Kyle Lohse waited all winter and finally found a home with Milwaukee.
Lohse and the Brewers completed a three-year contract worth $33 million US on Monday, a big boost to their suspect rotation exactly a week before the season opener at home against Colorado.
"I'm really happy to be able to come over," Lohse said during a news conference at Milwaukee's spring training facility. "With this offence and the ability of their pitching staff, it looks like a good fit. I know everybody in the division."
Lohse enjoyed his best season in the majors last year, going 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA and helping the St. Louis Cardinals earn an NL wild-card spot.
When he hit the free-agent market, however, it took nearly the entire off-season for the 34-year-old right-hander to find a new team. He turned down a $13.3 million US qualifying offer from the Cardinals in November, so under baseball's new labour agreement most major league clubs had to be willing to forfeit a first-round draft pick if they wanted to sign him.
Apparently, that made potential suitors pretty hesitant.
"We have a system in place here that's affecting the major leagues. It's affecting major league players, it's affecting development and preventing a lot of people from doing their jobs effectively, particularly organizations like this who rely on development," said Lohse's agent, Scott Boras.
"They should be able to sign free agents if they wish and also develop as they wish, and I think it's best for baseball that we really re-examine this."
But the Brewers were in need of a reliable starter and general manager Doug Melvin said the move "makes us a better club than we were yesterday."
Lohse gets $11 million a season, but for this year $7 million of the total is deferred without interest. The Brewers pay $2 million each on Jan. 10 in 2016 and 2017, and $3 million on Jan. 10, 2018.
He can earn a $333,000 bonus in each of the next two seasons for pitching 190 innings, and $334,000 for reaching that amount in 2015.
Lohse joins All-Star right-hander Yovani Gallardo at the top of the rotation, but the rest of the group is mostly unproven: Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers, Chris Narveson and Wily Peralta.
"Kyle is coming off two very good years and his experience and competitiveness will be welcomed by the club," Melvin said.
Milwaukee gave up the 17th overall pick in this year's amateur draft to land Lohse, who made 33 starts last year for the Cardinals — one of Milwaukee's division rivals in the NL Central. He finished seventh in Cy Young Award voting, was first in the league in winning percentage (.842) and held opponents to a career-best .239 batting average.
Lohse is 118-109 with a 4.45 ERA in 12 seasons with Minnesota, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and St. Louis. He went 55-35 in five seasons with the Cardinals.
His debut for Milwaukee could be delayed until mid-April as he gets his arm in game shape. The Brewers said Lohse would start the regular season on the active roster.
"I always knew something would work out," said Lohse, expected to pitch Thursday against Colorado in a Cactus League game. "I didn't know it was going to be this late. I'm glad this worked out because it's a great situation and a great team for me to be on. If you had to go through what I went through to get here, I think it was worth it."
Lohse spent this spring working out with a couple of local colleges in Arizona: Scottsdale Community College and Grand Canyon University. Meanwhile, Boras told him to be patient.
"He's been the best pitcher in the National League Central the past two years," said Boras, who spoke after Lohse at the news conference.
Lohse recovered from an injury-plagued 2010 season, when he went 4-8 with a 6.55 ERA in 18 games, to finish 14-8 with a 3.39 ERA in 2011.
He will wear No. 26 with the Brewers.