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Free Agent Target: Kyle Lohse

February 22, 2013

So I said I wouldn’t do anymore “Free Agent Target” pieces when Billy Beane said the roster was set. But why should it be? As with any team we should always be looking to improve. Why stop now? Why not get Kyle Lohse. Yesterday, MLBTradeRumors had a great piece outlining team by team what Kyle Lohse’s market looked like. The problem he faces is that any team that wasn’t complete garbage last year (i.e. one of the ten worst) has to surrender a first round draft pick to sign him. This has severely curtailed interest in what would otherwise be a clearly valuable addition to an MLB pitching staff. Furthermore with the Dodgers featuring eight pitchers for five rotation spots, there are pitchers who can be had without the loss of such a valuable pick. The A’s are notorious for hoarding draft picks and are notorious for their thrift which is what prompted Mark Polishuk who wrote the article to say of Oakland,

“Lohse is too expensive for the A’s and unnecessary given Oakland’s young pitching depth.”

But let’s just wait…

Why Oakland Should Get Him

Lohse is good. He is a pitcher well equipped to thrive at the Coliseum. Last season with the Cardinals he threw 211 innings of 6.1 K/9, 1.6 BB/9 and 0.8 HR/9 with a 2.86 ERA and 3.51 FIP for 3.6 WAR. He had a lower than usual .262 BABIP and higher than usual 77.2% strand rate, but given his career numbers a solid mid 3.00 ERA season wouldn’t be out of the question. In his career he has a 4.45 ERA and 4.34 FIP in 1973 innings with 5.7 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and 1.1 HR/9. That home run number would be lower in Oakland, he has learned to better control his pitches, and even with a low strikeout rate he can excel as have Bartolo Colon and Tommy Milone.

This late in the spring, the 34 year old Lohse might be willing to take a one year offer from a club like Oakland (Oakland could also add options or other incentives too to sweeten the pot). Oakland would be great for rebuilding value and the argument that Polishuk says about the A’s “young pitching depth” is really not that deep. If the Brett Anderson gets injured, a very likely possibility, the A’s have an issue. If Colon ages suddenly, the A’s have an issue. Jarrod Parker and Milone have one year of MLB experience and A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily have less than that. How that is depth is beyond me because after that the A’s rotation is Travis Blackley, Jesse Chavez, maybe a Sonny Gray or Andrew Werner. That is not depth for a team looking to defend a division crown. Lohse would instantly anchor the top of the A’s rotation and furthermore while losing a first round pick is significant this is a year where the A’s pick is lower than it has been in recent years, perhaps one time where you may say it is worth risking? Aside from Jemile Weeks the A’s first round picks have been quite disappointing as of late, and one even can argue that Weeks is nothing to write home about with him potentially starting this year back with the River Cats.

Why Oakland Should Steer Clear

The A’s shouldn’t be giving up first round picks. The A’s depend upon cheap, team and cost-controlled talent and the draft is where they need to make that move. Lohse is a solid but not exceptional pitcher and being represented by Scott Boras the expectation will be that he requires to be paid as if he is the second coming of Christ.

Lohse is a groundball pitcher (40.5% GB% in 2012, 41.7% for his career), who particularly in St. Louis (2008-2012) had a very low HR/FB rate (8.4%), while Oakland helps out a lot of pitchers is Lohse someone who would really benefit from Oakland more than someone else? With what could be a porous infield defense his .262 BABIP in 2012 could rapidly accelerate upwards and close that gap between his 2.86 ERA and 3.51 FIP. Lohse furthermore is aging and has had injury problems in the past.

Lohse is not a front line pitcher and while his price has certainly come down fellow draft-pick-compensation-limited free agent Michael Bourn still managed to earn himself an impressive salary. If Lohse goes for $12-15M would the A’s even get their money’s worth? Lohse in his career has only thrice topped 3.0 WAR (roughly the amount to make a $15M deal worth while) in 2003 with Minnesota and 2008 and 2012 with the Cardinals. At $12M he would need to be worth 2.4 WAR a number Lohse is more likely to attain (he did so in 2003, 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2012) but still a very big financial commitment for a rental coupled with a lost draft pick.

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