The Philadelphia Phillies voided their 2012 mutual option on the contract of Roy Oswalt today, making him a free agent for the upcoming season. This, of course, is assuming the move by the Phillies isn’t just the front end of an agreement already reached with Oswalt, to resign him at a lesser cost than the $16 million he was owed.
At first glance a right hander going into his age-34 season, coming off an injury plagued 139 inning campaign, would be a cause for concern for teams in search of much needed (or just wanted) rotation help. Those injuries coupled with the always possible “will he or won’t he?” questions that surround Oswalt retiring, make him an almost surefire option for a competitive veteran-team overpay, or a return to the state of Texas where Midas Nolan Ryan can work his magic and will him to a Cy Young type season. In what would be a normal offseason in Kansas City, those would be the storylines
Not this season however.
Dayton Moore has made it clear that the Royals will do all within their power to upgrade the starting rotation. Names such as James Shields and please-not-for-Wil-Myers Jair Jurrjens have been mentioned, but very few recognizable free agent names have been talked about. Sure there’s the mention of C.J. Wilson, but not a lot about that move and how many years on the contract it would take, would make a whole lot of sense for the Royals at this time. So how about Roy Oswalt?
In what has been a remarkably consistent career, Oswalt has never posted an xFIP above 4.00, and he’s thrown more than 200 innings in six of his last eight seasons. His 4.7 WAR 2010 season seemed to be fluke-ish (coupled with a near career high strikeout rate and an unsustainable .253 BABIP) when compared to his previous two, but that was until this year when he was on pace to put up similar numbers.
The two major concerns surrounding Oswalt’s free agency will be his age, and with that comes health, and his career low 6.02 K/9 while pitching in 2011.
Some cause for the low strikeout rate could stem from the lower back issues he suffered with starting in June, taking away from his overall stuff and resulting in a lack of swings-and-misses, and an increase in line drive percentage (17.6% in 2010; 19.3% in 2011). But it’s hard to really tell by just the numbers because while the line drives against were up, the HR/FB ratio was down nearly 3-percent.
Regardless of the decline in numbers, Oswalt still presents a vast upgrade over what the Royals have been using in their starting rotation in recent years. Even after you factor age, injury, and a change in leagues, Oswalt today would slot no worse than as the No.2 starter, with a possible (in anointment, not true talent) bump to No.1 status depending on the progression of either Felipe Paulino or Danny Duffy. (Not Hochever, sorry Gage.)
For 2012, the free agent market and a pitcher like Roy Oswalt make more sense for Kansas City than trading assets from the minor leagues for another starter, given where the organization currently is. Unfortunately for the Royals though, the competition from teams looking for a veteran/mentor/winning/gamer/innings eater rotation piece make the pursuit of Oswalt a little tougher.
There’s sure to be a few teams (Yankees, Cardinals, The Usual Suspects) interested in the service of Oswalt and have the money to commit multiple years for an older right hander with back problems. The Royals do not. But, there is no such thing as a bad one year contract, so seeing if Oswalt will bite on a one-year overpay (though we know how much Dayton Moore loves his option years) could be in the Royals best interest.
After all, it would be better to overpay Oswalt for one year, than to pay six years of Wil Myers for a pitcher that’s worse.