by Joe Giglio
Every off-season, it feels as if one or two major free agents slip through the cracks. Whether it be ridiculous asking prices or a slowly developing market -- Prince Fielder and Johnny Damon come to mind recently -- there is often All-Star caliber talent on the market in late January. Despite the flow of revenues and generous contracts given out this winter around all of Major League Baseball, two high-end free agents fit the bill this year: Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse.
With just over a month to go before pitchers and catchers report to Florida and Arizona, respectively, let’s take a look at the best fits for both of these free agents.
It’s hard to imagine now, but Bourn was widely considered one of the top three or four free agents on the market when the World Series ended. As a Scott Boras client, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect a payday close to $100 from the right organization in the right situation. Due to a combination of the centerfield market fluctuations through trades -- Denard Span, Ben Revere, and Shin-Soo Choo all landed with teams that Bourn was connected with -- the list of suitors dried up quickly. Factor in a player entering his age-30 season -- relying on speed and defense for value -- and you have a potential impact player without a home.
Age, concerns over his game, and the trade market are all areas out of the control of Michael Bourn. Here’s another factor to consider: The Justin Upton market. While Upton and Bourn are vastly different players, the uncertainty around where Upton will land has halted the market recently. He’s the last big domino to potentially fall. When he does, someone will be in need of an outfielder. Despite their contrasting styles, Bourn can find a home with a team that fails to land Upton.
Potential destinations: Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Atlanta Braves
It’s clear that Seattle is out of the Upton sweepstakes after failing to convince him to lift his no-trade clause earlier this month. It’s also clear that the Mariners are desperate to add offense in order to supplement an above-average pitching staff and possibly vault into contention as early as 2013. Despite additions of Mike Morse, Kendrys Morales, and Raul Ibañez, there’s still a gaping hole in centerfield and at the top of the order. Seattle has added, but they haven’t truly spent money yet. Remember, this was a team that offered Josh Hamilton a long-term deal.
Atlanta and Texas fall into the same category: Front-runners for Upton’s services, in need of outfield help, and creative enough to look to fit Bourn into the mix when the time is right. For Texas, it would be easy to see the philosophy: Back their young, talented rotation with an excellent defensive center fielder. They could help to make up for the loss of Hamilton by becoming a better run prevention team.
As for Atlanta, bringing back Bourn after replacing him with B.J. Upton earlier this winter would be odd, but not unwise. The defensive outfield of Upton-Bourn-Heyward would easily be the best in the sport. In fact, Braves GM Frank Wren revealed that the team hadn’t totally closed the door on a Bourn return during a recent radio interview. Atlanta has already made their determination on his contract value, but he fits if the price becomes right once again.
Among qualified starters in 2012, only seven posted a better ERA than Lohse’s 2.86. What he lacks in velocity and strikeouts, he makes up in savvy and impeccable command. Even if you choose to believe that Lohse’s peripheral stats -- 3.51 FIP, 3.96 xFIP -- are a more accurate indicator of the pitcher he is, there still should be a market for his services. The 34-year-old isn’t young, but a comparable 30-something righty in recent free agency, Hiroki Kuroda, made nearly $40 million from his age 34-36 seasons. It’s likely that someone will take a chance on Lohse duplicating his success away from St. Louis soon, perhaps when the first big arm goes down in Spring Training.
Potential destinations: Baltimore Orioles, San Diego Padres, Milwaukee Brewers
Despite the wonderful success of the 2012 Orioles, manager Buck Showalter was only able to pencil in one starting pitcher for more than 20 starts last season. Furthermore, not one individual arm gave him 200 innings. If Baltimore is to compete again in the AL East -- improvement from their young, talented everyday lineup and high-end minor league prospects makes it feasible -- they’ll need more consistency from the rotation. Some of that may come from health. Some may come from the development of inconsistent young arms. Or some if of it can come from a veteran like Lohse. At 399.1 IP over the last two seasons, Baltimore can count on Lohse saving their bullpen from overwork.
Over the last four months of the 2012 season, San Diego posted a 59-51 record. In other words, they played like an 86 or 87 win team for the majority of the season. Unfortunately, they were out of the postseason race before the run of consistency began. Why? Injuries to young starting pitchers. With Andrew Cashner slated to start the season on the DL and Cory Luebke far from ready coming off Tommy John surgery, San Diego could use the money they offered Edwin Jackson to solidify the rotation while it heals.
Simply put, the Milwaukee Brewers are wasting the prime of Ryan Braun and an overall quality lineup with a pitching staff that isn’t good enough to contend in the National League. Outside of the consistent excellence of Yovani Gallardo, there is nothing close to a sure thing on the Brewers staff. Signing Lohse would give the staff a pair of 200-inning arms to anchor the season.
Joe Giglio is a sports talk host at WFAN in New York, former intramural coordinator at DeSales University, husband, and baseball fanatic willing to argue Jeff Bagwell's Hall of Fame candidacy at a moment's notice. Follow him on Twitter @JoeGiglioSports and check out his blog at joegiglio.blogspot.com.