COMMENTARY | It's amazing how opposed you can be towards something until you actually do it. Whether it's something you're afraid won't work out, are morally against or afraid to try, once it's over, you usually feel better about it. That seems to be the case with the Milwaukee Brewers and their signing of free agent pitcher Kyle Lohse just one week before Miller Park opens its gates for opening day.
A team with several questions in the starting rotation, the Brewers finally came to the conclusion that Lohse would help turn many of those questions into answers by inking him to a three-year, $33 million deal. It felt like a process that took the majority of the offseason to complete, as Milwaukee continuously weighed the pros and cons that came with signing the 34-year-old right-hander.
Lohse was 16-3 with a 2.83 ERA last season, so paying him an average of $11 million per year would appear to be a bargain compared to the going rate for starting pitching these days. That going rate decreased with time, as the market slowly deteriorated for Lohse. In comparison, 35-year-old Ryan Dempster, who was another pitcher on general manager Doug Melvin's radar, signed with the Boston Red Sox for two years and $26.5 million, making Lohse's deal look like a steal of sorts.
Originally, the Brewers didn't appear to be in the mix for Lohse. After failing to reel in Dempster, Melvin gave the impression that he was done shopping and that his team would give some young pitchers a chance to contribute instead. But owner Mark Attanasio wouldn't rule out Lohse during Brewers On Deck, an annual winter fan fest, leaving the door open a crack.
As spring training progressed, that door busted wide open as Milwaukee's young pitchers struggled, especially Mark Rogers, who was placed on the disabled list due to a dead arm. After Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada, much was left to be desired this spring, and based on the events of March 25, that didn't sit well with the Brewers' brass.
This deal has received comparisons to that of Jeff Suppan and Randy Wolf, and Lohse hasn't even stepped on the field in a Brewers' uniform. Neither Wolf nor Suppan were coming off nearly as impressive of a season before Milwaukee signed them, and yet Suppan (four years, $42 million) and Wolf (three years, $30 million) were making nearly the same amount annually as Lohse will be with the Brewers.
Milwaukee is forced to give up its first round draft pick this season - No. 17 overall - and while it does go to a division rival, there's nothing the Brewers can do about it. Besides, the Brewers' philosophy is that if the pick isn't near the top of the board, then it is expendable, especially since Milwaukee hasn't had much success with selections in the later portion of the first round as of late.
What the Brewers are paying Lohse, which is $3-4 million less per year than he and agent Scott Boras were asking for, and what they must give up for him may impact the team down the road. Milwaukee owes players like Rickie Weeks, Yovani Gallardo and Aramis Ramirez a good chunk of change over the next few years, and Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun will begin to see a noticeable pay increase soon as well. Playing in a small market, this could bind the Brewers' payroll and prevent them from staying competitive.
Then again, the Brewers have locked up a pretty solid core of players. Braun, Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy and Jean Segura are all set to remain in a Brewer uniform for many years to come and will be nice pieces to build around on offense. Milwaukee also has a budding ace in Gallardo along with several young arms on the brink of becoming contributors. Building through the draft is important for a franchise like Milwaukee, but losing just one pick - albeit a first-rounder - isn't backbreaking by any means.
Because of this core that the Brewers expect to have in a few years, the notion that the signing of Lohse was a result of the window of success closing is untrue. Braun, Milwaukee's franchise player, has many good years ahead of him, so it's not as if Milwaukee has to urgently build around him right now. Bringing in Lohse wasn't a desperation move - it happened because the Brewers feel they can compete.
This spring showed that letting the season ride on arms like Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers and Mark Rogers wasn't the wisest of ideas. Rogers' arm strength issues combined with the inconsistencies of Peralta, Fiers and even Chris Narveson, who will likely assume a spot in the rotation, left Melvin with almost no choice but to look for outside help. With Lohse realizing his market was nonexistent, he was willing to sign for three years instead of four and for substantially less money.
Lohse should be expected to put up better numbers than Randy Wolf. Neither throw hard, but Lohse brings a sinker into the equation, which should come in handy at a place like Miller Park. That sinker, along with his excellent control, is what has helped Lohse turn his career around, so what he has done over the last two years is no fluke.
Brewer fans have a right to be speculative. Suppan and Braden Looper, both former Cardinals, came to Milwaukee after having relative success in St. Louis, only to fall flat on their faces in Milwaukee. If Lohse does the same, than it's hard to say that it's coincidence, but for right now, it isn't fair to lump him into the same category.
Bringing in a guy who has done it before, who has had postseason experience and has appeared to figure it out on the mound is far better than the alternative right now for the Brewers. That alternative is having over half of your starting rotation comprised of someone coming off shoulder surgery and two players who haven't played an entire season at the big league level.
Having Lohse on board gives Milwaukee a nice one-two punch. Throw in a promising young arm (Peralta), a pleasant surprise (Estrada) and a proven No. 5 starter (Narveson), and the Brewers have themselves a starting rotation that gets their fan base excited rather than apprehensive. And it shows by the sudden jump in ticket sales that the Brewers received.
For the amount of people who were against signing Kyle Lohse, that's pretty amazing.
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