If the St. Louis Cardinals get Kyle Lohse back on the one year, $13 million qualifying offer they extended to him Friday they won't be disappointed, exactly; after disappointing in the first two years of his multiyear deal he emerged as an unlikely rotation anchor for two unlikely pennant-contenders. But they would be surprised: This offer wasn't made for Lohse, it was made for the draft pick.
Because Lohse, provided the MLB free agency market doesn't dry up completely over the next few months, is almost certainly going to get a multi-year offer. Some of the high-end numbers—early reports suggested $70 million as a possible option, in the wake of last year's huge deals to C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle—are likely to fall off as the Hot Stove League rolls into the winter, but two or three years for double-digit millions are definitely within the reach of a guy who's 30-11 with an ERA of 3.11 over his last two seasons.
The qualifying offer is just part of the new collective bargaining agreement's rationalization of the once-complex minor league compensation system. Instead of offering arbitration, teams now have to make impending free agents a "qualifying offer," a one-year deal worth the average of the top 125 salaries of the last year. The gamble: If your free agent turns it down, you get a supplementary draft pick. If he takes it, you're stuck with him at a heavy payroll hit.
This year that offer is pegged at $13.3 million, and thanks to Lohse's stellar year the Cardinals are risking little in offering it to him. If he accepts it—well, last year's rotation proves it's difficult to have too much starting pitching for more than a month or two at a time. But he won't.