Mark Buehrle, Mark Buehrle,

Time to Shoot For Roy Oswalt


Now that Mark Buehrle, C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish are off the market, available front-line starters are becoming scarce.

There are options, but they involve trades which would cost more than the Royals are seemingly willing to give up, prospect-wise. Gio Gonzalez was the hot topic during the winter meetings, but the Royals didn’t want to part with Wil Myers. That the A’s were reportedly asking about Mike Stanton from the Marlins suggests that Myers would just be part of a much larger package. James Shields would command a similar price, and the Padres have already received a haul of young talent from the Reds for Mat Latos.

The Royals, some think, need a top starting pitcher to have a winning 2012.

Now, after some flirtations with one such pitcher, the time is right to go after Roy Oswalt.

I’ve covered this idea before this offseason. Roy Oswalt is coming off of a down year that saw him miss time due to back problems. He’s not without risk. His 6 K/9 from 2011 is his lowest strikeout rate of his career. He also posted his highest WHIP of his career.

Those extremes make it sound like he’s fallen off the map.

But how about another look at some of his 2011 stats? He put up a 3.69 ERA which would have led all Royals starters last year. His career-high WHIP? At 1.338, it would have been third behind Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen. He didn’t have any particular spikes in homerun rate, flyball rate or other peripherals. His worst ever season still rated at 5% better than league average by ERA+ and earned him 1.6 WAR (according to baseball-reference) and 2.5 WAR according to FanGraphs.

Call me crazy, but that’s a pretty good “worst” season.

Oswalt doesn’t walk batters – he’s walked just 2.1 per nine innings over his career, and never more than 2.5 per nine in a season – and his strikeout rate has fluctuated year to year from 6.5 to 9.1 K/9 and everywhere in between. A dip to 6 K/9 isn’t good, and at his age, it’s probably a true drop, but it’s not a death sentence for his career.

With a market that’s thinning out – but not entirely cleared out – Oswalt can’t stand as a long valuable commodity, and has reportedly lowered his demands to the point that he would accept a one-year deal. That’s perfect for a team like the Royals who have a shot to compete in 2012 and, with the right combination of talent, luck, and guile, could pull off the unthinkable.

A one-year deal would be costly, but the Royals aren’t overwhelmed by payroll issues with a team that’s composed of second-year players and some with rookie eligibility left. Some players will earn modest raises in arbitration and Joakim Soria and Billy Butler‘s extensions start to get a bit more expensive this year, but the team may just barely top $50 million in salary. Oswalt would probably have to get at least $8 million, but the Royals could add incentives for games started – perhaps half a million for hitting 25 then 30 games started?

The Royals can afford Oswalt. Plus, with Mike Montgomery likely to start back in Omaha to continue to work on command and Crow remaining in the bullpen (assuming an Oswalt signing), Oswalt wouldn’t be blocking anybody. If he fails or loses most of the year to injury, it’d be a blow, but how many fans give the Royals a realistic chance to contend for the playoffs? It’s a nice thought, but there’s still a lot of work to do. A pitcher of Oswalt’s pedigree could be exactly what would make the Royals true candidates for a run in October.

As has been illustrated before, past teams in the World Series haven’t been loaded with five Cy Young candidates, but a group of average starters and one (or two) with good to above average performance can lead a team deep into the postseason.

If you count just those starts by returning members of the Royals rotation from 2011 (Hochevar, Chen, Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy), their 291 earned runs in 583 innings pitched equate to a 4.49 ERA.  The American League average was 4.43. The Royals weren’t that bad. Adding Oswalt (and with any kind of improvement or even consistency from the others) could put them in a position to have an above-average rotation.

That, combined with an offense that should hopefully improve with a full season together, is an exciting prospect.

The Royals wouldn’t have to give up any of their future stars via trade, they wouldn’t block their pitching prospects (and finding a place for a surging Mike Montgomery is one of those good problems to have, anyway), and they’d improve their pitching staff immediately.

Yes, Oswalt has some risk, and that he hasn’t drawn strong interest (and his lowering of demands) may be warning signs, but if the Royals do contend, they’ll exceed most fans’ expectations. It’s worth a shot, even if a big offer would be necessary.

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