Matt Clement has been released, but where would the 2008 St. Louis Cardinals be if he had actually…
To summarize, the long-time starter with the Minnesota Twins was dealt on two consecutive trade deadlines, first to Cincinnati, then to Philadelphia, only to become a seemingly-overpriced free agent without a home in which to play in 2008.
In all fairness, other than rare bursts of excellence, Lohse had done little to distinguish himself in his previous seven seasons in the majors. He hit the market in this past off-season with a career 63-74 record and a 4.82 ERA.
Late in 2007, the now 29-year-old did establish a bit of momentum, going 3-0 in 13 games with the Philadelphia Phillies, yet his ERA of 4.72 was not impressive. To make matters worse, asked to pitch in an unfamiliar relief role, Lohse gave up a pivotal grand slam home run to Colorado's Kazuo Matsui in Game 2 of the NLDS that seemed to deflate the Phils' second post-season in a quarter-century and first since 1993.
Still, the Phillies would have had him back, reportedly having offered a reasonable, but not excessive amount - three years and $21 million. Instead, agent Scott Boras took his man into the free-agent waters, trolling for a four or five year deal in the $10 million per year range.
Considering the deals given other middling starters, such as Carlos Silva to the Mariners for four years, $48 million (not a Boras client), it didn't seem to be a huge risk. Yet, the market turned and weeks and months passed with no substantive offer made to Lohse.
In the spring, along came the St. Louis Cardinals, concerned that rehabbing Matt Clement couldn't get it back together and dealing with the news that returnee Joel Pineiro was joining Chris Carpenter and Mark Mulder among the club's injured starters. On March 13th, Boras and Lohse agreed to terms on a one-year, $4.25 million deal with the Cardinals.
Some corners of the baseball world marveled that the Cardinals could get Lohse on such reasonable terms, while others shrugged, wondering what would be any different from recent St. Louis rotation flameouts like Sidney Ponson, Mike Maroth and Kip Wells.
To his benefit, all Lohse did was shut up and pitch. And pitch he did.
With 21 starts under his belt to-date, Lohse has a 12-2 record, the best percentage in the majors, and a 3.35 ERA that is three-quarters of a run better than his best-ever season prior to this one.
The questions everyone is asking have to do with the reasons why.
Did Lohse finally figure it out at age 29? Did Dave Duncan work his magic once again? Or, is this a career year, an abnormality, not to be repeated?
The ever-inquisitive press asked the right-hander if he wouldn't like to come back to St. Louis in 2009 and beyond. In the midst of his best season, under consideration for the National League All-Star team at the time, what would one expect Lohse to say?
"It's something I'd be open to," Lohse told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in early June. "Obviously, the club has to make its decisions. But I'm happy here. If something could work out, great."
As Lohse continues to rack up the wins, more and more of the skeptics are won over to his side. "Why don't the Cardinals just sign Lohse to a long-term deal, already?" the impatient ask, using the pitcher's reply as justification he is hot to ink a new deal. Some worry that with each subsequent solid outing, the difficulty in closing the numbers increases.
Never being a man to limit his options, Boras (right) spun the following at the Post-Dispatch heading into the break.
"We felt St. Louis was a destination that Kyle would do well in and he has. Obviously, it would be something we'd welcome looking into in the future."
Being no dummy, the agent made sure any monkeys this time around are squarely placed on the back of the Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak.
"But I don't sign those appointment checks. They have to kind of approach me. My door is open," explained Boras most graciously.
In various public forums, Mozeliak has been positive, but predictably somewhat vague in his remarks. Typical was his reply to a recent MLB.com-hosted question as to the chances of a mid-season offer being made to Lohse.
"At (this) time we are looking at the timing of this type of discussion, I would say that based on how he has pitched that at some point, we will be open to this. He has done a great job for (us) to date," said the general manager.
So, what's the rub? Why is the GM seemingly sitting on his hands?
Only he knows for sure, but it is reasonable to assume Mozeliak is most familiar with Boras' history. To maximize the monetary return for his player-customers and therefore himself, Boras takes his charges into free agency. There is no ambiguity about that.
Yet, some of the most optimistic Cardinals followers continue to dream that a deal can get done quickly.
In a thread that has grown to five pages on our Message Board, I have expressed my skepticism several times.
