Kyle Lohse—Free Agency Profile

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Name: Kyle Lohse

Position: Right-handed starting pitcher

Vital Statistics: Age—34; Height—6’2”; Weight—210 lbs; Bats—Right; Throws—Right

Transactions: June 1996—Selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 29th round of the MLB Draft

May 21, 1999—Traded by the Chicago Cubs with RHP Jason Ryan to the Minnesota Twins for RHP Rick Aguilera and LHP Scott Downs

July 31, 2006—Traded by the Twins to the Cincinnati Reds for RHP Zach Ward

July 30, 2007—Traded by the Reds to the Philadelphia Phillies for LHP Matt Maloney

March 13, 2008—Signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Cardinals

Agent: Scott Boras

Might he return to the Cardinals? Yes

Teams that could use and pay him: New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals, Miami Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers

Positives: With the Cardinals, when he’s been healthy, he’s been a very good starter. He’s learned to pound the strike zone, keep the ball down and in the ballpark, and use his defense. Lohse had what amount to a career year in 2012, in part, because of a friendly BAbip of .267. That number was in line with another solid year he had in 2011 of .272. His advanced statistics of hits-per 9 innings; strikeouts-per 9 innings; walks and home runs-per 9 innings were the best of his career in 2012, but he’s been solid with those numbers his entire career. He’s consistent at home and on the road and against righties and lefties.

Negatives: He’s represented by Boras and in 2011-2012 he’s gone 30-11. Boras is going to ask for a lot of money, years, and benefits. Lohse turned his career around with the Cardinals under the tutelage of Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan; he maintained and got even better under Mike Matheny and Derek Lilliquist, but the lingering questions remain as to whether he can transition to another locale and stay this productive. He’s had injuries sabotaging his seasons and is 34-years-old.

What he’ll want: 4-years, $50 million with a partial no-trade clause

What he’ll get: 3-years, $35 million with a vesting option for 2016 at $15 million and a $2.5 million buyout

Teams that might give it to him: Orioles, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Tigers, Royals, Angels, Nationals, Marlins, Cardinals, Brewers, Dodgers

The Orioles need a starting pitcher to give them 32 starts and 200 innings with the stuff to keep the ball in the ballpark. They have money to spend, and are an agreeable location to play and win after their 93-win 2012.

The Red Sox are desperate for starting pitching and have money to burn. The Blue Jays also have money, are trying to win, and are seeking another starter. The Tigers won’t want to overpay to keep Anibal Sanchez and Lohse is cheaper and shorter-term. I wrote yesterday that rather than trade one of their young bats for a starting pitcher, the Royals should delve into the free agent market and Lohse is a reasonable target. The Angels might be desperate if they can’t keep Zack Greinke and Lohse falls into a “next level” category in terms of knowing what to expect, price, and availability. The Nationals might be in on Greinke; have the prospects to trade for James Shields; or could jump in on Lohse as a fallback. They have a sound relationship with Boras and tons of cash.

I mention the Marlins because with everyone in baseball angry at what they did in their gutting trade with the Blue Jays, it’s possible that Jeffrey Loria might want to placate the critics by doing something like signing Lohse. I doubt it will happen, but no one saw that trade coming either.

The Cardinals will make an offer to Lohse and it probably won’t be high enough in dollars or years, but if his market crashes, he could end up going back to St. Louis. The Brewers have money, talent and want to win; the Dodgers can’t be discounted for any free agent and need an arm.

Would I sign Lohse? Not for what Boras is going to want. If he’s on the outside looking in and I could get him for two years with a reasonable option based on performance, I’d sign him.

Will it be a retrospective mistake for the team that signs him? If they acquiesce to Boras’s demands that will reach $45-55 million, they will. I’d keep him out of the American League.

Analysis: If there’s a bigger “we don’t know” in baseball’s free agency this side of Josh Hamilton, it’s Lohse. Which Lohse would a team other than the Cardinals be getting? Would it be the homer-prone mediocrity he was with the Phillies and Reds? The pretty good mid-rotation starter he was at times with the Twins or the highly hittable arm he was at the end of his Twins tenure? The All-Star, innings-eating winner he was for long spurts with the Cardinals or the shaky and injured pitcher?

In my mind, I keep seeing flashes of Cardinals pitchers of the past who’ve fallen apart after they left the winning organization, friendly confines of Busch Stadium, the supportive fans, and baseball-loving atmosphere from a bygone era. The vision tells me to shy away from Lohse.

