So Kyle Lohse finally found a job, landing with the Cardinals at 1-year, 4.25 million, plus incentives.
I think it is safe to say that in NO WAY is this fair market value for a pitcher of Lohse’s abilities and background, not in an offseason when Carlos Silva extracted a 4-year, $48 million deal from the Mariners, and just one year after Adam Eaton got a 3-year, $28 million contract from the Phillies and Jeff Suppan got 4 years, $42 million from the Brewers.
To find a comparable deal, you’d have to go back a long time. In 1998, for example, the Texas Rangers signed 30-year-old starting pitcher Mark Clark to 2-year, $9.3 million dollar deal after Clark had given an extremely Lohse-like performance the year before, going 9-14 with a 4.84 ERA for the Cubs.
Of course, that deal was widely panned at the time, and didn’t work out very well for either the Rangers or Mark Clark (who was out of baseball after the contract), but the point is that it was more than TEN YEARS AGO, when baseball had far less money than it does now, that a Kyle Lohse-like pitcher was given less than $5 million a year.
So basically, this deal is a huge steal for the Cardinals. In the best case scenario, Lohse pitches well, saves the bullpen for half a season, and then the Cards can flip him to a contender at the deadline, getting one or two good prospects after having paid Lohse less than the typical signing bonus of a first rounder.
In the worst case scenario, if Lohse sucks or gets injured, the Cardinals will only be out 4.25 million bucks, which in this day and age is the kind of spare change major league teams can find in their clubhouse couches. The Cards wouldn’t even have to buy out Lohse’s option year, because they didn’t even give him an option year. And keep in mind, Kyle Lohse has never been on the disabled list for a even a single day in his whole career.
In fact, Justin Inaz over at “On Baseball…and the Reds” breaks down the numbers and shows that Kyle Lohse is probably worth about the same as Carlos Silva, and that in an ideal contract both pitchers should have gotten about around $7 or $8 million per year for a 3-year deal.
So given that the Cardinals seem to be paying Lohse a little over half of what he should be worth, at almost no risk, and may very well be able to flip him for prospects, why is Cardinals GM John Mozeliak so down about the signing? In fact, he actually laments to the AP reporter,
“If it were a perfect world, we wouldn’t have had to go down this path. But it’s not and we’re going to need someone to pitch every fifth day.”
And how the heck can we explain how Lohse lasted so long on the free agent market without getting a better deal?
I think part of the answer has to be Scott Boras. With messy, high profile breakups between Boras and players like A-Rod, Gary Sheffield, and Kenny Rogers hitting the newswires this offseason, and now Boras’s failure to get reasonable contracts for actually semi-valuable major leaguers like Jeff Weaver, Corey Patterson, and Lohse, we may be seeing a decline and fall of the once-mighty Boras Empire. It seems as if both teams and players may be tiring of Boras’s negotiating style, and while teams may still be willing to talk to Boras when it comes to signing superstars, they simply don’t want to deal with the bother when it comes to the mediocre players.
Another reason may be a glut of amazing young talent this year, as Sarah discussed in a recent post. But I think there is something else in this case, something that has to do with Kyle Lohse in particular. The USS Mariner and East Windup Chronicle have supported the theory that this offseason baseball front offices have suddenly discovered the sabermetric idea of “replacement level” players, who can deliver almost the same performance as the lower tier of major leaguers at a vastly reduced cost, but I have a really hard time buying that argument. While certainly there are a *few* GMs around the game that have embraced some sabermetric ideas, there are plenty of counterexamples of GMs who seem just as enamored of big names and veteran experience as ever.
No, I think what is going on here is that GMs are looking at the same old thing they have always been looking at, which is so-called intangibles. Kyle Lohse has long had a reputation as an selfish underachiever, going back to his Minnesota days, and the fact that he went with Scott Boras as his agent despite being a fifth-starter type only added to this reputation. I don’t think all that many GMs were looking too closely at Kyle Lohse’s actual numbers or his marginal value over a “replacement level” player. They were just considering his reputation as a guy who simply doesn’t have the right “makeup” to make the most of his talent, a guy who isn’t a “winner” or simply doesn’t have enough “heart,” and decided that that simply wasn’t the type of guy they wanted to be bringing into their clubhouse, regardless of the cost.
It would be nice to think that we are finally getting to an era when pretty much all GMs all around the game are finally coming to terms with spreadsheets and new statistics and are willing to break down numbers in a systematic way to evaluate players more rationally. But I don’t think we are quite there yet. I mean, this is an offseason in which JP Riccardi, a one-time disciple of Billy Beane who has long been touted as one of the more stats-friendly GMs in the majors signed David Eckstein to be his starting shortstop because he thought he needed to be bringing more “gamers” into his clubhouse.
I think that, ironically, the more statheads raise a hue and cry about how overrated a player is, the more attractive many GMs actually find that player. Because in their minds, if a player is outperforming what you would expect, that is not evidence of a routine statistical anomaly or a small sample size but actually just additional proof that that player has “heart,” “grit,” or “intangibles,” and that he is a “gamer” or “just knows how to win.”
Kyle Lohse is the opposite, a player who has consistently underperformed expectations, which I think goes far toward explaining why most teams wouldn’t touch him with a 10-foot pole this winter, and why even the Cardinals are left feeling icky after signing him, despite the fact that they will probably be getting tremendous value out of the deal.