Both of these clubs are playoff contenders, capable of winning their divisions or at the very least securing wild-card berths. One problem: The teams around them have spent the winter improving, while they have stood still. The good news for the O's and Brewers is that there is one free agent still out there who could help them save their respective offseasons, and his name is Kyle Lohse.
The Orioles won 93 games last year with a rotation no one expected would hold up, and they somehow made the playoffs even though Wei-Yin Chen was their only starter who threw more than 135 innings. They are hoping to re-sign Joe Saunders, whom they acquired in a midseason deal, but that rotation needs some depth. Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are two excellent pitching prospects, but it's more realistic to expect them to contribute in 2014. However, their lineup and bullpen are good enough to win now, and the O's shouldn't waste a year of Adam Jones and Matt Wieters' primes waiting for pitching prospects to develop.
The Brewers are in a similar boat, though they at least have a bona fide front-line starter in Yovani Gallardo. Behind him, however, they have a lot of questions marks, and even though Marco Estrada pitched well down the stretch and Michael Fiers was solid for much of the season, they need another guy they can count on. Led by Ryan Braun, arguably the best offensive player in the NL (who led the league in runs scored in 2013), they clearly have a championship-caliber offense. Their window to win the division or a wild card is probably going to be the next two years given the fact they have five major league contracts that expire after 2014, so this is the time to strike.
With the other top free-agent pitchers such as Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez off the board, and the likes of R.A. Dickey and James Shields being moved in trades, the options for a top-of-the-rotation starter are limited to Lohse. The 34-year-old was 16-3 last year for the St. Louis Cardinals with a 2.86 ERA and 1.09 WHIP and a 4.1 WAR in 211 innings. This is coming off a 14-8 season the year before with a 3.39 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. He has been so effective the past two years that Cardinals manager Mike Matheny chose him to start the wild-card game ahead of Adam Wainwright. Fact is, he is not a one-year wonder.
After a brutal 2010 season, Lohse took the advice of teammate Chris Carpenter and started to throw his sinker more than half the time. He has been reborn as a result, as the sinker allows his four-seamer up in the zone to be more effective. His ability to keep the ball out of the middle of the plate the past two years has been sensational, and he has shown the ability to work the corners while posting the lowest walk rates of his career.
Lohse's agent is Scott Boras, and word is that he wants a deal similar to the five-year, $80 contract that Sanchez got from the Detroit Tigers. But as the winter goes on, he will probably have to be a bit more realistic. Lohse turned down a qualifying offer from the Cardinals, so both the Brewers and Orioles (or anyone else picking outside of the top 10 overall) would have to surrender a first-round draft pick to sign him, which hurts his value. (Because the Tigers re-signed Sanchez, they don't lose a pick, though it was moot for him because players who were traded during the season cannot receive qualifying offers.)
The longer Lohse goes without a deal, the more likely the Brewers and Orioles can afford him. The Texas Rangers are another team that could be in play, but the O's and Brewers need him more than any other potential suitors, as he could be the difference between contention and irrelevance in 2013.