Saga over, Lohse can help Crew contend in NL
Veteran right-hander brings stabilizing presence to front of young rotation
Kyle Lohse has a home, and the free-agent market has returned to some semblance of sanity.
A post-shoveling accident Carl Pavano ranking as possibly the best free-agent starter still available in late March? Yep, that sounds about right to me.
That Lohse went untouched for so long is, of course, a byproduct of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement's Draft-pick compensation system. To sign Lohse, the Brewers had to forfeit the 17th overall selection in the June First-Year Player Draft and the bonus pool money associated with that pick, while the Cardinals, who made Lohse a qualifying one-year offer of $13.3 million months ago, reap the 28th overall pick.
And so ends one of the stranger free-agent sagas of our time.
Whether the Lohse saga leads to substantive change in the CBA remains to be seen. Eliminating Draft-pick compensation entirely is not a wise -- or anticipated -- course of action, given how important that element is in the stabilization of small-market clubs. But the argument for allowing sign-and-trades is stronger than ever after quality players like Lohse and Michael Bourn were left twisting in the wind.
All that said, Lohse will reportedly receive $33 million over three years and Bourn got $48 million over four. So even if their markets were affected by the system put in place, it's hard to quibble too much with the end results.
The end result for Lohse is a spot in a Milwaukee rotation that benefits from his veteran poise and innings-eating attributes. The Brewers, despite their stunning surge at the end of last season, tend to get overlooked in a division in which the Reds are routinely talked-up as World Series contenders and the Cardinals have established a tradition of excellence.
But don't forget about the Brew Crew, especially now that the rotation has quite a bit more stability in the front end.
One would assume the Brewers are going to score their share of runs this season. At this juncture, none of us knows how MLB's investigation into the Miami Biogenesis clinic will play out and how -- or if -- that will impact Ryan Braun. But if we figure, for now, that Braun is going to remain a fixture in the lineup, then we have every reason to suspect that lineup will remain among the National League's elite.
Last year, the production of Aramis Ramirez and Jonathan Lucroy, the emergence of Norichika Aoki and the second-half improvement of Rickie Weeks ensured Braun was surrounded by a versatile, valuable cast. And if Corey Hart heals on schedule and young shortstop Jean Segura capitalizes on his potential, a Brewers club that led the NL in runs last year will be all the better.
The thought, then, is that if the Brewers pitch even reasonably well, they should be a handful.
They didn't pitch so well in the late innings last year, losing 11 games in which they had led going into the ninth inning. Those 11 losses made all the difference in the world for a team that finished five games back of a Wild Card spot.
General manager Doug Melvin did what he could to shore up the bullpen by adding Mike Gonzalez and Burke Badenhop, and the Brewers are holding out hope that John Axford's brutal two-month slump in 2012 was but a blip on the radar. Axford did convert 18 of his final 19 save chances, after all.
But upgrading a rotation that has recently seen the departures of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum was another matter entirely. Melvin, like so many others in his position, did not see the benefit to forking over the dollars it takes to compete in the free-agent market for starting arms. He did make an earnest effort at Ryan Dempster, but Dempster took more money to play for Boston.
That left the Brewers with a rotation that was a source of both intrigue and concern beyond staff ace Yovani Gallardo. Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, Wily Peralta and Chris Narveson were/are the other arms in the mix, and they combine for just 815 2/3 innings of Major League experience, with Estrada and Narveson accounting for more than 80 percent of that total.
Just for the sake of perspective, Lohse pitched nearly that many innings -- 809 -- just in his five seasons with the Cardinals.
Now, nobody is saying the 34-year-old Lohse is going to build upon or even repeat his 2012 performance, which Baseball Reference calculated as 34 percent better than league average. In fact, in his time with the Cardinals, Lohse has been just about a league-average arm, posting a 55-35 record and 3.90 ERA in 137 appearances.
But there is definitely a benefit to having a guy like Lohse who knows the league, pounds the strike zone and has proved in the past that he can amass more than 200 effective innings. The Brewers' rotation has upside, especially if anything can be gleaned from the combined strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.28) of Estrada and Fiers last year. But a contending team needs stability to pair with the upside, and Lohse figures to be a source of stabilization.
This is a good landing spot for Lohse, who has done his best to stay sharp this spring by throwing simulated sessions in Scottsdale, Ariz. Had he shifted back to the American League, where he previously struggled, there would be fear that his ERA would spike. But Lohse should be able to remain in his comfort zone, and he got a reasonable amount of security for a pitcher of his age and credentials.
At $11 million a year, Lohse did not come cheap, especially when you factor in the Draft-pick compensation. But the rate seems reasonable, particularly to a Brewers club still trying to assess what it has in those young starters in the back end of the rotation. This is a team that can contend in the NL Central, and that statement is a bit easier to believe now that Lohse is aboard.