Lohse and Pettitte – One timed it right

News item
: Andy Pettitte, boxed in on his 2009 contract and destination, settled on a one-year contract with the New York Yankees for $5.5 million with an additional $6.5 million in incentives – $4.5 million based on innings pitched and $2 million based on days on the active roster, according to the AP.

Earlier in the off-season, the Houston native turned down a $10 million guaranteed deal from the Yanks, his feelings hurt over being asked to take a cut from his 2008 salary of $16 million.

Since that time however, the Yankees went on a spending spree, landing free agents C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira, and withdrawing their original offer to Andy in the process. Pettitte, 36, still made it clear he was interested only in returning to the Yankees, eliminating much of his leverage.

Why am I bringing this up on a St. Louis Cardinals-focused site?

I couldn’t help but notice a few parallels with the often-forgotten, yet biggest move by far of the 2008-2009 Cardinals’ off-season, the signing of Kyle Lohse to a four-year, $41 million contract at the end of September.

  • Like Pettitte, Lohse told his agent that he wanted to remain with his current club and to get a deal done.

  • Like Pettitte, Lohse settled for a deal that could deliver between $10 million and $12 million per year (on the average).

  • Like Pettitte, Lohse turned down a bigger deal early. It was last off-season, a three-year offer to remain with Philadelphia. He later had to settle for a much-reduced one-year, $4.75 million deal with St. Louis for 2008.

  • But unlike Pettitte, Lohse moved quickly this time, before the economy went into its deepest slide. September was a time when $41 million sounded like a decent deal. Now, it doesn’t feel quite as good from the club’s perspective.

I understand the two are totally different situations, but for just a moment, consider if Lohse had turned down a deal worth $10 million or more per year last fall like Pettitte, gambling the market would improve, as agent Scott Boras advised.

Modeling Lohse’s hypothetical deal after Pettitte’s, a four-year deal with an average base of $5.5 million would have guaranteed Lohse just $22 million instead of $41 million. On the positive side, if all incentives were hit, he could actually bring home more, $48 million.

Though not entirely realistic, if nothing else, this offers a view of how the market has shifted since last fall. If Pettitte’s deal is any indication, free agent pitchers, at least those in the second tier, seem to be getting less and/or are having taking on more risk.

This time, Lohse played it right. Likely tired of hassles after two consecutive years of arbitration hearings, then being traded at two consecutive deadlines, followed by a 2007-2008 off-season in which he received no offers between November and March, Lohse found a home in St. Louis and made his big deal to remain.

Yet is there any doubt that the Cardinals wouldn’t do such a contract today? Timing is everything.

(Footnote: Those hoping for improved odds of a Rick Ankiel trade to the Yankees for a young starting pitcher due to the Pettitte signing should note Yankees GM Brian Cashman’s comment in the AP article. He doesn’t expect to be making any more significant moves for the remainder of the off-season. Boras, who also represents Ankiel, is probably more disappointed about that in the context of still-homeless superstar Manny Ramirez than for the Cardinals outfielder.)