One example in particular is Lohse’s former teammate Joel Pineiro. Like Lohse, Pineiro’s career was floundering before he got to St. Louis and was willing to listen to Duncan and alter his mechanics, mental and physical approach and become something different from what he was in order to save his career. He rejuvenated and reinvented himself to garner a 2-year, $16 million contract from the Angels when he should’ve stayed with the Cardinals. He started off well in Anaheim, they altered his mechanics from what had been undone and rebuilt by Duncan, and he suffered injuries to his oblique and shoulder. Pineiro pitched in 5 minor league games for the Orioles in 2012 and, barring another comeback, appears to be finished at 34.

It’s a cautionary tale for a club thinking of believing the Cardinals Lohse is the Lohse they’ll get.

Prediction: Lohse will sign a 3-year deal with the Nationals.

//

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Believe It Or Don’t—The Bad (American League)

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Yesterday I examined teams that were expected to do poorly, but haven’t and whether or not their performances are real. Today let’s look at the teams that were supposed to be good and have started out…bad.

This is the American League; the National League will be posted later.

  • New York Yankees

What they’re doing.

The Yankees are 21-20 and in fourth place in the American League East, 5 1/2 games behind the Baltimore Orioles.

How they’re doing it.

The easy answer is to say that the Yankees are hovering around .500 because of injuries. Strangely, the loss of Mariano Rivera hasn’t hurt them yet and presumably won’t until (if) they’re in the playoffs.

The word “if” concerning a playoff spot was once a hedge, but no longer. This team is not, under any circumstances, guaranteed a playoff spot in spite of the specious logic of Mike Francesa when he says something like, “well, they’ve made in in 15 of the past 16 years” as if there’s a connection.

They loaded up on starting pitching by trading for Michael Pineda and signing Hiroki Kuroda; prior to that, they also re-signed Freddy Garcia.

Pineda’s out for the year (at least); Kuroda’s been alternately brilliant and awful; and Garcia was bounced from the starting rotation. Andy Pettitte’s return gives them another veteran starter but they can’t reasonably expect Pettitte to be close to what he was in his prime.

The starting pitching has been inconsistent, but serviceable; the bullpen is still functional. It’s been the lineup that’s the problem.

Russell Martin is hitting .170 and losing playing time to the defensively superior and offensively inept Chris Stewart. Alex Rodriguez is now a “threat emeritus” against whom opposing clubs still need to be careful, but can challenge and beat him with power fastballs. Robinson Cano has gotten hot in May. Mark Teixeira has taken Derek Jeter’s place as the target of the fans’ ire. He’s been ill with a bad cough and hasn’t hit at all. It seems so long ago that Jeter was called “Captain DP” among other things; now Teixeira has taken his place.

Eventually, Teixeira will hit.

Believe it or don’t?

They’re going to hit enough to get back into contention for a playoff spot, but that doesn’t mean they’re a lock to get in.

Don’t believe it but don’t get too overconfident (or suffocatingly arrogant) either.

  • Boston Red Sox

What they’re doing.

The Red Sox are 20-21 and in last place in the AL East, 6 1/2 games behind the Orioles.

How they’re doing it.

The starting pitching got off to a woeful start and the transition from the laid back Terry Francona to the polarizing Bobby Valentine, combined with the front office regime change and still simmering tensions from the 2011 collapse put the Red Sox in an onerous situation.

Josh Beckett has pitched well in his last two starts following the golf outing/strained back/public effigy he endured. Daniel Bard is a Daisuke Matsuzaka return away from a trip back to the bullpen and they’ve lost Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis to injuries. Adrian Gonzalez hasn’t gotten hot yet.

Believe it or don’t.

After everything, the Red Sox are only one game behind the Yankees.

I didn’t think they were a legitimate contender before the season. Nor did I think they were as bad as they looked early in the season.

Objectively, they’re about a .500 team.

Believe it.

  • Detroit Tigers

What they’re doing.

The Tigers are 20-21, in third place and 3 games behind the Indians in the AL Central.

How they’re doing it.

The Tigers were widely predicted to run away and hide in the AL Central based on their high-powered offense, deep bullpen and all-world ace in Justin Verlander. Those factors would make up for a rancid defense and questionable backend of their rotation.

The offense is seventh in runs scoured and is functioning with black holes at second base and DH. The starting pitching behind Verlander has been bad. Jose Valverde was on the verge of losing his closer’s job before he injured his back.

Believe it or don’t?

This isn’t a new experience for the Tigers. For years after their shocking run to the World Series in 2006, they acquired big, expensive names in an “I’m collecting superstars” fashion by getting Gary Sheffield, Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis and it didn’t work then either.

