|A superb postseason is putting Lohse in position for a lucrative move into free agency. (Getty Images)|
ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals Game 3 starter Kyle Lohse is one of the big winners of this postseason already. The free-agent-to-be beat the Atlanta Braves in the wild-card game, then threw seven innings of two-hit, one-run ball in the division series against Washington.
Lohse isn't going to be back with the Cardinals, that much we know. They have plenty of good young pitching and believe he'll be out of their price range. They haven't made an offer. I wouldn't question anything they do anyway, but beyond their stable of promising young starters, they are expecting a full season from Chris Carpenter and a better season from Adam Wainwright next year.
But all is not lost for Lohse, who timed his best year perfectly. Lohse was brilliant in the regular season, and so far has been just as superb in the postseason.
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Here's a list of 21 potential free agents who've helped themselves the most this postseason, or hurt themselves.
Teammate Matt Holliday said Lohse should be in the "top two or three" in the Cy Young voting, and while a case can be made, the probability is he won't finish in the top five -- not with R.A. Dickey, Clayton Kershaw, Gio Gonzalez, Johnny Cueto plus relievers Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman all in the mix.
While it's possible Lohse should be below many of those guys, the reason he won't finish as high as Holliday envisions might have more to do with his profile, which is well beneath the radar. Lohse was 16-3 this season at a time winning percentage has been over-criticized as a measure of starting pitchers. It isn't as useful a barometer as we once thought, but it's still important.
Consider that Lohse could easily have been 22-0 in the regular season in the year his new mentor and great turnaround artist Dave Duncan left. The Cardinals' bullpen, mostly before it became a force, blew six of his leads, and Lohse's three losses all came by one run. So now with his two terrific postseason outings, he could be 24-0. And don't forget the couple runs in the wild-card came when a late timeout was called by the home-plate umpire, and Lohse wound up showing David Ross what was coming next. Lohse mistakenly threw the same pitch, and Ross turned it into a two-run home run.
Other than that one error, he's been close to flawless. A couple execs scoffed at the idea he could repeat C.J. Wilson's $77.5 million, five-year deal (one said $40 million for three is more like it). But the reality is, Wilson was poor in the postseason, and Lohse is excellent (so far).
Hard to believe, but he is carrying the Yankees' offense now, such as it is. His three home runs in the ninth inning or later is a postseason record, and that is no surprise. Just an amazing performance from a player who looked very much his 40 years back in spring training. Should easily improve on the $1.1 million he made this year.
Ludwick hit three more homers in the division series, continuing the stunning power display from the regular season. The Reds got him on a bargain after he suffered for most of the last 1½ years at Petco Park, which could ruin any hitter's day. Anyway, he became a force for the Reds. He has a mutual $5 million option, which he will surely turn down. He should turn his big year into a multiyear deal.
Terrific pickup by Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, as Danny Knobler wrote on this site. He may be a No. 4 starter for Detroit, but he could be a No. 2 for some teams. He flashed a 95 mph fastball with plus changeup, curve and slider vs. the Yankees. The Tigers want him back. But he should be popular on the market.
He proved he could pitch in the Bronx by being the Yankees' most consistent starter this season, then proved he could do it in the postseason. He went five perfect innings against the Tigers before he was undone by the suddenly inept Yankees offense. The Yankees will surely want him back.
He found new life with the Orioles, then showed it was no fluke with a nice postseason. He has said he'd like to return, and considering how well things went in Baltimore after disastrous stops in Atlanta and back in Pittsburgh, he really should. It still can't be said definitively whether his long ball in the Bronx scraped the right-field foul pole, but it's obvious he should try to stay in Baltimore and not mess up a good thing (though they have some decisions to make, with Mark Reynolds a free agent and Nolan Reimold expected back after an injury year).
7. Jhonny Peralta, Tigers SS
There was some speculation the Tigers might not pick up his $6 million option after a regular season where Detroit's defense was an issue. Peralta's range isn't great, but he catches everything hit to him, and he makes some beautiful plays (he's made two or three gems against the Yankees). The option seems like a bargain now. But if they don't exercise it, he'll do even better in a weak shortstop market.
8. Andy Pettitte, Yankees SP
Joe Torre called Pettitte's story the most "remarkable" of all the Core Four who are still playing, as he looks like the same pitcher he was before he retired. Two more typically solid postseason outings certainly can't hurt. The only question now is why he went away for a year.
