SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The delivery was smooth and clean. There was life in the riding four-seam fastball and bite in the two-seamer, his new best friend. The curveball and slider arrived with movement and precise location, and the changeup was right on time.
This was Kyle Lohse, premium Major League starting pitcher, in T-shirt and shorts on the mound at Scottsdale Community College on Friday, throwing to the local kids. In four simulated innings, they hit four balls solidly. Lohse walked off the mound content, a man who has everything in order except an employer and a uniform.
"It's one thing to simulate a game, but it doesn't replicate the emotions of a real game," Scott Boras, Lohse's agent, said as his client wrapped up a 90-pitch effort with a flourish. "He's right where you'd want him to be -- with the exception of facing live big league hitters."
Lohse, 34, is the last big name on the free-agent market. Boras has been taking calls since November and has made headlines with his view that the Collective Bargaining Agreement has been an impediment to carving out a fair deal for a man who was 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA in 33 regular-season starts for the Cardinals in 2012.
Lohse lifted the Cards past the Braves in last year's National League Wild Card showdown in Atlanta. He followed that with a brilliant effort in Game 4 of the NL Division Series (seven innings, one run, no-decision) against the Nationals and split a pair of duels with Giants ace Matt Cain in the NL Championship Series, taking Game 3 before losing Game 7.
"With players like this in the past, giving up a Draft pick wasn't a problem," Boras said. "The problem now is you give up picks and money. Once March 15 hit, with Kyle, you're talking about only highly competitive playoff teams coming after him.
"One team's owner is going to say: `Look, we want to win. I'm not going to go through a season and not go after a No. 1 starter who can help us win this year and for two or three more years.' His last two years, Kyle has been comparable to [Zack] Greinke, [Jered] Weaver, the best starters in the game. Kyle has durability. Plus he's transformed himself into a No. 1 starter with the sinker. He throws it 55 percent of the time, where he used to throw it 5 percent."
Lohse's career numbers aren't overwhelming. He's 118-109 with a 4.45 ERA in 12 seasons with the Twins, Reds, Phillies and Cards. But he has done his best work after turning 30. Over the past two seasons he's 30-11 with a 3.11 ERA in 399 1/3 innings. His WHIP -- 1.168 in 2011, 1.090 in '12 -- has been top shelf.
Lohse has been treating this spring as if he's in a normal routine. Call it Camp Boras. He has put in his time at the Sports Fitness Institute and has arranged his schedule as he would in a Major League camp, throwing regular bullpen sessions, raising his pitch count gradually to where it would be if he had been pitching in the Cactus or Grapefruit Leagues.
"He's gone through this before," Boras said. "He signed on March 14 five years ago [with the Cardinals] and started Opening Day.
"He was at 80 pitches last time out, 90 today. He's ready to go. What has happened under this system is all the teams called in November and December and said, `We love the guy, but we don't want to give up Draft picks.' Under this system, when you lose your No. 1 pick [as would be the case with signing Lohse], you're going to lose 25-40 percent of your money for Draft picks.
"Once you get past the top 15 [choices in the Draft], there's a 4 percent chance you'll get a one-time All-Star, a 2 percent chance you'll sign a guy who would earn $50 million. But teams believe in their scouting staffs and are reluctant to give up the Draft picks."
Boras would not identify teams that have expressed sincere interest in Lohse. Reports have indicated that the Rangers and Brewers have been in contact. Clubs with aging rotations, such as the Yankees, and with potential depth issues and high expectations, such as the Angels, would seem to be fits given the rates of attrition with starting pitchers.
"Kyle is 90, 91 [mph], great stuff, command," Boras said. "He's a big-game pitcher. If your Major League season is on the line, you aren't going to mind giving up Draft picks for someone who can help you win."
Lohse, having worked up a good sweat on a warm day, declined an interview request through his representatives.
Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.