Despite not being among the teams interested in the biggest names on the free agent market this offseason, the Minnesota Twins have been proactive in addressing their need for starting pitching. Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Correia and Rich Harden have been brought aboard to this point, and all four have a chance to be in the Opening Day starting rotation. But adding more competition to the mix as spring training nears should still be a priority, which may lead general manager Terry Ryan to a pitcher the franchise is familiar with.
Kyle Lohse made his major league debut with the Twins in 2001, and he had a 51-57 record with a 4.88 ERA in 172 appearances (152 starts) for them before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds at the trade deadline in 2006. He spent the rest of that season and the first part of the next season with the Reds, but was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies to finish the 2007 campaign.
Lohse signed with the St. Louis Cardinals prior to the 2008 season, and it was there he found a home. He went 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA in 33 starts (200 innings) for the Cardinals in his first season with the team, and after injury-shortened seasons in 2009 and 2010 had the two best seasons of his career in 2011 (14-8, 3.39 ERA, 30 starts-188.1 innings) and 2012 (16-3, 2.86 ERA, 33 starts-211 innings).
Lohse had been regarded as one of the top free agent starters available this winter, but has not gotten any offers to this point. He has reportedly been seeking a four-year deal, which many teams may deem to be too big a risk for a 34-year old pitcher with close to 2,000 major league innings on his arm. Teams are certainly hesitant to deal with his agent, the notoriously tough Scott Boras, so that may be the biggest factor in Lohse’s having yet to receive a contract offer. Signing Lohse would mean losing a compensatory draft pick to the Cardinals, and the fact he turned down a one-year, $13.3 million qualifying offer from St. Louis isn’t doing him any favors either.
Plenty of teams have reportedly had interest in Lohse, including the Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. His price would surely have to come down for Minnesota to enter the fray, and even at this late stage that seems unlikely with Boras representing him. A conflict with manager Ron Gardenhire during Lohse’s previous stint with the Twins may also not be forgotten, so that stands to be a big factor in any decision to make a serious offer.
I think it’s no coincidence Lohse has had a career resurgence pitching in the National League, and that may be the biggest source of skepticism for any American League team that has interest in him. A closer examination of his peripheral numbers shows exactly what he is, a decidedly mediocre pitcher with a low strikeout rate (5.6 career K/9) and neutral batted ball peripherals (41.7 career ground ball percentage; 37.2 career fly ball percentage). Unless he can be signed to a one or two-year deal at a reasonable price, the Twins need to stay far away here and let another team overpay for Lohse’s services.