Monday, January 14, 2013
Should the Rangers sign Kyle Lohse?
By David Schoenfield
The Texas Rangers failed in their attempt to bring back Josh Hamilton or to sign Zack Greinke. OK, maybe failed is the wrong word. Maybe the Rangers just drew a line on what they were willing to pay and wouldn't cross it.
But Kyle Lohse is still out there and the Rangers theoretically have a rotation slot open behind Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando. I say theoretically, because the Rangers still have Colby Lewis, who is expected to return in the second half after elbow surgery. They also have Robbie Ross, who pitched out of the bullpen as a rookie in 2012. They have highly touted prospect Martin Perez, or at least the one-time highly touted Martin Perez.
So they have options. Their estimated payroll right now is $121 million, a little less than last year's $124 million. The Rangers' mega-TV deal with Fox Sports Southwest doesn't kick until 2015, a deal that will increase the Rangers' local TV revenue from about $20 million per year to $80 million. So -- theoretically -- the Rangers' payroll can increase in the future. Just maybe not this season.
That doesn't mean it can't. Accountants have a way of making the money work. Is Lohse worth whatever price tag it will take? Aside from the money, the first question: How much better would he be than Perez or Ross? (We'll leave Lewis out of the equation for now.) Certainly, Lohse has developed into a solid starter the past two seasons after years of mediocrity, thanks to impeccable command -- just 38 walks in 33 starts in 2012. He went 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA and career-high 211 innings, all numbers that scream career season, but you never know, maybe at 34 he's hitting a little peak of effectiveness here. His strikeout percentage was also a career-best 16.6 percent, his walk percentage a career low and he's now posted back-to-back seasons with a .269 BABIP and .262 BABIP.
Still, we wouldn't project him to do that again, and certainly not in Texas, which is a much higher run-scoring environment than St. Louis. Plus you would be adding in the DH. On the other hand, he'd still get to face the Astros.
Last year, Lohse allowed 74 runs in 211 innings, or 3.2 per nine innings. I think we can conservatively add 15 runs to that total, or 3.8 per nine. Personally, I think that's a pretty low estimate. In 2011, he allowed 80 runs in 188 innings. Anyway, let's be optimistic about Lohse's future and give him those 211 innings again and project 89 runs allowed.
Perez first became a big prospect after a big 2009 season, most of it spent in Class A. He was young and polished and expected to make a quick rise from there to the majors. But he got hammered in Double-A in 2010, was a little better in 2011 and then posted a 4.25 ERA in Triple-A in 2012, but with a poor 69/52 SO/BB ratio in 127 innings. He also pitched 38 innings for the Rangers, making six starts and six relief appearances, and was ineffective with a 5.45 ERA. I'm not optimistic about his chances of becoming a good starter, but he doesn't turn 22 until April.
Ross had a fine season as a rookie in the Texas bullpen, going 6-0 with a 2.22 ERA. His peripherals aren't quite that good -- more like a pitcher with an ERA in the mid-3s -- but he showcased a good low-90s fastball/slider combo. He had very little time in the minors above Class A and would need to add a third pitch as a starter, so as with Perez, he's a question mark as a starter.
Let's say these two were given a shot to start and weren't that impressive -- allowing, say, 5.5 runs per nine innings. That's pretty bad, as bad as Perez in his short stint last year. Of course, they wouldn't throw 200 innings; more like 160. That's 98 runs allowed. We had Lohse at 89 runs in 211 innings. That means the bullpen has to throw an extra 50 innings; at four runs per nine (the Texas bullpen had a 3.99 ERA last year), that's about 22 additional runs. So the difference between Perez/Ross and Lohse would be about 31 runs -- which is worth about three wins -- plus the extra workload the bullpen would have to carry. Maybe that's an extra win that shows up in other ways.
I don't have to point out the meaning of four wins in the AL West; the Rangers know all too well the potential value of one win.
Now ... the numbers above are more like a best-case/worst-case scenario. Odds are the Rangers' fifth starters could do better, and Lohse could do worse. Maybe the spread is more like one win or two wins. In signing Lohse, the Rangers would also lose their first-round draft pick and the bonus money allotted to that pick in their draft budget. Not to mention the $15 million per year or whatever it will cost to sign him.
It wouldn't be an easy decision for general manager Jon Daniels. On the other hand, the Rangers are in win-now mode. Nelson Cruz is already declining, Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre aren't going to get better, and you should ride Darvish and Harrison while they're healthy. The window is now.
What do you do?