February 12, 2013 by Nick L.
Spring Training officially opened today: catchers and pitchers finally jogged onto the diamond for the first time since 2012, and all was set right with the universe…
Lohse had a career year last season with the Cards, finishing with a 2.86 ERA- good for fifth in the National League- and a 1.09 WHIP, while pitching 211 innings and leading the National League in games started.
Those are the numbers of an ace. So why is he still unemployed?
Well for one, Lohse is old- 34 years-old, to be exact. And two, 2012 was only the third year in his 12 year career that he was able to pitch 200 innings, and only the fourth time in his career he’s posted an ERA under 4.50.
In fairness, Lohse had a very respectable 3.39 ERA in 2011, so he has put together a solid year and a phenomenal year in back-to-back seasons, but given his age and his past struggles one can kind of see why some teams might be wary of signing him for big bucks.
But that’s the thing. It’s not that teams are wary of signing him for big bucks; it’s that teams absolutely have not wanted to sign him period. I mean, he’s not Greg Maddux, but isn’t there someone out there that’s willing to take a chance on a 34 year-old righty who is coming off a year in which he was one of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball?
No, the baseball world hasn’t gone mad, there actually is a good reason why Lohse remains without a team: whichever team signs him will have to forfeit a future first round draft pick to the Cardinals as compensation for signing Lohse, and to date that has been a steeper price than any team has been willing to pay.
Why do the Cards get a compensatory draft pick if their 34 year-old pitcher signs somewhere else?
As part of the new collective bargaining agreement, ratified last year by MLB and the Players Union, if a team makes a “qualifying offer”-classified as at least a one year contract worth $13.5 million- and the player turns it down, whichever team signs him will have to forfeit the aforementioned draft pick.
It’s easy to understand why the rule was created. MLB wanted to create some sort of compensation for poorer, small market teams that spend millions of dollars drafting and developing a player, only to see him sign with a richer, big market club when he finally clears his arbitration years and hits free-agency.
But in Lohse’s case this isn’t what’s happening. Lohse is a 12-year veteran who was drafted by the Cubs in 1996, then traded to the Twins in 1999- when he was still in the minor leagues- before making his debut in Minnesota in 2001. The Cardinals didn’t get a hold of him until he was 28, and a seasoned veteran.
Why doesn’t Lohse just take the one-year, $13.5 million contract from the Cards? It’s only for one year, but $13.5 million is still a whole heck of a lot of money.
Because the offer is no longer on the table; it was pulled as soon as Lohse turned it down so he could talk with other teams, days before he officially became a free-agent. Even the Cardinals value the draft pick they’ll get in compensation for Lohse more than they value Lohse.
So here we have a rule designed to prevent teams like the Yankees from treating teams like the Royals as their own personal AAAA farm teams, but instead all its doing is preventing Kyle Lohse from finding a team to spend the last few years of his career with.
And that ain’t right.
The Players Union really dropped the ball on this one. They should be arguing forcefully for changes to the rule. There’s no need to scrap the entire rule- its intentions are noble- but when you have a situation where no one is willing to sign one of the better starting pitchers in baseball, you know something has gone horribly wrong.
So how can can this be fixed?
Maybe start by increasing the minimum qualifying offer to three years and $13.5 million, and exempt any player over the age of 32. This would ensure two things:
- By forcing teams to offer multiple years as part of their qualifying offers you’re ensuring that the players are receiving legitimate offers, and that teams aren’t just making an offer because it’s a loophole they need to jump through to get a free draft pick.
- Most players over 32 years-old have not been developed by their current team, and even if they were they’re still close enough to the end their career that it’s important that they be allowed to test free-agency in search of one last payday before they retire.
MLB needs to get this sorted out sooner rather than later. This rule won’t affect the Robinson Cano’s and the Josh Hamilton’s of the world, but guys like Lohse who are a bit older and a bit riskier will continue to be left out in the cold.