Washington Nationals a logical destination for Kyle Lohse

Kyle Lohse delivers a pitch to home plate.
Kyle Lohse may be heading from one playoff contender to another. (Robert Beck/Getty Images)

So, how is it that a guy with a 30-11 record, 3.11 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 63 starts over the last two seasons isn’t already in camp for spring training?

Welcome to the wild world of free-agent pitcher Kyle Lohse.

Lohse, 34, remains unsigned despite being one of the top starting pitchers in the National League in 2011-12.

The right-hander was 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA and 1.09 WHIP for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012 and also earned the victory in St. Louis’ controversial wild card win over the Atlanta Braves last October.

By any measure, Lohse was somewhere between good and great in 2012. His adjusted ERA of 134 was tied with Jordan Zimmermann of the Washington Nationals for ninth in Major League Baseball. His ERA was eighth-best in the bigs. Not that it’s a terrific metric, but his .842 winning percentage led the major leagues. His WHIP was sixth-best. He walked just 1.62 hitters per nine innings, ranking fifth in baseball.

And he was durable; his 33 starts tied for fifth-most in the majors.

So, how is it again this guy doesn’t have a job?

There are some factors working against him. At age 34, he’s got more miles in his rearview mirror than he would appear to have in front of him in terms of being a front-line starting pitcher.

And while his last two seasons were solid, his 15-6, 3.78 ERA and 1.30 WHIP season in 2008 was rewarded by the Cardinals with a four-year contract worth almost $40.7 million.

For the first two years of that deal, St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak had to be ruing the decision to pay Lohse.

How bad was he?

Try 10-18 with a ghastly 5.54 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in 40 starts and one relief appearance covering 209.2 innings.

And, honestly, before coming to the Cardinals in 2008, Lohse was never anything more than barely passable as a major league starter.

He debuted in 2001 with the Minnesota Twins, was traded to the Cincinnati Reds at the July 31 waiver deadline in 2006 for minor-leaguer Zach Ward, and then was a deadline deal the following year. In 2007, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Matt Maloney.

Over the first seven years of his career, Lohse was an unremarkable 63-74 with a 4.82 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. His adjusted ERA was an unsightly 95.

So while Lohse has been good to great for the last two seasons, he spent the first 10 years of his career being average or worse.

But the biggest factor standing between Lohse and a locker at a spring training facility in Florida or Arizona are Major League Baseball’s new compensation rules for free agents.

St. Louis extended Lohse a one-year, $13.3 million qualifying offer last November, which the right-hander rejected. But by extending the offer, any team signing Lohse was subject to losing their first-round draft pick and the accompanying draft pool money.

As evidenced by the now four months of limbo experienced by Lohse, that was a major factor indeed.

But there is some hope on the horizon. ESPN.com’s Jason Catania reported (Insider access required) on Monday that the Nationals have been linked to Lohse.

Washington is in a slightly different position than some teams in that the Nationals have already surrendered their first-round pick. Washington forfeited their selection when they signed former New York Yankees reliever Rafael Soriano.

FanGraphs.com’s Mike Petriello wrote (Insider access required) on ESPN.com on Saturday that signing Lohse would be a good move for the Nationals.

Washington’s rotation as it currently stands with Stephen Strasburg, Dan Haren, Gio Gonzalez, Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler looks like one of the best in baseball.

Bu-u-u-u-ut …

Gonzalez may still have to deal with repercussions stemming from being named in the reports that Tim Elfrink of the Miami New Times acquired in January linking the left-hander to a South Florida anti-aging clinic currently the epicenter of baseball’s latest performance-enhancing drug mess.

But even if Gonzalez doesn’t suffer any fallout, Lohse would still be a good addition to the Nationals’ rotation. It would allow manager Davey Johnson to bump Detwiler to the bullpen (where one can never have enough left-handers) and add pennant race experience to a team looking to make the leap from contender to champion.

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