Kyle Lohse is still available

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You might have forgotten, in the excitement of the start of spring training baseball and the World Baseball Classic, that starter Kyle Lohse is still teamless. The right-handed Lohse, who finished 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA with the Cardinals last year, has been unable to find a team willing to give him the contract he and agent Scott Boras expected going into the off-season. Buster Olney, for example, reported that some agents and general managers felt Lohse could command a deal in the $60-75 million range back in October.

There are some legitimate reasons to be wary of Lohse. He is 34 years old and three years removed from surgery on his right forearm. As research from Jeff Zimmerman at FanGraphs shows, the older you are and the more you have suffered injuries, the more of an injury risk you become going forward. Additionally, for teams who won’t be picking in the top-ten in the upcoming amateur draft, they would have to surrender their first round pick to sign Lohse.

Lohse, for the last two seasons, has also had results that lay in contradiction with some Sabermetric stats such as xFIP. The thought goes that a pitcher has very little control on the outcomes of batted balls, so a pitcher who has a BABIP far away from .300 in either direction will regress back to .300 in future years. For example, Roy Halladay has a career 3.31 ERA and Adam Eaton has a career 4.94 ERA, but the two are separated by only five points in career BABIP, .293 to .298. Lohse’s BABIP finished at .269 and .262 the last two seasons. As a result, his ERA (3.39, 2.86) was vastly lower than his xFIP (4.04, 3.96). As front offices have become more and more statistically-oriented, it is no surprise to see some apprehension in offering a rich, long-term deal to Lohse.

At FanGraphs, Jack Moore suggests Lohse should take a “pillow contract”. That is, a one-year deal with the intent to continue to build value. Moore cites various pillow contracts that have been given over the years, and the results are mixed. However, it worked out for the most recent player in Edwin Jackson. Jackson took a one-year, $11 million deal with the Nationals, pitched reasonably well, and turned that into a four-year, $52 million contract with the Cubs.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.