The offense will be okay but the back of the rotation with Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and a series of youngsters is a major problem.

They’re not an under .500 team, but they’re not walking into the playoffs.

Don’t believe it, but they’re going to have to fight their way into the playoffs.

  • Los Angeles Angels

What they’re doing.

The Angels are 18-24, in last place in the AL West and 8 games behind the Texas Rangers.

How they’re doing it.

They’re 13th in the American League in runs scored continuing the same absence of firepower that cost them in the pennant race in 2011. The difference now is that they have Albert Pujols.

The bullpen has been bad and closer Jordan Walden was replaced by veteran Scott Downs.

Inexplicably, only three of their everyday players have on base percentages over .300 and one of them isn’t Pujols.

This team is not a Mike Scioscia-style team that preferred speed, defense, good pitching and opportunism. The chasm between the manager’s style and the type of team he has is showing and it cost hitting coach Mickey Hatcher his job.

Believe it or don’t?

Don’t believe it.

Their starting pitching is too good and Pujols is going to hit at some point. It’s going to take some time for everyone to get on the same page, but by the All Star break, I’d expect an uneasy peace among new GM Jerry Dipoto, Scioscia, the newcomers and the remaining veterans for the Angels to right their ship and make a playoff run.

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American League Ticking Tempers Of Ownership

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Let’s take a look at some American League teams that have unexpectedly struggled or made ghastly blunders that would normally elicit a reaction from ownerships.

New York Yankees

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Yes.

In yesterday’s NY Daily News, Bill Madden wrote what I’d been thinking about a George Steinbrenner missive being issued following Michael Pineda’s injury.

I’m not going to give Cashman as hard a time as others did for letting Bartolo Colon go and keeping Freddy Garcia—neither could’ve been expected to replicate anything close to what they did last season—but his other pitching mishaps have been horrific. As much of a joke as Steinbrenner was for his instantaneous and combustible temper tantrums, many times he had a right to be angry.

Beyond Cashman, if the Boss was still around, Larry Rothschild would be in the crosshairs for what’s gone wrong with Phil Hughes.

I’m wondering that myself.

What should be done?

There’s really not much they can do. Having already bounced Garcia from the rotation in favor of David Phelps, Hughes has to improve or he’ll be in the bullpen or minor leagues when Andy Pettitte is set to return to the majors.

What will be done?

Hal Steinbrenner will be secretive and deliberate; Hank will be kept away from the telephone. Cashman will continue to spin doctor and “take responsibility” by saying how “devastated” he is about Pineda.

Devastated? Really?

Garcia will be kept around just in case and Hughes is going to wind up being sent to the minors.

The Boss would’ve made Cashman take responsibility in a way consistent with what Madden suggested and he wouldn’t have been out of line in doing so.

Boston Red Sox

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Yes, as long as they have a mirror nearby.

The best things that could’ve happened to the Red Sox were the Sunday night rainout of the game against the Yankees and going on the road to play the bad Twins and mediocre White Sox. The ship has been righted to a certain degree.

For all the love doled out to departed GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona, ownership—John Henry and team president Larry Lucchino—have been left to clean up the mess. Regardless of what you think of Lucchino’s insinuating himself into the baseball operations as he has, you can’t absolve Epstein and Francona. Epstein saddled the club with the contracts of John Lackey and Carl Crawford; Francona’s lax discipline as manager and passive aggressiveness from the broadcast booth as the team spiraled out of the gate gave a sense of the former manager exacting revenge on the franchise that gave him a job with a team ready-built for success when no one else would’ve.

What should be done?

A desperate trade would only make matters worse. There’s no one to fire. They have to wait and hope. Making a final decision with Daniel Bard and sticking to it would end speculation on the pitcher’s role.

What will be done?

They’ll wait it out. Had they continued losing following the series against the Yankees, they might’ve done something drastic like firing Bobby Valentine even though it’s not all his fault. Their winning streak has given them breathing room.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Very.

Arte Moreno has been a great owner. He’s let his baseball people run the club and hasn’t interfered. They have everything they ask for and more.

This past winter, he spent an uncharacteristic amount of money to address the offensive woes from 2011 with Albert Pujols and traded for Chris Iannetta.

The bullpen’s missteps have been magnified because set-up man Hisanori Takahashi and closer Jordan Walden have been horrible.

That’s not to say they’d be that much better with a more proven closer than the deposed Walden. In retrospect, they were lucky they didn’t sign Ryan Madson or trade for Andrew Bailey.

