Monday, October 06, 2008

UCB Roundtable

It's my pleasure to kick off the 2008 end of season roundtable. That’s right I’ve got two roundtables and no, no microphone. Each participating blog writer will bring up a topic for discussion and day after day you the reader will be able to follow the "bouncing ball" as it were--going from blog to blog to view the transcripts of our discussion.

October 7: The Cardinal Virtue
October 8: Rockin’ the Red
October 9: The Redbird Blog
October 10: Mike on the Cards
October 13: CardinalNationGlobe
October 14: The Rundown
October 15: Redbird Report
October 16: Redbird Ramblings
October 17: BertFlex
October 20: Fungoes
October 21: Pitchers Hit Eighth
October 22: CardinalsGM
October 23: That’s a Winner
October 24: Redbirds Fun
October 27: Stan Musial’s Stance
October 28: C70 At the Bat

So, to kick things off I asked:

I'll start us off with what I feel is an "easy" topic. A big question for this off-season was answered with the resigning of Lohse. Was this the right move? Do you think he'll have the same performance he did this year? Better? Worse? If this wasn't the right move, who should we have picked up? Okay. Okay. There were 5 question marks in there, but it's all one idea.


Deaner, from the Cardinal Nation Globe, was the first to respond. "I definitely think signing Lohse to a new deal was the right move. I will admit that when the Cards picked him up at the last minute, before the 2008 season, I thought it was a mistake, partially because Lohse was so inconsistent in the past. Needless to say, Dave Duncan has worked his magic again. I don't ever expect Lohse to be a 20-game winner, but I think we can expect the same kind of season out of him next year and for the next few years as we saw in 2008 - the 15-16 win range."


Daniel Shoptaw of C70 at the Bat quipped, "We are definitely going to wind up stretching at the end if everyone had five question marks! :)

”Resigning Lohse, in the purely theoretical, seems like the right move. It seems obvious that the front office isn't sure if Carpenter will be back and has decided not to gamble on his return, treating it much more like gravy if he does return. As it should be.

”I think I have more problems with the length of the deal than the money, since the odds of Lohse really being productive in 2012 are fairly slim. I think 2009 will be pretty good, especially with Duncan still there. After that, who knows?"


The Godfather of the Daniel's of Cardinal blogging,
Don Daniel, the Redbird Blog, sees Lohse as Carpenter's insurance and thus Mo hade Lohse an offer he couldn't refuse, One school of thought regarding the Lohse signing is that this move is simply a sign that the Cardinals are, once again, hoping that an injured pitcher (Carpenter) will return and contribute meaningfully in 2009. After all, the Cardinals have just committed an average of just over $10M per season (for four years) to a free agent pitcher before the official start of the free agency period, and the Cardinals traditionally have not been big spenders in free agency.

"Some in the know believe the Cards are likely to spend somewhere between $15M and $20M on pitching this off-season. The beauty of the Lohse contract, however, is that the money is "backloaded," and the Cardinals will only be giving Lohse a raise of about $2.9 million in 2009 (he'll go from $4.25M to $7.125M). Clearly the Redbirds need to address some bullpen issues, but given the relatively minor increase in Lohse's salary for '09, I still think the team will be in a position to make a run at some of the more interesting free agent starters: Lowe, Dempster, Smoltz, Burnett.

"The other way of looking at this move is that the Cardinals were proactive. If players like Sabathia succeed in driving the free agent pitching market through the roof this winter, the Cardinals locked up an attractive free agent pitcher before prices got unreasonable. And let's not forget that Lohse managed 15 wins for the Cardinals and posted an ERA of 3.78. Lowe (14-11 and 3.24 ERA) and Burnett (18-10 and 4.07 ERA) are considered bigger "names," and are likely to make more $ than Lohse. It could be argued the Cardinals will get a bigger return on investment.

"And, who knows? Maybe the Cardinals intend to open the wallet this off-season. Maybe this is just the first of several moves to come. Either way, I support this signing. I think Mozeliak did a shrewd thing in anticipating that the "big names" would only serve to increase Lohse's value a month from now, and he acted decisively in the best interest of the Cardinals."


Tom Knuppel went Right with an interesting Palin-esque comparison/contrast to the Brewers' CC:

"I like the move that Mo has made to sign Kyle Lohse, however, let us make sure this isn't the biggest signing/trade that is completed in this off-season. We are talking about an average salary of over $10M. This signing gives us some flexibility to spend some dollars for another pitcher for the next 2 years.

