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kyle and jarrod

programming notes: first of all, there will be a game thread tonight for the ASG. second item: i'll be on vacation next week. thanks to HC and Valatan, who've agreed to sit in for me.

suppose kyle lohse was willing to settle for a 3-year deal to stay in st louis --- what would be a fair price to keep him around?

this is a purely hypothetical exercise; i have no idea if lohse would settle for 3 years or not. i do know the cardinals are unlikely to offer more than 3 years --- unless i’m mistaken, the only pitchers they’ve offered 4 or more guaranteed years to in recent years are carpenter, wainwright, and aj burnett. they also probably offered mike hampton more years than that back in 2000 (and good thing he didn’t take it). . . . . i also know that lohse is very happy in st louis and, after last year’s off-season in purgatory, not enthusiastic about trying to max out his earnings on the free-agent market. if the cardinals make a fair offer, he might very well take it even if it means leaving money on the table. and yes, i know lohse’s agent is scott boras, who never leaves money on the table. after last season --- and after a rough winter for boras, which included a very humiliating calling-out by alex rodriguez --- boras ain’t quite as scary as he used to be. if the cardinals want lohse to stay, and he wants to stay too, boras can’t force him into free agency. i realize that’s what happened w/ jeff weaver after 2006; it doesn’t necessarily follow that it will happen that way w/ lohse after 2008.

hopefully most of you are still down w/ the premise: if the team and the player agree that 3 years is an acceptable length, then what’s the pitcher worth?

we gotta start w/ the cards’ payroll situation, which we were discussing yesterday in the context of a possible jarrod washburn acquisition. st louis already has $25m tied up for 2009 in 3 starting pitchers --- carpenter ($14m), pineiro ($8m), and wainwright ($2.6m). they’ll have cost-controlled internal options available to fill out the rotation in wellemeyer (arb eligible next year i think), mcclellan, boggs, garcia, mortensen, todd, and parisi. anthony reyes will probably be gone. if wellemeyer is sound, that looks like plenty of material with which to assemble a pretty decent rotation, with the potential to be very good ---- and it’s already paid for. so if the cards decide not to allocate their dollars to lohse, they won’t necessarily leave themselves exposed in the rotation. but here’s the other side of the argument: all three of the top 3 men in that projected rotation (carp welley wainwright) have some injury issues, while lohse has a clean health record. and you can never have too much pitching . . . . .

let’s look at the rest of the team. they probably won’t (and shouldn’t) be signing any high-priced outfielders; ankiel / ludwick / rasmus project as the starting trio, and schumaker / mather / barton / duncan provide plenty of fodder for the bench. no need to spend a lot of money there. they’ll be spending more money naturally anyway --- ankiel and luddy will both be arb eligible and will get substantial raises (probably into the $5m range), while molina’s salary will double to $3.3m next season. they’re set at the infield corners and at catcher; the only need is at middle infield, and they’ll probably only make one high-priced expenditure there (if any). as for the bullpen: if mcclellan moves to the rotation, the only known holdovers in the ’pen will be perez franklin and brad thompson; izzy seems unlikely to be back, springer might retire, and the left-handers . . . well, who needs ’em? they have plenty of rhrp candidates in the high minors (motte, salas, worrell, jess todd, parisi, possibly boggs) but no left-handers; they might need to spend a few million to sign one.

so a quick n dirty roster matrix, lising only the guys already under control for next year:

ROTATION carp, wagonmaker, pineiro, welley, +1 promotion from memphis $26m
LINEUP ludwick, ankiel, rasmus, pujols, glaus, kennedy, ryan, molina $45m or so
BULLPEN franklin, perez, thompson, and internal promotions $3.5m commited so far
BENCH ryan, plus 2 of duncan / schu / barton / mather $1.5m
NEEDS starting 2b or ss, lh reliever(s), backup c and if $15m - $20m (est)

ok; this leaves us with a payroll of $90 to $95m, which leaves the cards somewhere around $10m below their self-imposed ceiling. that’s the amount they can afford to throw at kyle lohse (or some other pitcher) without leaving themselves short in other areas of the roster --- ie, without skimping on a starting ss or an lhrp. when discussing washburn yesterday, i had blanched at the idea of committing $10m to another starting pitcher, because i thought it would tie up too much in the rotation and leave the team short elsewhere on the roster; having looked at it more carefully, i now think a $10m pitcher is an affordable luxury.

is lohse worth it? well, let’s put it this way: if jeff suppan and carlos silva and gil meche and jarrod washburn are worth $10m a year --- and i am not necessarily agreeing they are worth that money, but that’s what the market valued them at --- then lohse most definitely is worth it. his performance this year is not a mirage --- his FIP (3.67) is very close to his ERA (3.39), a strong indicator that he hasn’t just been getting lucky. in fact, lohse’s FIPs (see his fangraphs page) have been very consistent throughout his career, and consistently decent --- almost always in the 4.50 range. compare his FIPs to suppan’s --- very similar. lohse has a slightly lower home-run rate than usual this year, because he’s pitching in a pitcher’s park instead of in a bandbox, and his BABIP is down just a tick, because he has a great defense behind him; on the whole, though, i think his performance is largely sustainable. indeed, he has sustained it since coming to the national league in august 2006. in that 2-year span, lohse has a suppanish 23-19 / 4.22 mark --- the 14th-best era among nl pitchers over that period. he’s been almost exactly as good as suppan over that span (supps is 21-20, 4.28) and about as good as guys like aaron harang (24-21, 4.07) and brad penny (27-17, 4.23) --- although both of the latter, it should be noted, play in front of much weaker defenses than lohse currently does. given his age (he turns 30 in december), his spotless health record, and the consistency of his FIPs (which --- say it with me, people --- are highly predictive of future performance), lohse is a very good bet to pitch 190 innings for each of the next 3 years with eras in the 4.00 range.

