The St. Louis Cardinals have a solid starting rotation that includes two ace-caliber pitchers, a couple of decent No. 3 and No. 4 starters, and a bevy of young flamethrowers. However, they might be in better shape if they re-sign their best starter from last year – Kyle Lohse.
Lohse posted a 16-3 record with a team-leading 2.84 earned-run average and was a strong candidate for the Cy Young Award in 2012. His contract expired at the end of the season, but no team has shown any strong interest in signing the 34-year-old righthander.
Part of the problem for Lohse could be a new system put in place by Major League Baseball in 2011 that gives teams compensation picks if they make qualifying offers to their free agents and those players are signed by another team. Teams have recently been more reluctant to sign a high-priced free agent because they’ll have to give up a draft pick and a portion of their draft money.
Perhaps his asking price is simply too high. Scott Boras represents Lohse, and Boras is known to try any imaginable tactic to drive up the price for teams to sign his clients. This strategy cost Lohse the last time he was a free agent.
Lohse put together a 9-12 record in 2007 with the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies, but he hit the open market that offseason looking for a big, multi-year contract. As Spring Training camps opened in 2008, Lohse was still hunting for a job when the Cardinals signed him to a one-year, $4.25-million deal that was designed to be an opportunity for Lohse to try to maximize his value for the following offseason.
It worked. Lohse went 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA in 2008, and the Cardinals re-signed him to a four-year, $41-million extension later that season.
The Cardinals might be reluctant to sign Lohse because they want the compensation draft pick, which would be cheaper to sign than a free agent pitcher. But, the franchise could find short- and long-term benefits if they re-sign Lohse.
Lohse could return to the Cardinals with a fairly reasonable deal since no other teams have stepped forward with an offer, and the move could help them beyond next year if Adam Wainwright decides to leave as a free agent. Wainwright is going to command at least a near-record contract if he has a good season, and he is almost certainly going to be more expensive than Lohse.
Theoretically, the Cardinals could sign Lohse to a contract in the neighborhood of four years and as much as $70-80 million. That would still likely be less than half of what Wainwright will make in his next contract. Plus, the Cardinals have several young pitchers who could fill rotation spots if Wainwright decides to leave.
If all that were to happen, the Cardinals could open the 2014 and 2015 seasons with a rotation led by Lohse, followed by Jaime Garcia, Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller. That also doesn’t include pitchers such as Trevor Rosenthal or Carlos Martinez.
Granted, that would be a very young rotation, and Garcia’s shoulder problems remain a question at this point. But, there is undoubtedly enough talent in that rotation for the team to be successful, and it would be a heck of a lot cheaper than keeping Wainwright.
Some people might say re-signing Lohse this year is unreasonable, but it could pay off in the long term. The Cardinals would have much more money to spend on a solid middle infielder and veteran players who often play key roles that help win games late in the regular season and playoffs.
Although Lohse’s contract this year could create some sticker shock, it would be minimal compared to the gasping-for-air feeling Cardinals fans could experience if the team tries to sign Wainwright to a long-term contract next year.