"I consider Lohse as a #3 type pitcher. He is not the dominant type to be a 1 or 2. To get a guy that is a #3 is not a bad deal for an average of $10M. Some 4's and 5's are getting more than that in today's market.

"Let's compare Lohse and CC Sabathia. I believe it is likely that Lohse could win 13-15 games and Sabathia will get 17-19 games. Remember that CC has never won 20 games in a season. It is likely Sabathia will get between $20-$25M per year in the open market for his next contract. Compare the two and I would rather the Cards have Lohse's contract for the bucks than CC Sabathia's contract.

"One more point to consider. Over the career of Kyle Lohse and Ryan Dempster you will find their numbers are fairly identical. Monitor the Dempster contract discussion in the off-season and as Sarah Palin would say, "I betcha!" Dempster's contract will be quite a bit more."

Eric Ferguson parked it like a potato, but not like the busted Browns’ draft pick, saying, “I'll couch my response in the acknowledgment that those who can't GM, blog. Johnny Mo and the FO have greater knowledge, resources, and experience than a lowly peasant like myself, so my opinions are entirely inconsequential.

“With that said, this seems like a duct-tape deal for too many years (and it irrationally bugs me that it's so close to the deal Jeff Suppan got with the Brewers a couple years ago). Like any move made in October, it'll look different once the free-agent market plays itself out, but I don't understand the rush to sign a guy whose career year amounted to a 113 Adjusted ERA. His ERA (3.78) lined up pretty well with his peripherals this season (FIP ERA: 3.89), but if he gives back any of the improvement in his HR/9 or LOB%, it's easy to imagine an ERA well over 4.00 next season. Like Dan said, how valuable he'll be in 2012 is another matter entirely.

“I'd also have to wait and see what kind of club we enter spring training with next season -- if it's one that looks like a contender, I could stomach Year One of the deal. But if we look like an 80-win team, what's the point of having a mediocre pitcher locked up for his downhill slide?

“To answer the "Who else should we have gotten?" portion of the question: Aside from the obvious dream of seeing the Cards sign C.C., I'd be happy to see them sign Oliver Perez. He's 27, strikes out more than his fair share, and has room for improvement. We don't always have to sign scrap heapers, do we?

“In closing, I just want to say that if any of the views I have expressed coincide with those of John Hadley, I reserve the right to change them.”

Mike, (please don’t be mad at me for making you pink) of the aptly named Mike on the Cards liked the quick signing, “I like the Lohse signing, and I think it was smart to get it done so quickly. With the uncertainty of Carpenter, signing an effective innings eater was a priority, and the Cards already know what they're getting with Lohse. Had they waited, his price tag may have gone up with the bidding wars for Sabathia and others. “Although I don't really like the length of the contract, I'm sure it was necessary to get the deal done. Good move.

“As far as what to expect from Lohse in '09, I think we'll see much of the same. He's always been reliable, and it seems he's found a place where he can succeed. Another year of Dave Duncan couldn't hurt either. I think the club will be better next season, which should give Lohse another win or two.

“It would be nice to get another arm for the rotation too, so I hope Mo isn't done there. Surely they can't try to count on injured pitchers again.” One can only hope, Mike.

Daniel Solzman, went bananas and put up some interesting splits. Too bad we can’t always use Lohse during these situations. “I just want to say that I am so glad we decided to resign Kyle Lohse for the next few seasons. Sure, after his performance in Cincinnati, I had my doubts but then he went to Philly.

“In 33 starts this season, Lohse pitched 200 innings and finished with a 15-6 record. Unlike the last few years, he kept his ERA under 4. Furthermore, we just need to keep pitching him at home, where he went 8-2 this year with a 3.32 ERA. Throw him at night, too: 11-1 and 2.97.

“In addition to resigning Lohse, we were able to keep Dave Duncan for another season with a club option for 2010.”

Aaron Schafer of the Riverfront Times had a different view. “Well, I guess I'm going to have to be the contrarian here and say just how much I dislike the Lohse deal. I wasn't a huge fan at first, and the longer I've had to let it ripen, the worse I think it could turn out to be.