Their biggest problem has been at the plate.

When an owner throws that amount of guaranteed money at his roster, he has a right to expect more than 7-15 and 9 games out of first place before April is over.

What should be done?

The Angels released Bobby Abreu on Friday and recalled Mike Trout. They demoted Walden from the closer’s role in favor of Scott Downs.

Apart from waiting for Pujols to start hitting and perhaps dumping Vernon Wells, there’s little else of note they can try.

What will be done?

If Moreno were a capricious, “blame someone for the sake of blaming them” type, hitting coach Mickey Hatcher and bullpen coach Steve Soliz would have been fired a week ago and perhaps first base coach Alfredo Griffin for good measure.

He’s not a quick trigger owner, but if they’re not hitting by mid-May, Hatcher’s gone. This could expose a rift between manager Mike Scioscia and the front office. Scioscia’s influence has been compromised with the hiring of Jerry Dipoto and if one of his handpicked coaches and friends is fired, a true chasm will be evident. Firings will be shots across the bow of Scioscia and, armed with a contract through 2018 (that he can opt-out of after 2015), if he’s unhappy with the changes he’ll let his feelings be known.

It could get ugly.

As of right now, they’ll see if the jettisoning of Abreu, the insertion of Trout and the new closer will help. With Moreno, they have more time than most clubs would, but that doesn’t mean they have forever.

***

The National League will be posted later and yes, that does mean I’ll be talking about the Marlins.

//

Mania

Hot Stove

The speed with which we get information today can be a good or bad thing. Many times it’s positive as in cases of Amber Alerts and dangerous occurrences; other times it’s not. From the premature reports of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’s death to the comparatively trivial injury to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in which he was accused of giving up and begging out of the NFC Championship on Sunday when he was really hurt, people’s lives and reputations are affected.

It’s reactionary and ill-thought out.

Now we’re seeing the same thing with the Los Angeles Angels and their so-called “desperation” trade for Vernon Wells.

In the immediate aftermath of the deal’s announcement, I too was bewildered at why any team would want to take Wells’s contract from the Blue Jays with negligible relief (said to be $5 million) on the remaining $86 million guaranteed. That the Angels gave up two productive and cheap pieces in Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera made it all the more confusing.

But then I looked at it more deeply.

The trade, after cursory internet reaction, was awful. When examined closely, it made a certain amount of sense. Now, after studying the Angels; their situation; their division; their needs; and what Wells and subsequent additions will provide, it could get them back into the playoffs.

The Angels faded out last season for three reasons: a lack of scoring; injuries; and a bad bullpen.

If the Angels make one more acquisition to bolster the lineup, the scoring problem will be mitigated. The negatives of Wells—apart from his salary—are known and accurate: he’s streaky, doesn’t get on base and is overrated defensively. But for the Angels, he fits into what they want to do.

Affording them the option of not having to rely on a 24-year-old Peter Bourjos to save their season, they can play Wells in center field if necessary. This would free them to do a couple of things. They’re pursuing Scott Podsednik or Vladimir Guerrero.

The Podsednik talk elicits ridicule in stat zombie circles, but isn’t a terrible idea at all. He can still run and play solid defense in left; with a career .340 on base percentage, he’d give RBI chances to the bats behind him. Plus he’d be cheap.

I’d go after Guerrero before Podsednik. Guerrero’s rejuvenation in Texas was not due simply to him being in a hitter’s heaven of a ballpark at home; I think he was healthy again. Guerrero hit well on the road last season and if he returned to Anaheim and provided 25 homers and 90-100 RBI—not absurd requests—the Angels offensive woes at DH are solved.

In addition to that, who can tell how much Guerrero’s absence as a father figure to Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis contributed to their poor seasons? If Aybar and Izturis hit somewhere close to the way they did in 2009, the Angels will have far more scoring opportunities.

The offensive woes were evident in greater detail after Kendry Morales‘s season-ending ankle injury. Right there, the Angels went from having a power hitting first baseman and a rightfully part-time power hitting catcher in Napoli to having Napoli playing every day at first base and the no-hit Jeff Mathis catching.

Losing the big power threat affects everything. Napoli was admirable in an unfamiliar role, but it meant that he was playing every day; that Mathis was playing regularly; and that Bobby Abreu was relied on more than was feasible given his age.

Certain players are better off not playing every day because once they play every day, they’re exposed. This is what happened to Napoli playing first base in place of Morales.

