For many fans, the beginning of the baseball season starts in early-February, when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. Ten days ago, the likes of David Price, Justin Verlander, and even Greg Burke took the mound in sunny Florida and Arizona for their respective organizations. Yet even though all Major League pitchers are picking up baseballs and getting their arms in working order, Kyle Lohse will not be one of them. Lohse, who is coming off a terrific 2012 campaign, where he hurled a career-best 134 ERA+ and 3.76 K/BB over 211 IP, still remains a free-agent.
The 34 year-old’s status is hardly surprising, however. Due to the new qualifying offer agreement, which entitles organizations to extend one-year, $13.3MM (based off the top 125 player’s average salaries) retention offers or subsequent draft pick compensation if the player rejects the deal, it has deterred suitors from signing Lohse. The pitcher, who presumably had been seeking a multi-year contract, declined the St. Louis Cardinals’ qualifying offer, and has since been patiently sitting on the free-agent market.
But as the regular season inches closer, one can’t help but wonder if the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is truly flawed when a pitcher of Lohse’s caliber can’t convince a team to sign him to fair market value. Qualifying offer aside, teams this off-season had little doubt about inking comparable pitchers like Anibal Sanchez (5 Yrs. / $80MM), Edwin Jackson (4 Yrs. / $52MM), and Ryan Dempster (2 Yrs. / $26.5MM) to noteworthy contracts.
While the above pitchers–Lohse included–vary in age, the chart below clearly illustrates how identical their production has been over the past three seasons:
Anibal Sanchez (Age: 28): 109 ERA+, 2.89 K/BB, 587 IP
Edwin Jackson (Age: 29): 100 ERA+, 2.51 K/BB, 598.6 IP
Ryan Dempster (Age: 35): 102 ERA+, 2.51 K/BB, 590.6 IP
Kyle Lohse (Age: 34): 101 ERA+, 2.68 K/BB, 491.3 IP
It’s been obvious for awhile that Lohse–and his agent, Scott Boras–might not receive that four-year, $50MM contract they originally demanded, but teams don’t seem to be examining the right-hander from a dollar and cents perspective. If they were, Lohse would have already been signed to Edwin Jackson / Ryan Dempster-type money (around $13MM per year) by now. Instead, teams are weighing whether signing Lohse to any deal, is worthwhile.
As backwards as the former Elias rankings-based compensation system was in years past, the new CBA amendment still creates an unfair barrier for good players to garner free-agent interest.
Unless Lohse wants to hold-out until the Major League Baseball Draft (June 6-8), which is the deadline for receiving draft pick compensation, the veteran pitcher might have to look into signing a Minor League contract. Yet, the Commissioner’s office might have a problem with that too.
According to Article XX(B)(4) of the new CBA:
A Qualified Free Agent who signs a bona fide Minor League contract shall not be subject to compensation irrespective of whether the Minor League contract is subsequently assigned to the Major League Club provided that the execution of the Minor League contract and the subsequent assignment were not the product of an agreement or understanding designed to circumvent Article XX(B)(3) and (4).
Would Kyle Lohse signing a Minor League contract with a $13MM salary entitlement (upon being added to the 25-man roster)–or any Minor League deal, for that matter–be circumventing the rule? Undoubtedly. However, on that same note, Scott Boras and the Player’s Union could make the point that Major League Baseball has no right to force a player to sign with a team–especially if another team is offering a more lucrative contract.
For instance, if the Los Angeles Angels were to offer Lohse a one-year, $2MM Major League contract, but the New York Mets put a one-year, $13MM Minor League contract (with an all-but-guaranteed Major League promotion) on the table, could Bud Selig really prevent the pitcher from signing with the Mets? And furthermore, if Selig alternatively suggested that Lohse sit-out the first two months of the season (until after the MLB Draft), and put the free-agent in a position to lose around $4.3MM (two months of a $13MM yearly contract), wouldn’t that too be a field day for the Player’s Union?
Even though the CBA clearly states how the Minor League route is a no-no, if the Player’s Union stepped up to the plate for Lohse, there might be enough talking points to win what would be a historic case.
Unless a mystery team emerges, and bites the bullet (presumably lose a first round pick) in order to sign Lohse, Major League Baseball could very well be dealing with a strike-worthy issue.