By Abraham Jaroszewski

Kyle Lohse is one of many soft-tossing right handers to have what Brewers fans would consider an inordinate amount of success for the St. Louis Cardinals. Whether it is Dave Duncan’s mastery with pitchers, strong defense, or just pure luck, it is impossible to ignore that the Cardinals have been impressive in developing average pitchers into producing above average results. Unfortunately for the Brewers, Jeff Suppan was one of those pitchers, and his free agent deal is perhaps the biggest stain on Doug Melvin and Mark Attanasio’s résumé.

But just because one soft-tossing former Cardinal was a poor decision for the Brewers, it does not mean that history will repeat itself.

After chasing Lohse’s fellow former NL Central soft-tosser Ryan Dempster early in the offseason, Doug Melvin largely stayed away from the free agent starting pitching pool this winter, instead electing to move forward with Yovani Gallardo and a cast of inexperienced pitchers at least to start the 2013 season.

While many of those pitchers performed well over the second half of the season, young pitchers are perhaps the most unpredictable entities in the game. Complicating the issue further, none of them are especially well-regarded prospects. Rogers was once a first round pick and Peralta has vaulted into a few Top 100 lists in his career, but one could argue that none are considered threats to be top of the rotation options on a contending team, at least not soon.

The following table is the Steamer Projections for Lohse and the contenders for the 3 through 5 spots in the Brewers rotation. I’m assuming that barring a total collapse in spring training, or injury, Marco Estrada has all but locked his spot in the rotation up.

Player FIP K/9 BB/9 IP
Kyle Lohse 4.17 5.73 2.23 194.0
Mike Fiers 4.25 7.53 3.09 163.0
Wily Peralta 4.32 7.14 4.77 130.0
Chris Narveson 4.53 5.80 3.36 118.0
Mark Rogers 4.81 6.75 5.09 115.0
Tyler Thornburg 4.29 7.44 4.01 80.0

The Steamer projections have Lohse down for 2.2 WAR, but perhaps most importantly 194 IP which is 30 more than the next highest projection. Having a starting pitcher eat up innings, even if they are as unflattering as Kyle Lohse’s, is a very valuable tool because of the opportunity cost of using bullpens. If a pitcher is forced out of the game early, it is generally one of the worst pitchers on the team which is forced to pick up those extra innings. While the difference between Kyle Lohse and Chris Narveson is not astronomical, the difference between having each of those pitchers in your rotation is not just the difference in their FIPs, ERAs, or SIERAs.

With Narveson, the Brewers would need what amounts to 65 replacement level innings out of the bullpen to make up the difference. Not to mention the impact of a tiring bullpen over the course of a season and having to rely on less productive spot starters if Narveson or one of the inexperienced pitchers gets injured or is ineffective.

But although Lohse would be a solid fit in the Brewers rotation, what price for his services makes sense for the Brewers? They were rumored to be willing to give Dempster two years and $26 million, and Lohse is supposedly pining for a salary in-line with the qualifying offer of about that same amount.

I think that a pitcher like Lohse would get something like $10 million per season for two years with an option for a third, if the compensatory draft pick a team has to surrender to sign him was not an issue. If the Brewers are able to get that production for what is a bargain by free agent standards, say two years and $16 million total, it would go a long way to solving the bottom of the rotation issues.

Much of these discussions remind me of the debate over the Aramis Ramirez signing last season. Milwaukee was likely not a serious contender for the playoffs before the beginning of last season, but signing Ramirez improved the Brewers expected record from around a .500 team to an 84 win team. I think the same logic applies here.

The most recent Vegas over-unders have the Brewers pegged for 79 wins, and to me this iteration smells like a .500 team. A Lohse signing for a decent price, and unfortunately a draft pick, could help bump that projection up a few wins. It also helps mitigate the teams’ most uncertain place of production, the lower half of the rotation. If the rehabbed bullpen can turn around and the offense remains top 3 in the National League, the Brewers could see themselves back in the playoffs, helped by signing Lohse.

The value of contention in Milwaukee is worth more than in most markets. The Brewers have had amazing attendance of the past few seasons, but it is impossible to ignore what happened in Cleveland. The Brewers need to ride this wave as long as they can before Milwaukee gets bored with the Brewers. With Corey Hart a free agent after this season, the Brewers have an opportunity to push themselves 3 wins closer to a return to the playoffs and extend the window of contention another season.

Some might prefer the Brewers to simply start over and stop trying to make an unlikely run at the post season, but should the Brewers slump they can always trade away guys like Lohse, Hart, Weeks and reload, in a not dissimilar fashion to what they were able to able to do with Zack Greinke last season.

In an article for Fangraphs today, Dave Cameron mentions what Ryan Dempster (Christian Villanueva) and Paul Maholm (Arodys Vizcaino) were able to command in midseason trades just last season. I think most Brewers fans would be thrilled to have a similar haul emerge from giving up the 17th pick for Lohse.

Abraham Jaroszewski on Twitter: @gbmb34