With Wells in and Napoli and Rivera out, the Angels not only have another power bat in their lineup, they’re free to address other needs at either DH or left field.

The Angels troubles were exacerbated by Howie Kendrick‘s poor year accompanying the down seasons from Aybar, Izturis and Abreu. Was Kendrick exposed like Napoli after he was forced to play every day following the free agent departure of Chone Figgins? Considering his career in the majors and minors, I’d say no; he’s been a .300 hitter at every level.

Abreu, despite his age, has been too good for too long to have another down year like he had in 2010. Being left alone in the lineup didn’t help Abreu either. The lineup’s better, Abreu will be better.

So let’s say Abreu gets back to 20 homers, and a .370 on base percentage; that Wells hits 25 homers and drives in 90; that Morales bats .300, has 25 homers and 100 RBI; that they get either Guerrero or Podsednik; that Kendrick, Aybar and Izturis have better seasons—don’t you see how much that will improve their offense?

In addition to losing Morales, the injuries to Joel Pineiro and Scott Kazmir sabotaged the Angels badly in 2010. Pineiro was on his way to a fine season before a strained oblique landed him on the disabled list. Kazmir hadn’t pitched all that well, but he provided innings at the back of the rotation.

Amid all the stories of the failed pursuits this winter—most notably Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre—it’s forgotten that the Angels made a significant mid-season upgrade in their starting rotation when they got Dan Haren from the Diamondbacks. Replacing the hittable Joe Saunders with Haren gives the Angels two top-tier starters fronting their rotation with Jered Weaver and Haren; right behind them is another very good pitcher, Ervin Santana; then you have Pineiro and Kazmir.

That’s one of the top rotations in baseball.

The bullpen?

Even if you don’t trust Fernando Rodney as closer, they acquired lefties Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi. Downs—durable, underrated and able to get out hitters from both sides of the plate—will help a lot. Takahashi was invaluable to the Mets in a variety of roles from starter to long reliever to set up man to closer. He’s fearless and the Angels are presumably going to use him in a similar way as the Mets did. There were many games that Takahashi entered with the Mets trailing by multiple runs; he quieted things down and gave the club time to chip away. The work he did as a closer was impressive.

The Angels have a slight hole behind the plate with the departure of Napoli, but they do have a prospect in Hank Conger to share time with Mathis and Bobby Wilson. Conger has hit at every minor league level—minor league stats.

Manager Mike Scioscia—a tough as nails, defensive-minded catcher as a player—likes his catchers to be able to handle the pitching staff first and foremost. If Conger can do that, he’s an under-the-radar Rookie of the Year candidate.

I’d shut my eyes and play Conger.

As for their competition in the AL West, is it so crazy to think the Angels could emerge from the three team scrum with the Rangers and Athletics?

The Rangers can really hit, but have questions in their starting rotation; their bullpen won’t be as good as it was last season; and their manager Ron Washington is a walking strategic gaffe waiting to happen. They’re the American League champs and will be so until they’re knocked off the perch, but they’re beatable.

The Athletics are a trendy pick (again) because of the aggressive acquisitions of David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, Hideki Matsui in the their lineup; Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour for the bullpen. But their starting rotation is very, very young; young pitchers tend to fluctuate in performance as they’re establishing themselves. It’s not an automatic that Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden will repeat their work from last season.

There’s an eagerness to leap back onto the Billy Beane bandwagon—an overeagerness based on the desire to “prove” Moneyball as having been accurate in advance of the movie even though there’s no connection to what Beane did this winter to Moneyball the book or film.

But I digress. I’ll swing that hammer when the time comes.

Are the Angels, with their success over the past decade, suddenly fodder for ridicule? Isn’t it possible that they calculated the pros and cons of taking Wells’s contract for Napoli and Rivera and decided it was worth it?

Regarding the money, what’s a reasonable amount to pay for the top earners on a club? How much of a percentage is doable? For the Blue Jays, with an $80 million payroll, Wells’s onerous deal, with $23 million coming to him this season, had to go; for the Angels, with a $120 million payroll and substantial money coming off the books after this season, it’s not crazy to handle Wells’s deal without complaint. How much is a viable percentage for a team’s big money players in relation to the club’s payroll? For the Blue Jays, Wells didn’t make sense; for the Angels, he does.

The key for the Angels in 2011 is that they score enough runs to support that starting rotation. With Wells and one more offensive player added, they’ll have achieved that end. In the final analysis, that’s all that really matters in making them a legitimate playoff contender again; and no matter what print and online criticism they receive, they are contenders again because of the acquisition of Vernon Wells.