Last season Kyle Lohse was considered one of the better pitchers on the free agent market. He was coming off of a very solid age-33 season that saw him go 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. However, the St. Louis Cardinals extended a qualifying offer to Lohse which would cost any team that signed him a draft pick. It wasn’t until March 25th that Lohse was finally given a deal by the Milwaukee Brewers. With qualifying offers now out who will this season’s Kyle Lohse be?
Prior to last season, the Kansas City Royals traded a prospect to the Los Angeles Angels for Ervin Santana. Santana was coming off of a terrible year with the Angels that saw him compile a 5.16 ERA and give up an MLB-worst 39 home runs. There were times in 2012 that Santana looked done at age 29. However, the Royals took a chance on him and Santana rewarded the Royals with a 3.24 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 6.9 K/9 rate and 211 solid innings as well as drop in home run rate from 2 HR/9 to 1.1 HR/9 which is right in line with his career rate of 1.2 HR/9.
The Royals extended a qualifying offer to Santana which means any team that signs him will have to surrender a draft pick. If the team that signs him has a top 11 pick they would surrender their second rounder instead of their first. For many teams, that is a high price to pay for a pitcher who has battled inconsistency most of his career.
This is a week free agent market and if Santana wasn’t carrying the stigma of a qualifying offer he would probably receive a plethora of offers. Even though he has been inconsistent he has still been a solid pitcher capable of gobbling up innings and would be ideal in the middle of anyone’s rotation. However, in the world of escalating contracts and teams locking up young talent the free agent market is looking less and less like a place to find talent you can build around and more like a place where odds and ends are bought to surround home-grown talent, similar to the approach the Boston Red Sox took this past off-season.
If Santana were smart, he would accept the Royals’ qualifying offer and pitch one more season in Kansas City for $14 million. It is unlikely he would receive a larger contract on the market even if he is rated as a top free agent this winter.
Santana needs to look at what Lohse went through last season and realize it is better to accept the short-term deal instead of hoping a greener pasture will come along over the hill. Perhaps Santana can talk long-term deal with the Royals and obtain the best of both worlds but if the Royals balk it wouldn’t hurt to accept the $14 million this year and show the rest of baseball that 2012 was the fluke and 2013 was the norm.
Whichever route Santana takes he must choose wisely, like Indiana Jones picking the chalice. He can’t be blinded by the bling because in the end it could cost him millions upon millions. With Kansas City showing marked improvement and posting a winning record for the first time since 2003 it might not be a bad idea. He could be one of the reasons the Royals make the playoffs in 2014 and if he can help do that then teams might definitely be more interested, draft pick or not, in signing him next season, assuming the Royals don’t lock him up long-term. Accept the offer, Ervin. Don’t be the 2014 version of Kyle Lohse.