News broke Monday night that, after months of deliberation, outfielder Michael Bourn had signed a four-year deal with the Cleveland Indians. The market had seemed to be thinning for Bourn, 30, in the recent months, and this move came almost out of nowhere. That leaves Kyle Lohse as the only player left on the free agent market who received a qualifying offer.
This is our first offseason working with the new free agency rules set forth by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and there already seems to be a clear bias. The “good-not-great” players seem to be hurting.
Players like Bourn and Lohse, who had very good years in 2012, both received qualifying offers following the season, which sets up their former teams to receive draft pick compensation when they sign elsewhere and takes a pick away from the team that signs them. For example, the Braves received the 31st overall pick in the 2013 amateur draft when Bourn signed, while the Indians lost their second-rounder (the top 10 overall picks in the draft are protected, and Cleveland had the fifth).
Bourn finally found a home as teams are starting to report to spring training, but what about Lohse?
Lohse, 34, is your classic sinker-slider pitcher who is a very serviceable mid-rotation starter. He had a career year in 2012, posting a 3.51 FIP (2.86 ERA) across 211 innings (all career bests). He’s had trouble staying healthy in the past, however, and he’s starting the climb up his 30s, which would make any team cautious.
If it weren’t for the new draft compensation rules, you could make the argument that Lohse would have signed a deal by now, but since he is not considered a top-flight pitcher, teams are hesitant to give up a first-round draft pick for his services. A team like the Red Sox may be a good fit because they need starting pitching depth and are looking to contend this year, making the draft pick a little more expendable.
Lohse might have to settle for a one-year pillow contract (a la Edwin Jackson) and test the waters again next offseason, where he’ll be up against a very weak free agent class. However, it’s hard to predict what will happen because there are no comparables. Everyone is still very new to the way this new system works, and it’s going to take a while to work out the kinks, as we’ve seen through the New York Mets’ pursuit of Bourn.