Lohse signing brightens Milwaukee's horizons
MILWAUKEE -- For most of the last month you could hear two incessant complaints, phrased as questions, in southeastern Wisconsin: 1. When does the weather get better? 2.Why haven't the Brewers signed Kyle Lohse?
Now, the citizens of Milwaukee are batting .500 on those concerns. The climate is still be frozen in winter mode, but Mr. Lohse is now safely in the employ of the local National League franchise.
Why Lohse, coming off a 16-3 record and a 2.86 ERA, was still on the market at this late date is one of those questions that may have to be decided by future baseball historians. The relatively modest changes in Draft compensation rules don't offer a perfect, comprehensive explanation.
Lohse was clearly the second-best starter in the 2012-13 free-agent class. Former Brewer Zack Greinke was the head of that class. The fact that Lohse's agent is Scott Boras, who has engendered some resentment among some owners for his track record of getting every possible nickel and even more for his clients, also does not serve as any sort of all-purpose explanation.
At the end of the day, Lohse will receive a three-year, $33 million contract from the Brewers. This is below his initial asking price, but it is not the kind of deal that represents any sort of defeat for the agent or for his client.
Here's what it represents for the Brewers: Genuine hope in the 2013 NL Central race.
What the Brewers needed was one more solid, veteran presence in their starting rotation. Presto -- Lohse: fine fellow, good teammate, coming off the two best seasons of his career.
The Brewers slumped from their division-winning, franchise-best 96-66 record in '11 to third place and 83-79 in '12. A bullpen implosion was at the core of last season's problems. The Brewers have added three proven veteran relievers, two of them left-handers (Michael Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny), to take care of that issue.
But in the starting rotation at the beginning of last season, the No. 2 starter behind Yovani Gallardo was Greinke. He was traded to the Angels and that departure could be used as evidence for either side of an argument about what is going to happen next.
The Brewers did put together a 24-6 run after Greinke's departure. Part of that compelling stretch was due to some exceptional performances by young starting pitchers, in particular Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers. Mike Fiers had been impressive for considerable time earlier in the season, but his performance tailed off in September.
The problem here lies not with the quality or the potential of the pitchers involved. The problem is projecting that pitchers who had five Major League starts, as Peralta had last season, or seven Major League starts, as Rogers did last season, are going to be able to carry that performance over a full season.
It could happen. The talent is there. But until it does happen, it's a theory.
This became an even dicier situation in Spring Training, when Rogers, who was throwing mid-90s-mph heat last season, has been topping out in the high 80s. He is confident that his velocity will return, but the Brewers would feel better about that confidence if it were accompanied by a velocity that once again reached the mid-90s.
It could be argued that Rogers' situation made the acquisition of Lohse something more like an imperative rather than an elective. But this signing is larger than that.
Lohse was a source of real stability for the Cardinals last year. And when the Cardinals faced a win-or-go-home, one-game Wild Card playoff, to which pitcher did they turn? Lohse. He won. They won. Eventually, the Cards advanced to within one victory of the World Series.
The downside is that Lohse is 34. Brewer fans will recall, without outside assistance, the declines that occurred in the final years of contracts with other 30-plus pitchers Milwaukee signed to multiyear deals. Randy Wolf comes to mind, but Jeff Suppan comes to mind first.
But let's regard the Lohse signing on its own merits. This is a club that led the NL in runs scored last year. That offense shouldn't be all that different this year. The bullpen issues have been addressed. The rotation remained the club's largest question mark.
What was required was one more stable, veteran presence in the rotation. Lohse is at least that. He's been healthy and in command of his craft. Now, the rotation picture looks considerably brighter. Marco Estrada was solid last season. Lefty Chris Narveson, coming off shoulder surgery, has demonstrated the necessary progress over the course of Spring Training.
Perhaps the Brewers, rather than being short in the rotation, will now have six starters of Major League quality. The addition of Lohse has changed the perspective and the expectations for this rotation, both for the better.
And if it's still snowing on Opening Day when the Rockies come to town, so what? The Miller Park retractable roof will be closed and baseball season will be under way.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.