COMMENTARY | Rumors have surfaced that the Milwaukee Brewers aren't done making moves this winter, and that could include a potential run at free agent pitcher Kyle Lohse. Lohse, 34, is coming off one of the best seasons of his career in which he went 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA, and yet he remains on the market as one of the top free agents in baseball.
This is likely due to the refusal to devote more than two or three years to Lohse, something several teams who need pitching aid are wrestling with just two months before opening day. For general manager Doug Melvin and the Brewers, there are several pros and cons to weigh before getting into serious negotiations with Lohse.
The Brewers could use a veteran in the rotation. As of now, Milwaukee's longest tenured starting pitcher is Yovani Gallardo, who has five years of experience. There are also three pitchers in the mix to make the rotation who have less than a year of MLB service, making for a rather green starting five. Lohse has been in the league since 2001, and judging by his recent performance, would be an arm the Brewers could rely on every fifth day to increase their postseason chances.
Like a fine wine, Lohse is getting better with age. It's true. In the first ten years of his career, Lohse had an ERA of 4.79 - not exactly a model of success. However, in his last two seasons as a St. Louis Cardinal, Lohse reinvented himself as a sinker-baller and drastically improved his control, going 30-11 with a 3.11 ERA and a 3.18 K/BB ratio. Those kinds of statistics would make him an ace with the Brewers assuming he could keep up that pace.
Being a sinker-baller at Miller Park is nice. If Lohse were to make the move from Busch Stadium to Miller Park, not only would his home stomping grounds be sponsored by a different alcoholic beverage, but he'd also be moving to a less pitcher-friendly ballpark. This would be more of an issue if Lohse didn't have a downward-moving go-to pitch to induce ground balls. This interesting read on Lohse's new-found success shows how his fly ball average distance has dropped, and that in large part has to do with Lohse's sinker and ability to get ahead in the count.
His cost is dropping. Thought to be one of the most coveted free agent pitchers following the 2012 season, teams have been looking elsewhere for help because they don't feel like overpaying for Lohse. The Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers were two teams thought to be front runners for the right-handed hurler, but both are no longer interested in Lohse. The less bickering there is over Lohse, the less the Brewers would conceivably have to commit.
Lohse is a workhorse. He averaged just shy of 200 innings pitched over the last two years, and only twice in his career has he started less than 30 games in a season minus his rookie season. His durability would bring consistency to an otherwise uncertain situation with the rotation.
Milwaukee loses a first round draft pick - the No. 17 overall pick, to be exact. That's a high price to pay for a 34-year-old pitcher, as the Brewers would be obligated to fork over this year's first-round selection because of Lohse's performance and the Cardinals' qualifying offer.
It would stunt the growth of Milwaukee's young pitchers. As mentioned before, three players with little MLB experience - Mike Fiers, Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers - will be competing for spots in the starting rotation. With Lohse on board, that eliminates the opportunity for at least one of these young arms to make the opening day roster, and this could potentially hurt Milwaukee's success down the road by blocking a talented prospect from growing and contributing at the big-league level.
His declining velocity is a concern. The Brewers have already been down this road before with Shaun Marcum. Marcum is three years younger than Lohse, and Milwaukee didn't feel comfortable bringing him back due to decreasing velocity and injury problems. While injury isn't the biggest concern with Lohse (he missed time with a forearm injury in '09 and '10), Milwaukee dreads to ponder what would happen if he loses his immaculate accuracy, because as we saw with Marcum in the 2011 postseason, a control pitcher who loses his control is going to have a bad time.
Money and years - these are touchy subjects for a team that crossed the $100 million threshold in payroll last season. The plan was to decrease payroll by over 20 percent heading into 2013, and that plan would go out the window with Lohse on the books. His contract with St. Louis paid him $41 million over four years, and he would likely want much more than that, as well as the same amount of years. Oh, and his agent is Scott Boras, so there's that.
What to do, what to do. The Brewers have been burned by free agent pitchers in the past (i.e. Jeff Suppan, Randy Wolf), and while money is an issue for a team that would prefer to stick around $80 million in payroll, it's the years that come along with it that are really an issue.
Does Lohse really fit into the Brewers' overall scheme? It doesn't feel that way when considering the commitment Milwaukee would have to make, the overall risk involved in signing Lohse and the blockade it would put on young arms. He may give Milwaukee a better shot at playing in October, but the cons seem to outweigh the pros in the whole scheme of things.
Dave Radcliffe lives in a little known Milwaukee suburb and is a self-proclaimed Wisconsin sports expert who has contributed to JSOnline and as a featured columnist among other sites and publications.
You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_.