Kyle Lohse Could Become This Generation’s Curt Flood

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.


19 responses to “Kyle Lohse Could Become This Generation’s Curt Flood

  1. Pingback: Baseball Blogs Weigh In: A's, Strasburg, Stubbs, Lohse - Unofficial Network

  2. There’s nothing wrong with the CBA’s new and much improved compensation plan; only with Lohse and his choice of agent. The fact is he’s simply an aging average pitcher with decreasing velocity who was fortunate enough to have a great walk year and was offered a raise as his reward. He declined and gambled on a better deal and lost; and now he’s just another cautionary tale about greed and unreasonable expectations. End of story.

    • I agree that the new CBA is far better than the old CBA, but that doesn’t mean it’s not flawed.

      Lohse certainly had a career year in 2012 (134 ERA+, 3.76 K/BB), but he was also pretty darn good in 2011 too (109 ERA+, 2.64 K/BB). And even though he’s hardly an ace, he is still a pretty solid pitcher–but since he’s not a huge difference-maker, teams don’t want to surrender a pick to sign him.

      Essentially, the CBA has to find a way to compensate teams without hurting player’s free agency.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. This is nothing like Curt Flood. The players agreed to this setup. Boras gave him bad advice. He could be signed for $13M for this year…but he’s not.

    • This Kyle Lohse situation is obviously not equivalent to the Curt Flood situation, but the former can still be “this generation’s” version of the latter.

      If similar pitchers, talent-wise, were able to garner lucrative, multi-year contracts this off-season, then something like the “qualifying offer” tag shouldn’t create a barrier for Lohse to seek the same treatment. It’s simply not fair (in respect to baseball fairness, not life).

  4. There are 13.3 million reasons why nobody should change the CBA for Kyle Lohse.

  5. I think you need to re-read the clause that you cited. In your scenario, it would be perfectly acceptable for Lohse to sign with the Mets. If the commissioner’s office felt like the contract violated the provision in the article, then they would simply rule that the Mets owed a draft pick as compensation. I see nothing strike-worthy about it.

    • I don’t think the Mets–or any team–that would look to sign Lohse to a MiLB contract wants to surrender a pick. That’s the point.

      The article bluntly calls out circumventing the rule to avoid surrendering a draft pick.

  6. the problem is and I dont care how you explain it in so many ways is one thing and that point to Boras. He has always been the problem. Go back to MB he could have had 13m for the Braves but instead now hes making telling me him having Boras as an agent was good….NO…Boras is the problem that Kyle is not signed because he aims to high. Go look at the Yankees now…they are regretting signing ARoid to that contract because Boras believed he was worth it…do you believe so….No…didnt think so..It has nothing to do with the CBA or whatever you want to say. If a team wants to win and win now they will sign him…its just they are looking back at the Braves when Boras got DLowe inked to that contract and it didnt turn out to be nothing….Do you think a team wants to make a mistake like that again with Kyle…The problem is the agent and always will be….period.

    • Bourn could have signed a one-year, $13.3MM to remain with the Braves, but Boras was instead able to net him a four-year, $48MM deal with the Indians, which will likely turn into a five-year, $60MM deal. If I was Bourn, I would be very pleased with Boras’ work.

      Boras might aim high, but he also has an extremely high success rate. The A-Rod example you mentioned is just another feather in Boras’ cap–it was just a bone-headed move by the Yankees.

      Again, similar free-agent pitchers this off-season were able to find multi-year, $12-13MM per deals. The only difference between Lohse and those pitchers is his qualifying offer compensation label.

  7. Putting Curt Flood in the same sentence with Kyle Lohse is loathsome and wrong. Lohse isn’t signed because he has a horrible human being as an agent who doesn’t see what’s in the best interests of his client, but rather, the most money on the open market. The pitchers you mentioned are either younger nad/or more effective than Lohse. He’s in hid mid thirties coming off a career year. Had he taken the Cardinals qualifying offer then his problems with be non-existent. This isn’t 2000 when Texas, Colorado and the Yankees were throwing cash any anything that could get the ball to home plate. Boras is the problem, not the CBA.

    • Thanks for commenting, Lance.

