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February 13, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Wednesday, February 13

by Daniel Rathman

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With Michael Bourn joining the Indians, agent Scott Boras is 2-for-3 when it comes to finding new homes for clients dogged by rejected qualifying offers. The elephant in the room for Boras is Kyle Lohse, whose stock has waned because of the draft-pick cost associated with signing him, and perhaps because teams are unwilling to extend a lucrative commitment to a 34-year-old pitcher coming off of a career year. As a reward for his patience in the face of disillusionment, Lohse gets today’s Roundup all to himself.

Nationals could make a play for Lohse
The Nationals rescued Rafael Soriano from qualifying-offer purgatory with a two-year, $29 million deal last month, and Washington Post beat writer Adam Kilgore heard on Tuesday that Boras could soon turn to his colleagues in the nation’s capital yet again. Manager Davey Johnson’s rotation is currently full—with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, and Dan Haren all believed to be healthy—but Gonzalez’s reported connection to the brewing Biogenesis scandal might create an opening.

There is no evidence, at this point, that Gonzalez was supplied with—or consumed—a banned substance, which means that we have no reason to believe that a 50-game suspension is forthcoming. However, general manager Mike Rizzo and owner Ted Lerner would much rather be safe than sorry, in light of the latter’s advanced age and the Braves’ offseason improvements. If the market for Lohse is entirely dry, then waiting for an indication that Gonzalez will miss the first third of the season may be Boras’ best bet to obtain at least the $13.3 million guarantee that he advised his client to forgo.

From the Nationals’ perspective, relying on the elite, but fragile, rotation is a risky proposition. Strasburg and Zimmermann are Tommy John surgery survivors, and Haren, after years of outstanding durability, was plagued by back woes last year. All of that would be less worrisome if Washington had a capable sixth starter available in the event of an injury, but swingman Zach Duke last made a major-league start on July 10, 2011, and Christian Garcia may not have the durability to handle a move to the rotation. Other early-season options include Yunesky Maya, Ross Ohlendorf, and Tanner Roark, but none of the three is likely to offer anything more than replacement-level performance.

A 50-game suspension for Gonzalez could be the difference between a division title and home-field advantage in the postseason, and the potential to be one-and-done in a wild-card playoff or to miss the playoffs entirely. With their pennant window wide open—if Gonzalez is sidelined or another starter sustains a long-term injury—that is just the sort of risk that might compel Rizzo and Lerner to meet Boras’ demands and worry about a potential six-starter logjam in late May.

Since the Nationals already surrendered their first-round pick to sign Soriano, Lohse would only cost them a second-rounder, which Kilgore believes could help Rizzo and Lerner to swallow a larger salary. Kilgore also mentioned that the Nationals are keeping tabs on Javier Vazquez’s potential return to the majors as an alternative insurance policy, but depending on the timetable of hypothetical events, they could be forced to render a decision on Lohse before Vazquez makes up his mind. For now, all of this is smoke without fire, and there is no way to gauge whether the flames will ever come.

But Indians almost certainly will not
Speaking of hypotheticals, many thought that in the wake of the Bourn signing, the Indians could try to find room in their budget for Lohse. As R.J. Anderson pointed out in his Transaction Analysis of Bourn’s four-year, $48 million pact, this offseason—which began with the hiring of Terry Francona as the Tribe’s new manager—has brought “renewed optimism” to Cleveland, which has not enjoyed a winning season since its 2007 American League Championship Series appearance. But while the newcomers, Trevor Bauer, Bourn, Brett Myers, Mark Reynolds, and Nick Swisher, should ensure a considerable boost from the Indians’ 68-94 finish last year, they are unlikely to put the Indians on par with the defending champion Tigers.

And that’s where the Lohse idea, endorsed by at least a few other general managers, came in. Even with a modest regression from his 2012 output, the former Cardinals right-hander would be vastly more reliable than Francona’s incumbent back-end starters. The list of candidates to follow Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Myers in the rotation consists of Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Zach McAllister, so Lohse could actually provide a greater 2013 boost than Bourn. Lohse’s contact-heavy approach would also fit well with the Indians’ improved team defense, and—with Bourn and Swisher in tow—he would only cost the Tribe its third-round pick.

Unfortunately, there are also plenty of drawbacks, and according to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the marriage is not to be. For one thing, adding Lohse would stretch the Indians’ already-stretched coffers—which must satisfy a payroll over $73 million for the first time since 2009—perhaps to levels unseen since 2001, when the Indians paid $93.4 million for a Jim Thome-led team that lost to the juggernaut Mariners in the Division Series. For another, losing the third-round pick would leave the Indians with one top-100 selection and with a badly diminished bonus pool, both of which would impede Antonetti’s ability to restock a farm system that is low on frontline talent.

The recent speculation tying Lohse to the Nationals and Indians helped to keep the Hot Stove alive, but barring an unforeseen turn of events, it appears that Boras will need to dig deeper. Boras has wriggled out of similar jams before, but given the draft-pick concern, Lohse’s age, and the pitchers still available on the trade market, this may be his toughest challenge yet.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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