Brewers ink veteran Lohse to multiyear deal
Right-hander was 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA for the rival Cardinals last season
PHOENIX -- After a long, cold winter, Kyle Lohse finally has a team.
Lohse signed a three-year, $33 million contract with the Brewers on Monday, a week before Opening Day and nearly five months after he hit the free-agent market. His last outing was a 90-pitch simulated game against Scottsdale Community College. His next outing should come Thursday, in the Brewers' Arizona finale against the Colorado Rockies.
"I actually had a bullpen set up for today," Lohse said. "That was a good text, texting the head coach over there to say I'm not going to make it over at 2. I've got other plans."
The 34-year-old right-hander instead took a physical exam, then signed a contract that pays $4 million in 2013, with $7 deferred to 2016-18, plus $11 million in each of 2014 and 2015. Lohse can also earn $1.05 million in incentives; $350,000 for each of the three seasons he tops 190 innings pitched.
News of the deal spread through the Brewers' clubhouse just before its daily 9:30 a.m. MST meeting, and it was met with near glee. Lohse went 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA for the Cardinals last season, numbers that added up to a seventh-place standing in the National League's Cy Young Award balloting. He pitched to a 55-35 record and a 3.90 ERA in 137 games for St. Louis over the past five seasons.
He joins a rotation that was already lined up as Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada, Wily Peralta, Chris Narveson and Mike Fiers. The Brewers may stick with that group at the very start of the season while carrying Lohse as part of a 13-man staff, but Lohse indicated he would be game-ready in very short order, saying he had peeked at the schedule and noticed his second Brewers start could come during the team's April 12-14 series in St. Louis -- his former home.
"I think everybody was trying to find a high note leaving spring," Brewers first baseman Corey Hart said. "You're looking for a spark. This is definitely a spark. I think everybody in here was hoping they would get an established pitcher like that."
Why was an established pitcher like that available in late March? Because Lohse came attached with a price tag beyond his salary -- the Brewers forfeited their first-round Draft pick, No. 17 overall, which in 2012 was worth $2 million.
Many suitors including Milwaukee, a small-market club that has to build from within, were wary of that extra cost. The Brewers debated the issue for months.
"My job is to be responsible to the organization in the present and in the future," general manager Doug Melvin said. "The present is signing Kyle Lohse and putting him in the rotation and having him be a part of a club that we feel can win the division and get back to Postseason."
"The other part of my job responsibility is to try to get as many young players as we can, and losing a first-round pick is tough," Melvin added. "But that's a decision we have to make. I have a lot of confidence in our scouting staff."
The Cardinals will receive a compensatory Draft pick for Lohse at the end of the first round, No. 28 overall. They will have two selections before the Brewers make their first at No. 54 overall.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke did not mention Lohse in his daily morning meeting with players. He wanted to wait for the contract to be official.
"If this goes through, there's going to be a lot of goings on here the next couple of days, figuring things out," Roenicke said. "But it will be in a good way."
One of the Brewers' existing starters will shift to the bullpen or the Minor Leagues. Fiers and Peralta each have options. Roenicke declined the notion that those pitchers' subpar springs -- Peralta has a 5.74 ERA in four starts, while Fiers has a 6.98 ERA in five starts and one relief appearance -- prompted the Lohse deal.
Melvin echoed that sentiment.
"We still like our young pitching," he said. "This didn't have anything to do with panicking or anything like that."
Lohse was a 29th-round Draft pick of the Cubs in 1996 and has gone 6-8 with a 4.44 ERA in 22 career appearances against the Brewers. He also spent some time in the NL Central with Cincinnati (in 2006 and '07) before signing with the Cardinals in 2008. For his career, Lohse has racked up a 118-109 record with a 4.45 ERA in 355 games.
He says he targeted the Brewers early in the process. Milwaukee lost three pitchers from its 2012 Opening Day rotation -- Zack Greinke to a trade, Randy Wolf to release and Shaun Marcum to free agency.
"This was a team that I definitely saw myself fitting in with," Lohse said. "It's good to be in a comfortable place with a team that expects to win and in a division I know really well and have done very well in, in recent years."
The Brewers did not list a scheduled starter for Thursday, when the team plays its final game in Arizona before heading north for two exhibitions against the White Sox at Miller Park. That is Estrada's day to pitch, but the Brewers could move him to a Minor League game if they want a look at Lohse.
Lohse was sure to thank the collegians who helped him stay sharp over the winter. He lives in Scottsdale and worked out at both Grand Canyon University and Scottsdale Community College.
"I'm really upset I missed out on PFPs," he joked, referring to pitchers' fielding practice, a rite of the spring. "Physically, I feel right where I need to be strength-wise, pitching-wise. I think I'll be able to do it."
It's a relief to have a team.
"Anybody would be lying if they told you it's not, at this point," he said. "Everybody's concerned, your friends, you get a lot of texts. It's kind of nice to not have to answer those questions any more. I always knew something was going to work out. I didn't know it was going to be this late, but if you had to go through what I went through to get here, it was worth it."