      While Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson are younger than Lohse, all of their stats are pretty similar. Dempster is perhaps the best comp, as the veterans are closer in age. Regardless, the point is they all have similar production, yet Lohse isn’t getting compensated for it. Also, Lohse did have a career year in 2012 (134 ERA+, 3.76 K/BB), but he was also quite good in 2011 too (109 ERA+, 2.64 K/BB).

      And obviously, Curt Flood and Kyle Lohse aren’t direct parallels, but since there has been so much progression since Flood’s time, this Lohse-situation could be conceived as “this generation’s” version (as the article’s title suggests).

  8. Interesting article but, even conceding your generational point, this is nothing at all like what happened with Curt Flood, who decided on his own to refuse to report to Philadelphia. Lohse merely turned down a bona-fide offer and found the market was not at all what he and Boras expected.

    And before we make Lohse too much a martyr, there is this bizarre arm injury, one never before seen in baseball and allegedly something that only affects motocross athletes. That, coupled with his age and his cancer-for-an- agent, has to factor into any team’s decision to sign him to a long-term deal. I just hope he doesn’t end up back here in St. Louis. The Cardinals paid him 40-million-plus over 4 years. Much of that time, he was on the shelf. And certainly last year was a career year, but to use your “generation analogy,” in another generation, he would be nothing more than Dick Ruthven with a soul patch.

    As for Edwin Jackson, has anybody alerted air-traffic-control at O’Hare & Midway, that incoming pilots need to be especially vigilant on days when Jackson is on the mound at Wrigley?

    • In terms of exact subject matter, I agree, the Lohse/Flood comparison doesn’t work. But I wasn’t trying to make that connection. I was instead alluding to the potential, big-impact CBA changes that could conspire from this.

      And I get that Lohse’s association with Boras doesn’t exactly make him look like Mother Teresa. But this situation does expose a giant loophole in the CBA, which will need to be addressed.

      Thanks for commenting!

  9. It doesn’t cost the Cardinals a draft pick to sign Lohse. With Carpenter likely out right now the Cards are pretty much stuck counting on full seasons from Shelby Miller and Laynce Lynn in the rotation, plus the other 3 guys – Wainwright, Westbrook, and Garcia – to stay healthy. How often in the modern era of baseball (since the mid-90s, say) have the same 5 guys stayed healthy and made virtually all the starts for a Big League team? Not often. Almost never, really. It nearly happened for the Rays last year, with only 5 guys making double-digit starts, but they did have about 15 (not sure of the exact number, I’m pretty sure Niemann made 8) from other guys. And I believe that was the Major League low for any team in terms of starts from guys outside the top 5. The Orioles won 93 games with only one guys making over 20 starts and 7 making at least 15. That seems to be the way things are going now – constantly changing pitching staffs, due to both injury and underperformance, are the norm and not the exception. I doubt Lohse would command $13 million at this point. If he comes back to St. Louis he gets to pitch in front of that awesome infield defense another year, and could overperform yet again and maintain his ostensible value for another shot at free agency next offseason. That might be his smartest move at this point, if he can get $8 or $9 million out of the Cards.

    • Interesting scenario. I guess it depends on what kind of contract Lohse would sign with the Cardinals. If Lohse still wants a multi-year deal, it’s likely they’ll use a combination of Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal, and Shelby Miller, or perhaps look for a cheaper option via trade (i.e. Chris Capuano).

  10. I think age and injury history take away the Jackson and Sanchez comps. Even with draft pick compensation they would have not had too much issue getting good contracts. I can see the comparison with Dempster, even though his injury history is favorable to Lohse as well. Perhaps the draft pick compensation makes a difference between those two, but thems the breaks. I assume as soon as he lowers his yearly demand, even moreso than Bourne did, he will get a two or three-year deal worth more than the 13.3 he turned down. He would have been lucky to get the same contract as Dempster without the compensation issue. Otherwise why is he the ONLY one who this new rule screwed? He just isn’t as attractive an option as they were hoping. Just the way free markets go.

    • I agree that, due to age, Dempster is the stronger comp, but it’s still worth noting that both Jackson/Sanchez have had similar past-3-year stats as Lohse.

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