Kyle Lohse: Enigma

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Few Brewers players have caused more fans to be so torn as Kyle Lohse has. Sure, he hasn’t been as divisive as Ryan Braun or Bob Terwell, that old bag of gummy worms, but Lohse has been a paradox, no less.

From the get-go, Lohse produced bipolar reactions. Many fans loathed the signing, seeing Lohse as little more than another Cardinal pitcher, destined to fail once he stepped out of the glowing aura that is/was the St. Louis Cardinals and Dave Duncan. Those fans cited his age, his lackluster career stats, and the fact that he once wore the same jersey as Jeff Suppan and Braden Looper. And then there were fans like myself that were legitimately excited by the signing. I cited his increased use of a 2-seamer as a turning point in his career, and a reason to throw out his career stats. Sure, he was old by baseball terms, but he had shown no signs of decline, and he didn’t rely on overpowering stuff. I also noted that his ground ball tendencies would make the transition from pitcher-friendly St. Louis to homer-friendly Miller Park much easier.

One of the bigger concerns with the signing was that it signaled that Mark Attanasio was not ready to rebuild, and that he thought the Brewers had enough talent to ‘go for it’. This was probably the most valid concern, but I countered by noting that if he pitches well, he can be flipped for prospects a year or two down the road, making this signing a potential contribution to the rebuild.

I was wrong. It sucks.

It sucks because I was right, really damn right, but I was so damn wrong at the same time.

He could have been traded at the deadline in ’13. Braun had been suspended, and the season was clearly going nowhere, but keeping him then was more than reasonable. He still had 2 years left on his contract. There would be plenty of time to maximize his return in a trade.

He should have been traded at before the ’14 season. The team looked mediocre at best on paper, and Lohse had just completed the three best consecutive years of his career.

At the deadline in ’14, the Brewers looked all but certain to make the playoffs, so they held onto him. That’s all well and good, but after the September collapse, Doug Melvin and Mark Attanasio had 5 months to trade him, but they sat on their hands, juggled their ball-bags, and sold their fans another line of ‘we think we can compete’ garbage.

Kyle Lohse was a valuable trade asset for two years, but now all the Brewers have to show for it is a 74-win season, an 82-win season, $7 million dollars of deferred money, and a video of Lohse playing Golden Tee against a Juggalo.

The worst part of it all is how familiar it feels. The Brewers have managed to effectively turn themselves into the Milwaukee Bucks of the 00’s, doing just enough to get by, without really doing anything of actual significance.

For years, Doug Melvin and Mark Attanasio couldn’t decide whether they wanted to rebuild or retool. They tried to do both, and honestly, it looked like it was possible. Nay, it was possible. Except, when the timing was right, they lost focus, fell asleep at the wheel, and drove the bus into a field of quicksand. Now, just like the post-Allen Bucks, this team is in danger of being stuck in perpetual mediocrity. Unfortunately for the Brewers, there aren’t 16 playoff spots in baseball.

It’s impossible not to place blame on Doug Melvin, but at the same time, I can’t help but believe he’s smarter than that. I can’t help but believe that Melvin knew exactly when certain windows closed, but he was also smart enough to realize who the real boss was. Lohse playing well meant the Brewers were playing well, and Mark and Doug were too skittish to press the button. Now that Lohse is bleeding out, so are the Brewers. It’s obvious that the window has closed, and a Lohse trade couldn’t even bring back a toxic wasteland. The opportunity has come and gone.

Once a deity in the city of Milwaukee, Mark Attanasio is quickly turning into a modern-day version of Herb Kohl. It’s a business, after all, and winning today helps the bottom line. That may be true, but the Bucks have shown us that only kind of/sort of winning gets old fast. Eventually, only winning half of the time starts to hurt the bottom line. The fans stop showing up, and you have no current assets to flip for future assets. Now, Bucks fans are left with two new meddling owners left fighting for the Bucks’ life and trying to sell the city on a new arena, and a half-billion dollar Park East development that will never really come to fruition.

Luckily for the Brewers, Lohse’s window was not the last window to close. Milwaukee has two current assets that could command monster returns in a trade. Bringing on Lind and Parra (and actually using them correctly) was a coup for Melvin, but their trade values have moderate-to-low ceilings. Gomez and Lucroy, however, are two of the best players in baseball. They are each in their prime, and both are currently signed to some of the most team-friendly contracts in the game. As much as it hurts to say, these two fan-favorites will be well into their decline by the time the Brewers are competitive again.

There’s money to spend next year in free agency. Mark can still put a 74-82-win team together without Gomez and Lucroy. Those guys may have seemed like franchise players, but fans will still pay to see different players win 45% of the time. The team can still be respectable, and let’s be real, summer, tailgating, and beer sell a lot more tickets in Milwaukee than the players do. At least this way there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

And that’s the bottom line.

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