“The Cards got Lohse on a hugely below market deal, and he had a career year. At that point, they should have simply thanked him, offered him arbitration, and taken the draft picks. A guy is no longer a bargain when you're overpaying for his age 33-34 seasons and can't trade him because you gave him a no trade clause.

“In the Mozeliak era, the watchword to this point has been flexibility, and I think it's been a great direction. A four year deal, with full no trade protection, to a career #4 starter is no way to maintain flexibility.

“And as for the whole Dave Duncan effect, didn't we have our fill of that last year, with Joel Pineiro? El Pinata came to St. Louis, had a couple of good months, and everyone bought into the notion that Duncan had somehow fixed him. A year later, we're all trying to figure out how to possibly move Joel in a package just to free up roster, and payroll, space.

“Unfortunately, I fully expect Lohse to regress back toward his mean career numbers on BB and HR rate. Maybe not all the way; I'm sure that he has made some improvements to his approach and maturity while here. But even just moderate regression is ging to put him back in the 4.20-4.40 range on his ERA, which is still useful, yes, but also entirely attainable by much more affordable means.

“In short, I'm not a fan of the deal from an opportuntity cost standpoint, a value/dollars standpoint, or from a timing standpoint. I'll quote-or at least paraphrase- what Larry Borowsky said about the Joel Pineiro deal last year: this makes it less likely that the Cardinals win 70 games, but it also makes it less likely that they win 90+.”

Daniel Shoptaw responded to Schafer’s objection: “I think that's a strong point against the move. I remember when Tony Womack had his strong season in '04 how glad I was that they let him walk instead of hoping he'd keep that form for another couple of years. (And it was a close call--Jocketty had an offer out to him if I remember correctly.)

“With Lohse, though, in my mind filling that rotation next year is going to be very iffy and, for negotiating purposes, the Cardinals needed to come to terms with either him or Looper before the off-season got going and pitching got very expensive. (I guess that could be someone else's question, which of those would you take.) We've all noted that his top comp right now is Suppan, who have the Cards a good age 30 and age 31 season before moving on to the Brewers. Even his age 32 season was close to league average, leaving the last year of the contract as a stinker. If Lohse is able to continue the Suppan comparisons, it's a reasonable deal in my mind.

“Though I will say the no-trade clause is a little disconcerting. But probably by time we'd really want to trade him, either he has value enough that the trading team will buy out the NTC or nobody will want him anyway.”

Schafer responded, “All good points, but I tend to look at it this way: the Cardinals think they're going to get this year's level of production out of Lohse, while I think he'll be much closer to league average than that. If he's the guy they think he is, then the deal really isn't bad at all. If he's the guy I think he is, then that level of production should have been able to be filled by other means.

The Cardinals have a ton of extra outfield depth; at least some of that needs to be turned into more usable assets. I'm not even talking about trading for Matt Cain or someone like that. The Cards should have been able to bring in at least one young, cost controlled pitcher able to be about league average through the trade market without too very much trouble.

“You pay the big bucks for your stars' your core players, the guys who are really, really difficult to replace. You've got to be able to get the middle sixty percent of your roster at more reasonable cost.”

Pip from Fungoes gave his usual strong response,

“I agree with Daniel Shoptaw (Cardinal 70) that the move is an insurance claim against Chris Carpenter almost certainly not returning in 2009 (at least for the practical purposes of team planning). It's hard to blame the team for wanting a little certaintly after the last two years. But what a difference a bad contract makes: When the Cardinals extended Carpenter after winning the World Championship, they spurned Jeff Suppan on the mistaken assumption that Carpenter would be healthy. Now that Carpenter has gone bust, they've essentially signed Suppan but for more money.

“It's not so much a matter of whom the Cardinals should have picked up (or should still pick up) but whom they should have kept: Anthony Reyes. I'll be willing to bet that over the span of Lohse's new contract, Reyes will have better fielding-independent pitching numbers than Lohse (take your pick: DERA, FIP, xFIP). But the Reyes thing is all water under the bridge at this point; what about going forward? Tom Knuppel (Cardinals GM) mentioned that Ryan Dempster could possibly earn a bigger payday than Lohse. That's doubtful in my opinion, but the point is made. And it brings up this: Dempster is the latest of a handful of pitchers who "converted" from several years of relieving to starting (see also Braden Looper and Justin Duchscherer and previously Derek Lowe). Granted, identifying those types is not easy, but the nominal risk is offset by the reward. Dempster ($5.5 mil, 3.94 xFIP), Looper ($5.5, 4.59) and Duchscherer ($1.2, 4.31) all had comparable expected FIP to Lohse (4.35) in 2008. Rather than commit to four years of what is almost sure to be declining performance, the Cardinals should've taken the admittedly unpopular approach and waited for their young pitching while patching through with more reclamation projects.

