Lohse, Cards agree to four-year deal
Right-hander avoids free agency after first season with Cards
ST. LOUIS -- A marriage of convenience has turned into a long-term relationship.
The Cardinals announced Monday that they have agreed to a new four-year contract with right-hander Kyle Lohse, who would have been eligible for free agency after the World Series ends. The deal, which lasts through the 2012 season, includes complete no-trade protection and is worth a reported $41 million.
Back in March, with Spring Training already under way, Lohse signed a one-year, $4.25 million contract with St. Louis. Lohse had waited the winter for a deal and not gotten one, and the Cardinals had grown concerned that they needed a starter in the wake of health problems in their rotation.
Seven months later, Lohse is coming off the best season of his career, and he has a multi-year deal.
"It's just one of those places where you feel comfortable and go out there and have success," Lohse said at a news conference on Monday afternoon at Busch Stadium. "The way things turned out, I liked working with [Manager Tony La Russa] and [pitching coach Dave Duncan]. So it's just a good situation for me. I knew pretty early on that if things could work out this way, this was the way I wanted it to be."
In his first season in St. Louis, Lohse went 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA, 119 strikeouts and 49 walks. He pitched exactly 200 innings, reaching that milestone for the second time in his career, and held opponents to 18 home runs.
By securing Lohse, the Cardinals followed a pattern from recent years. They are sometimes reluctant to commit multiple years to unknown pitchers, but they will guarantee longer deals to keep their own pitchers in-house. Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Joel Pineiro and Ryan Franklin have all signed multi-year extensions within the past two years.
"His age and his durability factored into how we came to this decision," said general manager John Mozeliak. "And more importantly, how he fit in with this team and how well-respected he was with his teammates. It seemed to be a perfect fit for us moving forward."
For agent Scott Boras, however, the deal was somewhat uncharacteristic in at least one regard. Boras' clients rarely sign deals before testing the market. However, Lohse made it clear he was happy in St. Louis, and Boras pursued the deal.
"I work for people," Boras said. "Kyle and Gabby [his wife] let me know that this was a place he wanted to be. In August, I called [Mozeliak] and I just said, 'Keep this in the back of your mind. He likes it here and he's done well here.'"
St. Louis now has five starting pitchers under team control for 2008, though one carries a significant health question. Wainwright, Lohse, Pineiro and Carpenter are all signed, with Carpenter trying to recover from a vexing nerve injury in his pitching arm. Todd Wellemeyer is eligible for arbitration but not under contract.
"We've got some starter issues, with the free agents and the question on Carp, so [signing Lohse] would be a very significant move," La Russa said.
Braden Looper can become a free agent, and the signing of Lohse may mean the end of Looper's tenure with the Cardinals. Mozeliak said that if the Cardinals add another starter this winter, it is likely to be a back-of-the-rotation type of pitcher.
According to the Associated Press, Lohse's deal is significantly backloaded and pays him $7.125 million in 2009 with a $1.25 million signing bonus, with his base salary climbing to $11.875 million in 2011 and 2012. That structure could conceivably allow the Cardinals to be more aggressive in the near term than if Lohse were making $10 million each year.
"Right now, we're very comfortable where we are," Mozeliak said. "But obviously, we recognize -- as we saw this year with Kyle -- that opportunity knocks at interesting times. And we want to make sure we're prepared for that."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.