Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Lohse could wait until after MLB draft
By Jim Bowden
The new CBA could force Kyle Lohse to take some drastic measures.
How does a veteran pitcher post a 16-3 record last season and not have a job just two weeks away from Opening Day?
Such is the plight of right-hander Kyle Lohse. The Scott Boras client remains jobless and the market for him is razor thin. With teams steadfastly refusing to surrender a draft pick in order to sign Lohse, there lurks the real possibility that Lohse could be without a team for a long time, well after Opening Day.
How long? It could be June before he has a job -- after the MLB first-year player draft. And part of the reason is the new collective bargaining agreement.
The CBA has been great for the game -- for both the clubs and players -- and has improved competitive balance throughout the sport. It has benefited the players by reducing the number of free agents that are tied to draft pick compensation. This has really helped most of the players in the union, with the exception of Lohse.
Some will argue that the draft pick compensation also hurt free agent outfielder Michael Bourn. However, that's difficult to argue based on the four-year, $48 million deal he signed with the Cleveland Indians. Bourn didn't get as much as he was seeking, but his deal was complicated by the unique circumstances that saw the free-agent market flood with center fielders, not to mention the Minnesota Twins' dealing two center fielders. It was more about those market forces than it was the CBA keeping Bourn's price down.
So Lohse appears to be the only real victim of a glitch in the new system. Indeed, the system is quite unfair to older players who are not traded midseason and enter the free-agent market. (If you're traded in the middle of the year you can not be given a qualifying offer and will therefore not cost the team that signs you a pick.) Teams are protecting their draft picks now more than ever and, more importantly, the allocated dollars they're given to sign them. The latter is really the separator.
Further narrowing the market for Lohse is his own agent. Several teams have passed on Lohse simply because they don't want to meet Boras’ asking price. When all is said and done, the actual market for Lohse is slim, not 30 teams as a “free market” system should be.
After the draft, Lohse is no longer tied to draft-pick compensation. He can sign with any team and the St. Louis Cardinals, his old team, will not receive a compensatory pick. Only then will all 30 clubs feel free to bid on his services. Several GMs have told me that Lohse’s market value is much higher if he waits until then.
The only way Lohse signs now is if he goes against Boras’ advice and signs a significantly below-market value deal. Obviously, it's his decision and not Boras’, but history tells us that Lohse normally follows Boras’ advice. I’m sure Lohse doesn't want to sit out the first two months of the season, but if he ends up signing a 2½ year deal with an average annual value of $15 million, it’s probably better than any two-year deal he can get today.
For now, Lohse can only stand around and wait.
Best fits for Lohse 1. The Texas Rangers are the one team that could afford him today, but don't appear ready to budge. They remain the favorites to sign him if he decides to sign before Opening Day. The atmosphere in Rangers camp isn't great with the Nolan Ryan controversy and the departures of Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young. A Lohse signing could change that and give them the deepest rotation of all the teams in the AL West.
2. The Milwaukee Brewers, however, might be an even better fit. They almost had Ryan Dempster, and they need another proven starter behind Yovani Gallardo if they want to contend. However, they also don't want to give up their pick, which would be No. 17 overall. Boras keeps calling owner Mark Attanasio to convince him otherwise. But the Brewers need the pick more than they do Lohse, and why give up a first-round draft pick if you can wait another 85 days to get him without giving up a pick or losing the draft pick allotment?
3. The Baltimore Orioles might need Lohse quicker than any team. Give them a month into the season and if their starting rotation doesn't look like it can match what it accomplished in 2012, GM Dan Duquette might be calling Boras as early as May.
4. The Los Angeles Angels are going to start the year with the five-man rotation they put together in the offseason, but if either Tommy Hanson or Joe Blanton is not throwing well don't be surprised if owner Arte Moreno and GM Jerry Dipoto make a run at Lohse.
Of course, if there is an injury between now and then, he could end up signing before Opening Day. Last year, when Victor Martinez blew out his knee, the injury instantly helped Prince Fielder (another Boras client) get his best possible deal. So if a contender suffers an early-season injury to their starting pitching, Lohse will be on speed dial.
Lohse has been throwing and keeping himself in great shape. And at 34, waiting two months isn't the end of the world. Of course, an ancillary benefit of sitting out is he'll be sharper in September and the postseason, and since we all know how frequently pitchers get hurt, the market could be robust for him in June.
Lohse really figured it out the past two years with help of teammates Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. His command and control of all of his pitches are special. He can really be a difference-maker in a pennant race, but someone has got to sign him first.