The leading free agent pitcher still on the market would seem to be Kyle Lohse, a veteran right-hander coming off the best season of his career.
There are those who are saying that the fact that Lohse is still unsigned this late in the offseason, indicates that the market for him is soft. That may be a truly superficial reading of the situation.
There are a couple of factors that weigh against Lohse, even with the season that he put up for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012. Lohse was 16-3 with a 2.86 earned run average and a WHIP of 1.09. He walked just 38 in 211 innings.
He is 34, so the length of his contract could be an issue for many clubs. And he is not blessed with overpowering, strikeout stuff. His repertoire, centered on a slider and a two-seam fastball, seems more workmanlike than anything. On his side of the argument, it was working extraordinarily well in 2012.
Lohse, over the last two seasons in St. Louis, has appeared to be a man who has mastered his craft as well as possible. Yes, he requires a solid defense behind him to field all those groundball he generates. This is not the kind of thing that will send him to Cooperstown, but there is an admirable quality to his work.
The result, of course, should be the biggest payday of his career. But then he runs into a new set of rules regarding a team signing a free agent and losing a draft choice. If a team makes a "qualifying offer" to a free agent, it is eligible to receive a draft choice in return if that free agent signs with another club. The qualifying offer after 2012 was $13.3 million and the Cardinals made that offer to Lohse, reasonably secure in the knowledge that he would turn it down, in favor of seeking a long-term contract elsewhere.
Thus, if Lohse signs elsewhere, the Cardinals will receive a pick sandwiched between the first two rounds of the draft. For the team signing Lohse, however, the new system offers a further disincentive. The team that signs him will also have the projected draft bonus amount of the pick it loses reduced from its cap figure for the next draft. Thus, it will have less flexibility in attempting to sign its remaining draft choices.
Lohse touched upon this issue in an interview with St. Louis radio station KFNS-AM.
"Obviously, it's been a little slow, a little slower than anticipated," Lohse said of the market for his services. "I think the whole first-round draft pick thing is slowing things down. It's going to eventually work itself out -- it's not like I'm not going to be out of baseball. Something will happen here down the road."
Other primary pitchers in the free agent market, such as Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez, were not covered by this rule change because they were traded in midseason.
That situation works against Lohse. But what works for him is his very commendable recent record, and the fact that his agent is Scott Boras. The track record of Boras in getting every available dollar for his clients is beyond dispute. Lohse will not be left lonely and without potential employers forever.
In fact it could be argued that Lohse may be better off in the January market. Greinke set a very nice fiscal standard for high-end pitching acquisitions, and left a number of would-be employers disappointed by the outcome. Spring Training draws near, but the demand for pitching still greatly exceeds the supply.
Some genuine contenders, all with a fully-demonstrated ability to pay, are still seeking starting pitching. With the general prosperity in baseball, there is also no chance that the money has all been spent.
So there is nothing wrong with a pitcher still being on the open market in early January. Early April would be a completely different matter, but early January is hardly panic time for free agents.
There are circumstances dragging on the market for a free agent pitcher in Lohse's situation, particularly the new compensation/draft regulations. But the notion that Kyle Lohse's continuing presence on the open market means that his services will be purchased relatively cheaply is misguided to the point of being purely mistaken.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com.