Kyle Lohse: Savior or Silva?

With a new four-year contract in hand, will St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Kyle Lohse save the club's rotation in 2009 and beyond or will he be an overpriced bust, ala Seattle's Carlos Silva?

The St. Louis Cardinals began their 2008-2009 off-season with a "bang" on their first day. On Monday afternoon at a Busch Stadium press conference, the club and Kyle Lohse announced the signing of the 29-year-old right-handed pitcher to a four-year contract, covering the seasons 2009-2012. It is the veteran's first multi-year deal in his eight-year MLB career.

 

The timing of Lohse's surprising agreement is in stark contrast to the pitcher's problems last winter. One year ago, Lohse was coming off a partial season with the Philadelphia Phillies. Early in the post-season, he and his agent, Scott Boras, were offered a multi-year contract to remain in the City of Brotherly Love, but they turned it down.

 

Oddly, no other offers were forthcoming until the Cardinals came calling midway through spring training. Lohse came to terms on a bargain deal which eventually netted him $4.75 million. He delivered 33 starts, 200 innings, a career-high 15 wins and ERA at 3.78 in return.

 

The AP reports Lohse's new contract is for four years, $41 million. It includes a $1.25 million signing bonus and salaries of $7,125,000 in 2009, $8,875,000 in 2010 and $11,875,000 in 2011 and 2012.

 

As one reference point, former Cardinals starter Jeff Suppan received a four-year, $42 million contract from the Milwaukee Brewers two years ago as he leapt from one NL Central Division rival to another.

 

Lohse made it clear that he had decided early on this season that he and his family wanted to remain in St. Louis. He asked for and was granted a full no-trade clause, reaffirming his desire to remain a Cardinal.

 

"It was something that was important to me and my family. The success I was able to have this year – that was one of the keys to my wanting to come back here and finish what we started this year," the pitcher explained.

 

The signing helps reinforce the club's 2009 rotation, with Lohse joining Adam Wainwright, Todd Wellemeyer and Joel Pineiro. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak did not want to make an announcement about the treatment plan for Chris Carpenter's nerve damaged shoulder, but hinted the news coming in the next few days is positive.

 

Still, the club knows there is risk whether Carpenter undergoes surgery or not. In addition, the Cardinals lack a left-handed starter, even when considering Carpenter and minor league prospect Mitchell Boggs as numbers five and six in the rotation mix.

 

The other possible starter under consideration is Braden Looper. Four years older than Lohse, the 33-year-old right-hander is becoming a free agent. When asked about potential negotiations with Looper, Mozeliak said that he is happy with the five starters he has, perhaps a telling comment about Looper's future in St. Louis.

 

"Well, obviously with getting this done, a lot is contingent on the health of some of our other pitchers. But when you look at the five names I just ticked off (Carpenter, Wainwright, Lohse, Wellemeyer and Pineiro), we do feel we have some protection. We also feel we have some protection with (Mitchell) Boggs at Triple-A. I do think we are in a good spot right now," the GM asserted.

 

While Boras was seated down front with Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., Lohse's wife and infant child, the agent did not speak. Mozeliak made a not-so-subtle reference to the 600-pound gorilla in the room, however.

 

"When you look back at reputation, and what all of that brings to the table, in someone dealing with him, it is important to know that he really looked at the best interest of his client – what his client wanted to do - and being a St. Louis Cardinal was the message that he wanted to make sure I understood," Mozeliak explained.

 

After the press conference, speaking with FSN Midwest, Lohse made it clear he was the driving force behind getting the deal done.

 

"It was a good situation for me to come in and work with the people I have been working with here and it couldn't have worked out better. That is a lot of the reason why I made sure I wanted to press everybody and making sure this happened. So it looks like I made it happen," Lohse said.

 

The pitcher acknowledged his problems getting signed last year may have played into his approach this time. It seems the pitcher clearly took control of his own destiny.

 

"You learn as you go through things. Obviously, there was a little bit of last year that maybe... that maybe wanted to make sure that… that as I worked through this, I was able to meet my needs and I think that is what I learned going through last year," Kyle explained.

 

What do others think?

 

Early reactions on the contract among members of The Cardinal Nation are mixed. Some like the deal, while others are concerned. Let's look at some of the objections.

 

Too many guaranteed years.  Lohse's four-year contract is actually only the third-longest in duration contract given a current starting pitcher on the club.

 

In past years, such as when they were linked to free-agents like A.J. Burnett and Jason Schmidt, the Cardinals' public stance was that they did not make contract offers to pitchers beyond three years, though they seemed willing to consider fourth-year options.

 

While seven-year deals have been given elsewhere in MLB, the Cardinals were not interested. Chris Carpenter's December, 2006 extension changed everything locally.

