March 3, 2013

Kyle Lohse not completely off Rangers’ radar

Some in the organization support adding the free agent, but others are dubious.

Cactus League games have been played for nine days so far this year, which isn’t even a quarter of the Texas Rangers’ schedule in the longest spring in club history.

No one knows better than club personnel, and the media, that there is a long way to go before the March 31 regular-season opener at Houston.

So, the panic button hasn’t been pushed yet because of the pitchers and hitters still trying to round themselves into form.

It’s a long spring training. Anything can happen.

“I have no concerns right now,” manager Ron Washington said. “As we go through the second and third time, it’s time to start showing something. But right now, no, because the mind and body have to get in sync.”

But that doesn’t mean that some haven’t been tempted to push that button, or at least take a look at alternate plans just in case.

The No. 1 alternative still on the free-agent market is right-hander Kyle Lohse, and there are some within the Rangers’ organization who want him on the roster.

The two sides, the Rangers and agent Scott Boras, have remained in contact. A case can be made by the pro-Lohse and anti-Lohse crowds, with the nays controlling the vote for now.

But it’s a long spring training. Anything can happen.

“You can always get better. I recognize that,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “But we’re also committed to giving opportunities to guys we believe in who may be better than the alternative.”

The biggest divide between the two camps is the first-round draft pick the Rangers would surrender to sign Lohse, who rejected a one-year qualifying offer from St. Louis. The Rangers aren’t alone in coveting the pick, and teams’ desire to maintain picks is the No. 1 reason Lohse remains a free agent after winning a career-best 16 games in 2012.

The collective bargaining agreement has made it more difficult to acquire amateur talent, with spending caps on picks taken in the first 10 rounds and also with caps on international free agents.

High draft picks have more value now, and the more money a team can have in its draft-signing pool the better. Some with Rangers don’t want to surrender the No. 24 pick or the money that comes with it, even though they received the No. 31 overall pick after losing Josh Hamilton.

Some, though, say the need to win now is worth sacrificing the draft pick, which could be used on a player who might never make an impact on the big-league club and certainly won’t in 2013.

Teams haven’t budged yet, and now Lohse is sitting at his home in the Phoenix area while spring games are being played.

The longer he sits, the more his contract demands drop. A baseball source said that the years and dollars have reached the point where teams are rethinking their stance, and that includes the Rangers.

“We don’t have any active talks right now,” Daniels said.

Even though the Rangers have 29 Cactus League and exhibition games remaining, some early concern has arisen about Alexi Ogando. The Rangers have asked him to move from the left side of the rubber to the right, to help him pitch inside more, and are also stressing the importance of his changeup.

He has worked on it so much that he has lost the feel for his slider. A starter needs three pitches to survive, and Ogando has just his fastball now. But he said everything was better Wednesday during his second spring outing.

The addition of Lohse would also push Derek Holland and Ogando into the bottom half of the rotation, where they would pitch in less stressful situations against opponents’ Nos. 4 and 5 starters.

The prevailing sentiment in the pro-Lohse camp goes back to last season, when the Rangers missed out on the American League West title by one game. Injuries hit the rotation in May (Neftali Feliz) and July (Colby Lewis), and the Rangers were left with Scott Feldman and Martin Perez as the No. 5 starter down the stretch.

The Rangers were winless in the final 10 starts by the No. 5 starter.

The belief in the pro-Lohse camp is that he would get the Rangers over the hump in a tight division race, and starting the season with him rather than an unproven No. 5 starter would help keep the Rangers from falling into an early hole in the division.

The side benefit of adding him would be starting-pitching depth.

“As we experienced too often last year, there’s always a chance for a setback,” Daniels said.

A prevailing thought in the anti-Lohse camp has to do with his style of pitching. He historically is fly-ball pitcher who doesn’t strike out many hitters, which can be a lethal combination at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and his track record against the AL — a 6.79 career ERA vs. the Angels, for instance — leaves much to be desired, too.

The Rangers also have a recent track record of acquiring starting pitching during the season, and they could very well be able to find a pitcher at least as good as Lohse at the July 31 trade deadline.

So, will the Rangers sign Lohse? It’s seems unlikely today.

But it’s a long spring training. Anything can happen.

Should the Rangers sign Kyle Lohse?

Pro Many believe he isn’t the pitcher he was from 2001 to 2006, when he struggled in the American League. He won a career-high 16 games in 2012 with a 2.86 ERA.

Con Some remain dubious that Lohse has come off his contract demands, and even if he has, they wonder whether signing a 34-year-old flyball pitcher is worth a multiyear commitment and the draft pick.

Pro Lohse would likely slot as the No. 3 starter, pushing Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando back to face opponents’ Nos. 4 and 5 starters in less pressurized situations.

Con The Rangers believe that young, homegrown players need to complement the current core group. Signing Lohse would stray from that philosophy.

Pro Adding Lohse and cementing the rotation would leave Colby Lewis, Martin Perez, Justin Grimm and Randy Wells as able-bodied fill-ins should injury hit or Ogando struggle.

Con Under the CBA, the Rangers would surrender the No. 24 pick in the June draft and the money from their draft pool that goes with it. Their first pick would be 31st overall.

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