of all center fielders.
The signing of Bourn is a sign to fans that the Indians want to compete, writes Terry Pluto.
- When asked about Montero's comments, Bauer said, "I'm glad to live in a country like the United States where we can all say what we want and have freedom of speech. I appreciate all the guys who go overseas and fight for that freedom."
• Roy Halladay's progress will be closely watched in the Phillies' camp this spring. From Jim Salisbury's story:
Halladay, who will speak to reporters after Wednesday's workout, spent the winter trying to stabilize his shoulder by strengthening his core. He's also made some adjustments to his delivery. Pitching coach Rich Dubee has watched Halladay throw for several weeks and is pleased.
"I see a stronger body, a stronger core, and I see a guy that's not having some of the health issues he had last year," Dubee said. "Time will tell but I know he's done a lot of hard work. We'll get him out there and build him up.
"The stronger core will allow him to stay in his delivery a lot better instead of having to peel out of it like he did last year, especially coming up and out of it with his front side. Again, he needs mound time. We don't expect any of these guys to be real sharp out of the get-go. We just need to build on it and they'll get better the more they go out there."
Dubee acknowledged that a clearer picture of Halladay's progress won't emerge until the competition picks up in March.
"I'm not concerned with early because there's new stuff in his delivery -- a little different arm path, trying to maintain a shorter arm path," Dubee said. "Early on, I'm not as concerned, but we'll let him play it out and see where he's at."
Moves, deals and decisions
1. A makeover of the Tigers' spring training home is in the works, writes Lynn Henning.
8. A Rays pitcher might skip the WBC.
9. The Braves' draft position swap was insignificant.
Dings and dents
It's still unclear where Kyle Lohse will land, and Buster Olney handicaps the field.