 

Carp was granted five years plus a club option for a sixth. Two injury-filled years later, he has made just four starts. During spring training 2008, Adam Wainwright signed for four years with two additional team option years.

 

No trade clause. Some fans seem overly concerned about these clauses. The reality is that a no-trade stipulation can always be negotiated away if the situation deteriorates to that. Worst case, all it would take is money to buy it out.

 

For example, prior to their highly-publicized swap for each other last winter, both Scott Rolen and Troy Glaus had no-trade protection.

 

Not enough money to sign another starting pitcher. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently estimated the club had $15-$16 million additional allocated for starting pitching. I am not familiar with the details of their analysis, but at face value, Lohse has taken slightly over half of that.

 

In addition, Wellemeyer, eligible for arbitration, should receive a substantial raise. Carpenter, Wainwright, Pineiro and Boggs are already under contract/control for 2009.

 

The key question is whether or not the club will add another starter, whether Looper or another veteran from the outside. Perhaps the club will spend more on relief instead, yet having an experienced hedge against Carpenter's health would not be a reckless move. If it occurs, a pitching surplus could always be moved via trade.

 

Get a name-brand pitcher instead. In a variant of the previous concern, some fans would like to see the Cardinals pursue a big-name pitcher, such as Milwaukee's C.C. Sabathia or even the Dodgers' Derek Lowe.

 

Yet it seems unlikely that given their other needs, the Cardinals could stretch their budget far enough for a Sabathia, even if Lohse's money was still available. Lowe turns 35 next season, making a multi-year deal considerably more risky.

 

Signing a top free agent would have another downside, likely causing the Cardinals to forfeit their 2009 first-round draft pick, which should be the 18th or 19th selection this coming June.

 

Career year at age 29 won't be repeated.  Of all the concerns stated, this one may bother me the most. Having been a major leaguer since 2001, Lohse had never registered a season with an ERA under four until now. Yet there seems no reason these upcoming seasons could not become his prime years.

 

Lohse has been a durable pitcher his entire career and worked into the seventh inning 12 times in his 33 starts in 2008. He allowed just 18 home runs and 49 walks this season, with both totals ranking among the league's top marks for starters.  Lohse was especially good at home, going 8-2 with a 3.32 ERA in 18 starts at Busch Stadium.

 

It is also worth noting that pitchers like Carpenter, Suppan and Woody Williams had less-distinguished records before arriving in St. Louis. In the two applicable cases, they had poorer records after leaving, too.

 

Manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan share in the responsibility for Lohse's improvement.

 

Lohse explains. "I like the confidence Tony has in us going out there on day one. Having confidence in me being the new guy, (not) having the short string, sending me out there on opening day, the second time with the rainout, he was able to show me I was a big part of the team.

 

"It is big part of it, being able to go over all of the game plans and everything with Duncan. (Bullpen coach) Marty Mason does a great job, as well, preparing us. The way I have been preparing this year was completely different from any other year in my career. It has been a big change and I think you see it in the results I was able to have out there, Lohse said.

 

He acknowledged that the expected return of Duncan for 2009 was a factor in his decision.

 

"Obviously, I wanted to make sure. He was one of the guys that was key to me starting the season off the way that I did and giving me the tools to go out there and be as consistent as I was throughout the year. That is a key to this team; him going over the tapes and giving us the pointers that he gives us. I think that makes a difference," said the pitcher about his coach.

 

The pitching market will soften. In other words, did the Cardinals jump too soon by such a heavy commitment to Lohse now, as the Mariners did with Carlos Silva last winter? Might there be a less-expensive alternative out there later in the off-season?

 

There are those that express concern the economic situation in the country will lead to depressed MLB salaries, while others point out that over a long period of time, major league owners have yet to have been able to restrain themselves from escalating contract values.

 

Last off-season, free agent Silva received a four-year, $48 million deal from Seattle. Silva had a slightly better record (just over .500) and career ERA (low fours) to Lohse and is about five months younger than his former teammate from Minnesota.

 

His first year in the Northwest was a disaster, as Silva became the poster child for the underachieving $117 million-in-payroll Seattle club. The righty went an abysmal 4-15 with a career-worst 6.46 ERA for the 101-loss M's, joining former Cardinal Jeff Weaver as recent Seattle free-agent pitching busts. The manager and general manager were both in-season casualties.

 

In Lohse's defense, he has one good year with the Cards under his belt and can continue to build upon that. By committing to four years and $41 million, the Cardinals are surely counting on success, not a St. Louis version of Silva.

 

Now, it is up to ten-million dollar per year man Kyle Lohse to return the club's substantial investment in him.

 

 

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

 

© 2008 stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed.

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