Market Fresh: Kyle Lohse


As you’ve likely heard a few times, the Royals need to improve their starting rotation for 2013.

We’ve already talked about Anibal Sanchez as the Royals likely top target and the potential availability of Dan Haren. Another name the Royals have been linked to is the Cardinals’ Kyle Lohse.

Along with Sanchez, Lohse could be “at the top of [the Royals] list” this winter.

September 18, 2012; St. Louis, MO. USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Kyle Lohse (26) throws to a Houston Astros batter during the first inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE

The latest news is that the Cardinals haven’t offered Lohse anything yet, and, with St. Louis in the playoffs, aren’t likely to take his focus off the action on the field. They’ll have the opportunity to offer him a qualifying offer – estimated to be around $13.3 million for one year – in order to obtain compensation if he signs elsewhere. His current contract paid him $41 million over four years.

The Royals wouldn’t surrender a pick if the Cardinals do make a qualifying offer, so that isn’t a concern. Lohse turned 34 years old almost two weeks ago, so he’s looking for his last big payday. Former GM and XM Radio host Jim Bowden thinks the Royals could be a fit, with some conditions:

Translation: the Royals may have to overpay for Lohse’s services.

Caution Advised

I’ve already mentioned Lohse’s age. If age can be a concern for Haren (who is 32), then Lohse’s needs to be considered. While his best years have come in the last five years, there’s no guarantee he’ll continue to be solid, and age has a way of causing rapid regression. The Royals already have Bruce Chen on staff for next year and his overall numbers looked like what you’d expect from a pitcher in his mid-thirties who didn’t always have it every night.

Lohse will get a lot of buzz since he’s a guy who can go throw 200 innings in a year and because he’s been a part of successful Cardinals teams. That has value and he’d be a good piece of a competitive rotation. He’s been around league average throughout most of his career, doesn’t walk too many, doesn’t give up a lot of homers, doesn’t get hit too hard.

My fear is that the Royals will take Bowden’s advice and pay a little more than they need to to bring Lohse aboard. I’m afraid they’ll pay him a Gil Meche type of deal based on a career year. My fear is that he turns into the 2013 version of 1990’s Storm Davis. While his 2012 numbers look good – and nobody can look past a 2.86 ERA in 211 innings – instinct suggests he can only be worse next season.

Over his career, Lohse has a 4.45 ERA, working out to a 97 ERA+. His strong ERAs with the Cardinals are tempered by the fact that he’s in the National League, so relatively, his three good years are still good, but many other pitchers are in the same area in the rankings. It doesn’t automatically transfer to the other league if he were to sign with the Royals. Since Lohse isn’t a strikeout guy, and more balls will get put into play, moving to a more offensive-oriented league could hurt him. His 2012 numbers outperformed his peripherals, as his BABIP was a low .262 and his xFIP sat more than a run higher than his ERA (3.96). He’s due to regress and I have a bad feeling the Royals will have to choose between Lohse or Sanchez – and they’ll choose poorly.

Taking Inventory

That’s not to say that Lohse is a 6.00 ERA waiting to happen. He’s got value, but not what I think the Royals will have to pay. He has a fastball that hangs around 90 mph, mixes in a slider and changeup, all of which were valuable pitches this season. His secondary stuff has been consistently good. He can get you 190-210 innings a year.

There’s just no one skill that stands out. He’d be a fine #3 starter, but I’d rather retain Jeremy Guthrie over him. If he were affordable to the point that the Royals could sign Sanchez, Guthrie and Lohse, then I’d be less concerned. While David Glass has said he’s going to pay up this winter, the skepticism won’t go away until it’s confirmed that he’s signed anyone. All three may command eight figure annual salaries, and I can’t see Glass going that far. Also, Lohse would be making somewhere from  $10-13 million in 2016 when he’ll be approaching 38 years old, and that’s if he’s looking for a four year deal. If he makes the Royals pay for an extra year, that’s obviously a bigger commitment, and one that could haunt them before the deal hits its midway point.

Would Lohse be an upgrade from Luke Hochevar or Chen? Yes. If he were affordable, I’d have little worry about him, but he’s going to cost, and perhaps even more than just the dollars involved. If it comes down to Lohse versus Sanchez and the Royals choose Lohse, there’s the opportunity cost as well, both in missing out on Sanchez or in having a $13 million salary weigh down the team in three years and possibly prevent signing another, younger, better option. I’d rather take the shot on Sanchez.

Note: Buster Olney passed on that he’d heard a Lohse deal could command $60-75 million, which is far too much for a pitcher of his caliber, in my opinion.