“Lohse's career path has been up and down and up, but given his declining swinging strike rate, and the effect of age on pitchers, I expect that we've already seen the best of Kyle Lohse.”

Bryan (yes, I’m hurting for colors at this stage) from Rockin’ the Red thought that Kyle would seek the financial possibilities of other waters which would lead to extra picks, he was surprised: “Initially, I viewed Kyle Lohse as prime bait for extra draft picks this off-season, as I assumed he would price himself out of the Cardinals' budget and find many suitors elsewhere. Given the uncertain status of Chris Carpenter going into next season, however, and Kyle's willingness to not pull a Jeff Weaver by holding out for maximum dollars, I think this was the right move for the Cardinals to make. Lohse gives you a reliable innings-eater with number three starter attributes - although he'll likely be pushed into the number two starter role by Opening Day - in a rotation desperate for some surety. The tag was a bit pricey for what you're getting, but I think, compared to how the market will play out this off-season, it most likely will be less the going rate for similar pitchers. The Cardinals know how Kyle is going to respond to Dave Duncan, which is always an unknown when bringing new pitchers here; that probably sealed the deal when considering a multi-year contract.

“I think Kyle will continue to have success in the National League as he's shown the past two years. The general "luck" statistics BABIP and LOB% don't indicate that this was necessarily a fluky year by Kyle. The main keys to Kyle's success were his ability to minimize the walks issued and increase his ground outs, including a very low HR/9 ratio (0.81). His season certainly seems replicateable, but he's going to need to continue the trends he displayed throughout the season. I wouldn't say he'll achieve a 3.78 ERA or 3.89 FIP again, but he's certainly capable of registering an ERA/FIP around 4.00.”

Don Daniel added, “I agree with some of the concerns that Aaron and others have raised regarding the probability that Lohse will "regress to the mean." I certainly have my own concerns about the length of the deal and the full no-trade protection, but I do like the signing in the near term. And we've all sign that full no-trade protection doesn't mean a whole lot when the parties involved really want to get a deal done.

“That being said, the backloading of this contract makes this deal look a lot less favorable to the team in years 3 and 4. Unless, of course, Lohse defies expectations and builds on a successful 2008.”

Not quite a day late, but never a buck short, Nick (Pitchers Hit Eighth): Well, looks like I’m a bit late to the party – but hopefully can add some original insight.

"I tend to look at this deal in two parts. In my opinion, years one and two of this contract are a coup for Mozeliak and the Cardinals. Having Lohse controlled at $7.125m for ’09 and $8.875m for ’10 is a far-below market value deal. The no-trade doesn’t affect these two years, in my outlook, because unless he totally falls off of a cliff, the Cards won’t be interested in trading him during these two seasons anyway. Surely Duncan et al saw something in the kid that indicates he can maintain his 2008 form going forward. I personally think the reluctance to shell out big bucks to Suppan previously is a good sign for this contract. They see something they like in Lohse, and he’s younger to boot. (Feel free to call me a glass-half-full optimist.)

"The real kicker in the deal is when you look at years three and four. Again, as has been mentioned, is this deal going to be a stinker during those two years? At some point, reliability and the ability to even get out some hitters will decline, but how can you predict when that will occur? One possible upside is that no one really knows what the starting pitching market will be like in 2011. Is it possible that Lohse’s $11m+ during those years could still be average or below for a #3-type starter (obviously making the big assumption Lohse is still worth that slot)? Certainly could be, as we could see pitchers the likes of Josh Beckett, Rich Harden, John Lackey, Cliff Lee, and Brandon Webb all hitting free agency in 2010 or getting big contracts to re-up between now and then.

"Another thought on price and length of contract – Lohse has been extremely durable during his time in the bigs (knock on wood). He’s thrown at least 178 IP in full seasons that he was in the rotation all season. The Cardinals undoubtedly need a reliable arm like that, because I’m not holding my breath for Carpenter to come back and be a top of the rotation guy, and neither should the Cardinals.