Most recently I asked, "Can anyone cite an example of a free agent-to-be Boras client signing an in-season multi-year extension? If there is at least one case out there somewhere, I could understand putting the onus/blame on Mo. Otherwise..."
Assuming I wouldn't get an answer, I decided to find out myself.
Using my most recent player agent directory, from the 2006-2007 off-season, I identified at least 51 Scott Boras clients then on major league rosters. I imagine there may be others, but this was clearly a representative sample. From that group, I removed marginal major leaguers, players like Dustin Nippert, Josh Barfield and the like.
There is a very interesting group of players in the Boras stable that have not yet reached their six years of service requisite for free agency. Included are Rick Ankiel, Xavier Nady, Jered Weaver, Matt Holliday and Prince Fielder.
Taking them out leaves exactly one-third of the 51 – 17 players with the experience and results to have been considered for a multi-year free-agent contract in the past.
It turns out that 15 of those 17 players' most recent contract under Boras was for more than one season, with the only exceptions being Lohse and former Cardinal Jeff Weaver. Before the 2007 season, Weaver had a Lohseian experience, but still received over $8 million from Seattle before returning to mediocrity once again.
The common and most relevant thread through all 17 is that their contracts were signed in the off-season. Not a single deal was done between April and November. Not even one.
Further, in 15 of the cases, or 88% of the time, the Boras clients changed teams to get their big contracts.
|# Renegotiated contract when Yankees refused to deal with Boras|
|x Fired Boras and remained with Detroit for 2008|
One exception was driven by Alex Rodriguez' unique opt-out clause in his deal with the Yankees that came with him from Texas. After Boras' bad-cop routine didn't play with the Steinbrenners, good-cop A-Rod re-negotiated his ten-year deal this past off-season without Boras, though he never formally severed his ties with the agent.
Another veteran had a unique relationship with Boras. Prior to the 2005 campaign, the agent extracted $16 million from the Detroit Tigers for two years of 41-year-old Kenny Rogers' services. At age 43 when that deal expired, Rogers didn't care about getting the most money for what could be his final contract. He had already been there and done that.
Instead, he simply wanted to return to Detroit and didn't need Boras to make that happen. So, Rogers discontinued his agent's services and agreed to terms with the Tigers for another $8 million in 2008.
Could Kyle Lohse pull a "Gambler", cutting his own deal to return to the Cards?
Some think so, but I do not.
The two men are at very different places in their careers and it seems most unlikely that Lohse would step out of formation to negotiate his own contract, especially during the season. It seems even less likely that Mozeliak would cut the powerful Boras out of the discussions.
While there was an undercurrent of speculation that Lohse would fire Boras following last off-season's disappointment, my take is that if that was going to happen, it would have been done months ago.
The table above surely doesn't tell Mozeliak (right) anything he doesn't already know. Any offer he makes to Boras now may simply be judged as not being good enough to close the deal and becoming the opening table stakes when the agent takes Lohse to market this fall.
If Mo makes an offer that isn't considered credible, it could be used against him and the Cardinals and in a worst-case scenario, Lohse might feel disrespected to the point it could affect his job performance.
Would it hurt Mozeliak to quietly put out a feeler to Boras? Probably not. And it may happen, though we probably won't learn specifics until much later, if at all. But, it most likely isn't going to matter.
Past behavior makes it pretty clear that the expected scenario should be that Kyle Lohse will become a free agent this off-season and eventually sign a rich, multi-year deal with a new team. Boras knows he has one of the hottest pitchers in baseball and should be inclined to double down after last season.
Sure, history could change its course and all three parties – Boras, Lohse and Mozeliak – could hold hands, sing songs and swig copious quantities of Cardinals Kool-Aid together.
Those who are holding out hope that Boras will magically soften up because the Cardinals drafted his son this June or because he played minor league ball for them years ago are also likely prone to stay up late at night awaiting the arrival of the tooth fairy.
They are many of the same "fans" who will continue to bash Cardinals ownership as being cheapskates when Lohse leaves, either not knowing or caring to know how Scott Boras conducts his business.
On the other hand, practical Cardinals fans should just sit back and enjoy Kyle Lohse's 2008 season and hope he can help carry them into the post-season, but not hold out any realistic hope that he will be wearing the Birds on the Bat in 2009 and beyond.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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