is that worth $10m a year? on a one-year deal, it’s definitely worth it; on a 3-year deal, i don’t think it’s worth it to the cardinals. let me repeat the last 3 words --- to the cardinals. it might make sense for some other franchise to make that investment, and for lohse’s sake i hope somebody gives it to him. but i don’t think the cardinals need the pitching that badly, particularly in years 2 and 3 of the hypothesized contract. by then the cards are almost certain to have one or more pitchers available internally (read: very cheaply) who are at least as good as lohse --- not potentially as good, but actually as good. that pitcher or pitchers won’t necessarily be ready in 2009, although they might be; but by 2010, i’m confident that one or more youngsters from that group i listed above (garcia, mortensen, et al) will have stepped forward and gotten himself established as a reliable big-league starter --- much as wainwright did in 2006-07. in which case, spending $10m on kyle lohse for those years would be a waste of money. if he'd give a deep discount --- say, 3 years at $8.5m per --- i would be more interested, because then lohse would more likely be an appealing trade commodity if the cards wound up w/ a surplus. another possibility would be to offer $10m per year, but front-load the deal --- offer him $13m for 2009 and $8.5m each for 2010-11; the avg annual salary is $10m, but the cards preserve payroll flexibility / tradeability.

that’s my opinion; yours may differ. discuss below.

now, let me cycle back around to jarrod washburn. the more i think about this guy, the more i like the idea of picking him up. the first thing to like about it is that, reportedly, the mariners aren’t asking for much in return; they just want a team to pick up his salary, which is about $4m for the balance of 2008 and $10m in 2009. as i said above, i now believe the cards can afford a $10m pitcher next season --- and the obligation to washburn would end after 2009, when the cards’ farm system is ready to produce solid replacements. unlike the make-believe 3-year commitment to lohse, this one is of an acceptable length, and --- better yet --- it makes the team better this year, when they’re fighting for a playoff spot. if the cards can acquire him without losing any prospects who matter, it is almost the equivalent of getting a free-agent signing midseason --- it would cost the team money but not talent. and the opportunity cost wouldn’t be particularly high, either --- ie, it probably wouldn’t block a deserving youngster from promotion.

is jarrod washburn a good pitcher? a lot of you think he sucks, but i refer you again to his FIPs --- mirror images of lohse’s and suppan’s. but he has compiled them in the dh league, which means he’s actually been slightly better than those two. for those of you who don’t really like FIP, check out washburn’s actual era’s --- again, very consistent. once you adjust for the dh, he’s been the nl-equivalent of a low-4.00s pitcher for 6 years in a row. and that includes this season, in which his numbers have been distorted by terrible defense. in his career, washburn has given up a .220 batting average on groundballs, which is right around average. but this year, batters are hitting .273 against him on grounders --- that’s a freaky stat and not likely to continue. and a good cardinal infield is likely to turn some of those groundball base hits into outs. if we apply washburn’s career average on grounders (.220) to his current-year line, he yields 7 fewer base hits, which translates to 5 fewer runs --- and an era of 4.40, rather than 4.83. again, that’s a 4.40 era in the dh league; in the nl, it’s more like 4.00 to 4.15. in other words, jeff suppan . . .

in every area that lies partly or wholly under a pitcher’s control --- k rate, bb rate, hr rate, gb rate, ld rate --- washburn is at or near his career averages; he’s not pitching worse this season than usual, he’s just getting worse results. but his results are due to improve as long as he keeps throwing the ball the same way. indeed, they are already improving. washburn had a dreadful stretch in may, which ended with a 2-inning, 9-run pounding at the hands of the tigers on may 21. but in 9 starts since then, washburn has an era of 3.02 and an opponent ops of .732. while the cardinals do have more talented pitchers in their organization --- including boggs, garcia, maybe mortensen and todd --- they don’t have more reliable pitchers than washburn; it often takes time for talent to translate into big-league performance. boggs might be better than washburn some day, but he clearly isn’t at this moment in time --- witness his upside-down k/bb ratio (12 ks, 17 bbs) in his short stint with the cards. we’ll find out soon enough how readily jaime garcia's talent translates to the big leagues. (for what it’s worth, john sickels agrees with azruavatar that garcia probably needs some more time at triple A.)

it is reasonable for the cards to give garcia a chance and see how he fares; if he does well, then maybe there’s no need to add a veteran for the stretch run. but if jaime struggles --- and if washburn can be acquired for a second- or third-tier prospect such as, let’s say, mke parisi --- then i think he’d improve the team in the short run without hamstringing them in the long run. and that’s the idea, right? get better today without messing up the plans for tomorrow.

let’s see how it plays out.