COMMENTARY | It turns out that if anybody was going to sign free agent starting pitcher Kyle Lohse, it was going to be the Milwaukee Brewers. The 34-year-old right hander reportedly agreed to terms with the Brewers just one week before they begin the 2013 regular season, signing a three-year, $33 million deal with Milwaukee.
Speculation has been ongoing for months regarding the Brewers and the former St. Louis Cardinal. After trading Zack Greinke, cutting Randy Wolf and losing Shaun Marcum to free agency, Milwaukee was left with just one remaining starting pitcher from last year's opening day roster - Yovani Gallardo. Concerns about the bullpen and the inexperience in the starting rotation left many questions about how the upcoming season would turn out.
Lohse gives the Brewers that veteran experience, but there are still plenty of inquiries even after his signing. How soon will he be ready to pitch? Who becomes the odd man out in the rotation? What impact financially does this have on the club? How does it affect the Brewers both this season and down the road?
We'll begin with his current availability. Spring training is nearing its close, but Lohse has been trying to stay sharp by throwing simulated games. According to Brewers' beat writer Adam McCalvy, Lohse could pitch as soon as Wednesday, but whether he can be stretched out enough to be ready to start right away this season is unclear. Otherwise, the Brewers may need to have someone spot start in Lohse's slot for a game or two before he is ready.
The Brewers already had four pitchers vying for three spots in the rotation, and now the number of available spots has been trimmed to two. It appears as though Mark Rogers is heading for the disabled list (via Tom Haudricourt of JSOnline), and that may have had a lot to do with why Milwaukee and general manager Doug Melvin pulled the trigger on the Lohse signing.
With Rogers dealing with arm strength issues, that eliminates him from the equation and leaves Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers and Chris Narveson fighting for two openings. Based on performance this spring, Narveson has been the sharpest, throwing 14 and 1/3 innings with a 3.14 ERA, eight strikeouts, just one walk and an impressive 1.12 WHIP. Narveson missed most of the 2012 season because of a shoulder injury, but he's showing no ill effects, and the fact that he's left-handed combined with how he's looked this spring appear to make him a lock in the rotation.
Peralta and Fiers, who each showed stretches of brilliance last year in their inaugural big league seasons, have struggled overall this spring. Peralta holds the edge in ERA by over a run and sports a better WHIP while both have a 2.00 K/BB ratio. But Peralta is just 23 and Milwaukee may want to allow him to develop more at Triple-A Nashville. Fiers, like Peralta, has minor league options remaining, but the Brewers don't have as much vested in Fiers. Using this logic, we could see Peralta begin the year with Nashville and earn an eventual call-up this season due to injury or poor performance. Or, both could remain with the parent club with one becoming a long reliever.
Entering the season, Milwaukee's goal was to slash 20 percent of its payroll from a season ago, and before the Lohse signing, it had accomplished this feat. The Brewers' payroll was going to wind up somewhere in the $77 million range after spilling over the century mark in 2012, but add Lohse's $11 million to that total, and now the Brewers are spending more than they would prefer.
Lohse will be a 36-year-old pitcher making $11 million in 2015, which will put the Brewers in a bind financially in the coming years. With Braun's steadily increasing contract, the $12 million owed to Aramis Ramirez in 2014, the $32.5 million remaining on Weeks' contract and the recent three-year, $24 million extension of Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee will have quite a bit of green committed to just a handful of players.
Another off the field issue that comes with the signing of Lohse is draft picks. The Brewers must now forfeit the No. 17 overall pick over to the division rival St. Louis Cardinals, and the Cards will also receive a compensatory pick for losing Lohse through free agency. Milwaukee now won't have as much to spend on late-round draft picks while the Cardinals will have more, and we have the new draft rules to thank for that.
The opinion appears to be that the window of success with the Brewers' current core is closing, and the signing of Lohse wasn't a panic move, but a move of necessity. It makes Milwaukee better this year and maybe even next year while addressing an area of need for the ball club, but there are concerns about just how much longer Lohse can be an effective pitcher.
Last season, Lohse went 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA, had a 3.76 K/BB ratio and set career-highs in strikeouts and innings pitched in a season. Lohse had ten poor/mediocre seasons before reinventing himself as a sinker-ball pitcher and has since had a large amount of success. Having a go-to pitch that induces ground balls at Miller Park, one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the National League, is also something worth noting.
With Lohse in the rotation, the Brewers go from a run-of-the-mill team to a contender for the Central division - at least this season. They sport one of the best offenses in baseball, a revamped bullpen and a pretty solid top four in the rotation with Gallardo, Lohse, Marco Estrada and Narveson. All of a sudden, the rotation goes from very uncertain to rather formidable.
The Brewers still have two difficult decisions to make - what to do with Rogers when he returns from the DL, and deciding between Peralta and Fiers for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Rogers is out of options, so should the Brewers designate him for assignment, he could be claimed off waivers by another team.
While no one knows how much longer Lohse can keep his performance up, his signing makes the Brewers better right now, but hurts them down the road. They may be forced to give up on a once-prized prospect and have possibly delayed the progression of another while complicating their payroll and losing a high draft pick. But it shows Milwaukee wants to make one more run at this thing, and that has to count for something.
Dave Radcliffe is a resident of a little known Milwaukee suburb who contains an unhealthy amount of knowledge about Wisconsin sports. He has contributed to JSOnline and as a featured columnist among other sites and publications.
You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_ .
- Sports & Recreation
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Kyle Lohse