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.
In a special for USA TODAY Sports, Mike Vorkunov details how six teams — the Mets in particular — provide an education program that helps their Dominican prospects earn high school diplomas. It seems like an obvious win-win: smarter players make smarter decisions, making them more likely to achieve their potential as athletes. That, of course, requires spending money, which is why only six teams make the investment. For the players, if baseball doesn’t work out, they are better able to support themselves in other ways.
Vorkunov lists the Pirates, Tigers, Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Mariners as the other teams who provide an education program for their Dominican prospects. We learned earlier this month that the Phillies were also investing in making sure their minor leaguers eat healthy. As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, “few teams” supply their minor league players with healthy food options.
Juan Henderson, the head of the Mets’ Dominican academy, said, “We see the benefit of it. I gotta tell you, we’re working with a new generation of baseball players. You see in the past that players just carry a bat and a glove and a helmet on the baseball field and in the academy. Those years, I think, are going to be pretty much over. Now they also do that, but they also carry books, they also carry an iPad, they also carry a laptop.”
Kudos to the six teams for making a great decision and here’s hoping the other 24 teams follow suit.
Angels first baseman Albert Pujols cranked out a two-run home run in the third inning against Rangers starter Derek Holland, breaking a scoreless tie. It’s the ninth homer of the season for Pujols and the 569th of his career, putting him into a tie with Rafael Palmeiro for 12th on baseball’s all-time home run leaderboard.
Harmon Killebrew is Pujols’ next target at 573, followed by Mark McGwire at 583 and Frank Robinson at 586.
Pujols hadn’t homered since May 13. He entered Monday night hitting a mediocre .228/.309/.395 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 188 plate appearances.
Monday has unfortunately been a day of injury news. Royals outfielder Alex Gordon is the latest to hit the 15-day disabled list, as he has been diagnosed with a fractured scaphoid bone in his right wrist. The club has recalled infielder Cheslor Cuthbert from Triple-A Omaha.
Gordon suffered the injury colliding with third baseman Mike Moustakas attempting to catch a fly ball on Sunday afternoon. He is expected to miss three to four weeks, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports.
Gordon was having a tough 2016 campaign and the injury only makes it worse. He’s hitting .211/.319/.331 with four home runs and 10 RBI in 166 plate appearances on the year.
The Royals will likely use Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando in left field in Gordon’s absence.
The Orioles announced on Monday night that the club has traded reliever Brian Matusz to the Braves in exchange for minor league pitchers Brandon Barker and Trevor Belicek. The Braves are also receiving a Competitive Balance Round B pick (76th overall) in the 2016 draft.
Matusz, 29, made his season debut on April 23 after battling a back injury since early March. It’s been a struggle, as the lefty has yielded eight runs on 11 hits and seven walks with just one strikeout in six innings. He is earning $3.9 million and can become a free agent after the season.
MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports that the Braves are expected to designate Matusz for assignment. Essentially, the Braves bought the draft pick for Matusz’s remaining salary of $3 million of $3.9 million total.
Barker, 23, has been pitching at Double-A Mississippi after getting a taste of Triple-A last year. So far this season, the right-hander has a 2.00 ERA with a 40/12 K/BB ratio in 45 innings spanning eight starts and a relief appearance.
Belicek, a 23-year-old left-hander, has spent most of the year with Single-A Rome, compiling a 2.49 ERA with a 29/1 K/BB ratio in 25 1/3 innings over 11 relief appearances.