Hot Stove League Starting Pitchers: Other Peoples' Lohse

Edgar Renteria! I know that guy! 2004 seems much farther away than it is, for me—Larry Walker? Ray Lankford? Roger Cedeño?—and the effect is magnified when a player who wasn't around for 2006, which feels much more recent, shows up in 2010 and decisively wins the World Series MVP. 

This past regular season wasn't a good one for proponents of the Edgar Renteria, Stealth Hall-of-Famer theory, like our own Hardcore Legend; his failure to play 120 games—for the first time since 1996—did a number on his chance at 3000 hits, even if his offense did bounce back. But last night he wrote the overarching narrative to his entire career—as a guy who showed up in the World Series with three different teams and did great things each time. (A little more at SB Nation St. Louis, if you're into that.)

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Now that the Cardinals have been tied to Miguel Tejada for the first time this offseason I feel like the Hot Stove League has finally begun—and since they're presumably out of the sweepstakes for the year's big free agents, the first order of business in St. Louis is, as ever, the cultivation of other teams' broken-down fifth starters with lowercase-p potential.

Even we might not be interested in Kyle Lohse if he played elsewhere—his right arm seems cursed, and the rote Duncan suggestion that he pitch to more contact after last season's .369 BAbip is almost cruel, like telling a claustrophobic that all he needs to do is sleep in a smaller coffin. But who knows; everybody else's trash is always more exciting than the Cardinals' own, in my Hot Stove League experience, and I can't imagine the Cardinals going into the season with only Lohse on the docket for the fifth starter. Luckily for us, MLB Trade Rumors put together a list of the right-handed Lohse-alikes in free agency just the other day. Here are some highlights, in no particular order:

Kevin Millwood will, I'd imagine, come somewhat more cheaply than when he was a $60 million man following the 2005 season. I like him as a bounceback candidate, and I like him more as a Dave Duncan bounceback candidate—he got punished by the home run this season, and his groundball rate is trending down, but he's still got decent strikeout and walk rates. On a one-year deal, without relying on him as an integral part of the Cardinals' 2011 plans, he might be a nice hedge against Lohse's failure to be as 100% as he feels.

Rich Harden is considerably less exciting than he was last year, having finally put together a season in which his historic injury proneness was joined by ineffectiveness when he actually reached the mound. Somehow still just 29—he's three months younger than Adam Wainwright—he managed exactly five quality starts in 18 attempts, and his final numbers are disastrous all the way around. I can't imagine a team relying on him as a first option in a rotation spot after a season like that, but I can't imagine the Cardinals are prepared to do it with Lohse, either; as part of the squad of sixth starters they periodically throw to the wall, he'd be one I especially hoped would stick. I don't know what that's worth on the open market.

Javier Vazquez, who I'm always surprised to learn is 35, would be a fun pick if you'd like to hear Al Hrabosky tell the story about how Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter were robbed of the Cy Young Award times next season, but he might prove a little out of the Cardinals' price range if they do decide to go for another starter after signing Jake Westbrook, which still appears to be job one.

There seems to be a surprising number of lottery tickets on the market this season, in lieu of sure things—Harden and Vazquez are both a year or so removed from Cy Young-style performance but probably won't be guaranteed two years; Justin Duchscherer has a career ERA+ of 139, but I can't confirm that he has ever made a Major League start without spending the next 15 days on the disabled list; Pedro Martinez is still kicking around. Some team will make Dave Duncan feel stupendously indignant by signing Brandon Webb.

There are a lot of high-risk, high-reward, presumably low-cost options, and if the Cardinals do end up filling out their rotation with Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse I hope they give these guys, who might be All-Stars and might not end up making 20 Cardinals starts in their career, a long look. Neither Westbrook nor Lohse are especially durable, even for pitchers; having three guys around to fill two spots seems like a wise move.

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