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.