9. Luis Ayala, Orioles RP
He has bounced around the past several seasons, and while his third of an inning doesn't mean much in terms of his free-agent value, his presence alone is a reminder he was a small part of the best bullpen in baseball this year.
10. Jonathan Broxton, Reds RP
It was a nice season for a pitcher who came into the year with questions about his arm. A few more scoreless innings in the playoffs can't hurt, especially considering his past October difficulties with the Dodgers.
11. Rafael Soriano, Yankees RP
Considering what a mediocre postseason it's been for the Yankees, it's hard to believe five of them made the list (they also have a couple obvious ones on the down list). Soriano was brilliant replacing Mariano Rivera in the regular season, and another 3 2/3 scoreless innings can't hurt. He has a buyout on his $14 million to go for 2013 (with a $1.5 million going-away stipend for him should he exercise the buyout), but he may be able to turn that into a multiyear deal. He seems to want to be back in the Bronx, and one complication is the Yankees' desire to get below a $189 million payroll for 2014. Should be interesting.
He hit two more home runs in the Nats' brief playoff stay, continuing his big power year. He can't possibly exercise his $10 million option for next year since he could get three years or more as a free agent, but he seems to want to stay. Was the Nats' position-player MVP this year.
13. Russell Martin, Yankees C
Sure he's continuing his low-batting average trend in the postseason, but folks can't help but notice Joe Girardi has enough faith in Martin to at least try him in the No. 5 spot in the Yankees' lineup with other Yankees struggling way more.
After his big offensive season, he's looked presentable in a suit on TBS. He's a well-known nudge, but his TV time is a reminder he's no dummy.
Not So Big Postseasons
15. Nick Swisher, Yankees OF
Any hope for a Jayson Werth deal is out the window now. While Werth hit his 14th postseason home run, Swisher now has seven postseason RBI in 177 at-bats. He's getting booed at home, and taking it hard, so if he wasn't a sure bet to leave before he surely is now. One rival GM said he could see Swisher get $36 million to $39 million on a three-year deal. But the Yankees plan to extend the qualifying offer, which may further inhibit his free-agent haul.
16. Jose Valverde, Tigers RP
He picked a bad time to go into a rare slump. Manager Jim Leyland said he still considers Valverde his closer. But the reality is Leyland has gone to a closer by committee, thanks to Valverde's 27.00 ERA and 3.43 WHIP thus far. His fastball has been flat and forkball nonexistent.
It's going to be fascinating to see what he gets on the open market. On talent, he's in the Albert Pujols category. But his checkered past, too many odd injuries, and an awful finish (including a brutal 0-for-4 wild- vard game vs. the Orioles) has folks suggesting he may have to settle for something in the three-to-four year range. I still doubt that. It only takes one team, and it's easy to see more than one small- to mid-market team thinking he could be their difference-maker at a cut-rate (but still very high) price. The Red Sox and Yankees won't play here. But his potential is simply too great for everyone else to turn the nose up.
18. Robinson Cano, Yankees 2B
We all know Cano isn't going to be a free agent since the Yankees will pick up the bargain $15 million option for 2013. Even if he was 0 for 126, not just 0 for 26, they'd do that. After his 24-for-39 finish to his typically excellent regular season, the Yankees seemed to have little choice but to consider an A-Rod type deal for Cano this winter, and while he may get that or close to that anyway, this postseason may give them pause, at least this winter. Yankees people would concede Cano is one of the five best players in the game, but he may have to wait for the big deal.
19. Edwin Jackson, Nationals SP
The attraction to Jackson is based on durability and consistency, not playoff dominance, anyway. But he has a chance to be disappointed a second straight postseason after another poor playoff. He's said he wants to be back with the Nats, but it's hard to see how they even make the qualifying offer, which is expected to be $13.5 million. He may beat the $27 million, three-year deal the Pirates offered last winter, but the chance for anything close to some of the outside projections ($60 million or more) seems farfetched now.
Everyone agrees this great personality and exciting presence is the top center fielder on a good center field market that also includes B.J. Upton and Shane Victorino (that's as long you count Josh Hamilton as a right fielder). Bourn's 1-for-5 wild-card showing won't put a dent in that, but the loss was still a missed opportunity to show what he can do. The Braves want him back. The Phillies, Giants and Nats (if they trade Michael Morse or can't keep LaRoche) are among the other logical suitors.
21. Curtis Granderson, Yankees OF
The Yankees will surely pick up his $13-million option for next season. But with only three hits (and 14 strikeouts) in 26 postseason at-bats, serious talks regarding a long-term deal may be delayed until the following winter.