Photo: Gene J. Puskar/AP
In his column today, ESPN writer/former GM Jim Bowden expressed concern about the inactivity of the Brewers’ offseason, arguing that the team is close to contending in the NL Central this year and really needs to do more than acquire a pair of middle relievers. To fix this, Bowden suggested that the club try and sign right-hander Kyle Lohse.
On the surface, Lohse might seem like a worthwhile pursuit for the Brewers. Even if their front office continues to insist otherwise, the Brewers’ rotation is a little shaky beyond Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada, and adding another quality arm would improve their prospects for 2013. Lohse, having posted a 16-3 record and 2.86 ERA for the Cardinals last year, would seemingly fit the bill.
However, there are a few big problems with all this: Lohse will likely command a contract well outside the Brewers’ price range and wouldn’t be a particularly good fit for the club anyway. Also, the Kyle Lohse the Brewers would be getting is significantly different than the pitcher Bowden alluded to in his article.
The first hurdle to a potential Lohse signing might be the most obvious – the Brewers probably can’t afford him. Once arbitration salaries are accounted for, the Brewers’ 2013 payroll projects to be about $70-72M1. Doug Melvin has made it clear all offseason that the club won’t be spending more than $80M – which, incidentally, is the value of the five-year deal Lohse was looking for earlier this offseason. Even if the starting pitching market has taken a buyer-friendly turn (as Bowden seems to think it has), the Brewers just won’t have enough cash to sign Lohse unless they heavily back-load his contract or trade Corey Hart first. It’s safe to say that neither of those two things will be happening.
Even if the Brewers were able to twist their finances enough to afford Lohse, he wouldn’t quite be the upgrade that Bowden portrays him as. Right now, the Brewers opening day rotation figures to include Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers, Wily Peralta, and either Mark Rogers, Chris Narveson, or Tyler Thornburg. There are a fair number of things that could go wrong with that rotation, but there are also seven guys who at least have the talent to be league-average or better. For all the question marks about the Brewers’ rotation, there’s also quite a bit of (relative) youth and depth.
For that reason (as well as the fact that the Brewers still could use another reliever or two), I’d hesitate to invest in a starting pitcher unless he were of at least midrotation quality and attainable on a one or two-year deal. Lohse isn’t likely to meet either of those caveats, even if the article referred to him as the last “top-of-the-rotation starter” on the market.
To put things in context, we’re going to take a look at two free-agent pitchers. I’m feeling creative today, so we’ll call them “Pitcher A” and “Pitcher B”. Here’s a quick snapshot of what their numbers have looked like over the past three years:
“Pitcher A” is Lohse, and “Pitcher B” is Shaun Marcum, a free-agent starter the Brewers have shown almost no interest in2. Since 2010, Lohse has actually thrown fewer innings than Marcum, and his rate stats are generally worse. The only exception is Lohse’s low home run rate, which is partially the result of pitching in Busch Stadium, which allows dingers at a rate well below the league average. Even before accounting for age (Lohse is 33, Marcum is 30), Lohse doesn’t compare favorably with a pitcher the Brewers declined to tender a qualifying offer six weeks ago.
I agree with Bowden that the Brewers are on the fringes of playoff contention as things currently stand, and that there is definite room for improvement in their starting rotation. However, I’m fairly sure that Kyle Lohse wouldn’t solve any of the club’s problems, with the possible exception of making the Doug Melvin-hating portion of the Brewers fanbase forget about Jeff Suppan.
1 I obtained this estimate using contract information from Cot's Contracts and projected arbitration salaries from MLB Trade Rumors.
2 I understand that the Brewers' lack of interest in Marcum probably has more to do with health concerns than past performance, but my point stands.