"Ultimately, I think the real keys to this deal are whether Lohse continues to respond to Duncan’s tutelage (could he conceivably even improve this year, and be a bona fide #2?), whether the no-trade comes back to bite them, and whether the Cardinals make another move in free agency before Spring Training.

"To directly answer the question, I think this was a good move. I think it should not be considered the end-game move for the Redbird rotation this season though. While I don’t envision the pipe-dream scenarios coming true, with a Sabathia, Burnett, or Dempster being signed, I do think there are guys out there that could provide help to the Cardinals at a reasonable price. Randy Wolf anyone? If Cardinal fans are hoping for an ace to come on board between now and March, it’s going to have to be via trade and it may cost Rasmus. I’m not willing to give up on that youngster just yet…”

(Apologies to Nick for the
copy and paste error.)


from Stan Musial's Stance popped up after I originally
posted this:

"And I am REALLY late to the party
- but for what it's worth, here's my two bits.

"I don't like the Lohse signing,
because I think we're paying too much, and the contract's too long.  I am in
an AL-only fantasy league (because I don't want to be in the conflicted
situation of rooting for

Brad Lidge
to strike out AP and save the game because it helps my
fantasy team), so I did some quick checking of the #3 starters on all AL
rosters, and their salaries, compared to the deal Lohse just got.  The only
guy - the ONLY guy - making near the money that Lohse will make over the
next 4 years is

Carlos Silva
of Seattle.

"I think we will all agree that
Silva is not that good, and his 4-15 record will back that up, even if we
allow that some of his troubles were due to playing for the second worst
team in MLB this past season (although I don't buy that since Carlos didn't
win a game after 22 May).  The rest of the AL pays it's #3 starters
something less than $1Million a season.  I haven't yet done the same spot
check of the NL.  So I think we made a mistake there.

"I also don't understand why we're
going to pay a guy an average of $10.25M per year for the next four years,
based on his best season, and the first since 2003 where he finished with a
record over .500.  It is far more likely, as has been pointed out by others
here, that he will regress to the mean, and probably regress back to where
he's pitched his whole big
league career

"Finally the back-loaded contract
worries me.  Yes, it does free up more money now to sign other players, but
I think this contract will be an albatross around Mozeliak's neck come 2011
- Lohse will be a mere shadow of the pitcher he was this year, and we'll be
stuck with him.

"Mozeliak did need to do something
given Carpenter's health situation for next year.  We need someone durable,
which rules out the AJ Burnetts of the world.  We need someone inexpensive,
which really rules out most top tier free
agent pitchers
.  Why not trade for Matt Cain?  His not so good record
is a product of playing for horrible Giants teams, not his ability.  Or,
given the depth of pitching talent the Rays have, how about

Edwin Jackson
?  My sources indicate he's only signed through this
season (and for $417K).  He has electric stuff; perhaps Duncan could turn
him into the next Ken Bottemfeld."

Yours Truly added: “We all knew the Cardinals didn't make a move in 08 cause of the freed up money in 09--that and the belief (naive?) Carp et. al. would be healthy. Now that 09 is upon us and money becomes available, one couldn't help wonder if the money now tied up with Lohse couldn't have been put to better use. What some are calling the Cardinals' "big"
off-season signing--shouldn't be. If it is, 09 will look remarkable close to 08. I do like that we snagged him before the bidding wars, as we did get him cheaper than he would have if he went out on the open market. I do like that he is in the organization--it doesn't do a franchise good to have the reputation of simply "using" free agents. However, I thought that this move was something the Brewers would do. A mediocre guy has a decent year, and then they sign him to a massive multi-year contract (e.g., Suppan). What I don't like about this contract is much more--and has already been stated: the no-trade clause, the total amount, the total years. Time will tell--it always does, but up front--the negatives seem to far out weigh the positives.”

To summarize, the general consensus is that Lohse was worth it up front…and he’s cheaper now than later. However, the contract is too long, the no-trade clause makes it look even worse. What is more, no one expects him to improve on his 2008 campaign. All in all, it’s safe—but if it’s the only major starting pitching move made it will be a mistake.

Tune in tomorrow to Rockin’ the Red as the roundtable moves on.


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