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
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
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
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.
“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,
“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
“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
What do others
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
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
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’
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
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
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
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
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
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
Brian Walton can be reached via
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