ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 05: Pitcher Roy Oswalt #44 of the Philadelphia Phillies reacts after allowing two-runs in the fourth inning while taking on the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Four of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on October 5, 2011 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
With Neftali Feliz on the shelf and Scott Feldman having struggled in his appearances so far this season as a starter, the Roy Oswalt bandwagon that was having trouble gaining momentum this winter is starting to crank up in full force.
Oswalt, for those who aren't familiar, has a lengthy history with team president Nolan Ryan and pitching coach Mike Maddux, and its widely reported that his preference is to pitch for either the Texas Rangers or the St. Louis Cardinals. Neither team had an opening in the rotation this winter, but with Feliz now out for the time being and Feldman not inspiring a lot of confidence, there seems to be a lot of sentiment that Oswalt and the Rangers are a perfect match for each other, even with Oswalt's hefty price tag, expected to be at least $5 million for a partial season.
I'm just not sure Oswalt is the best fit here, or that signing him makes the most sense for Texas.
I hearken back to 2010, when the Rangers had a big lead in the A.L. West at the midway point, but traded for Cliff Lee anyway -- not, primarily, to help them hold off the Angels, but to give the team a legit #1 starter for the top of their rotation in the playoffs. The price for Lee was steep -- Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matt Lawson, with Mark Lowe also coming to Texas from Seattle -- but I think most Rangers fans would agree it was worth it.
The 2012 Texas Rangers seem to be in a similar situation. They have a sizeable lead on the Angels right now, and there aren't a lot of real obvious holes to fill. Yes, a righthanded bench bat would be nice, but really, this team is stacked from top to bottom, is at least average at just about every position, and seems well-positioned to make a playoff run.
The one thing the Rangers are missing is what they were missing in 2010 -- a legit #1 starter. Yu Darvish could end up being that guy -- he certainly has the stuff to be a #1 starter -- but I don't know if you want to go into the 2012 postseason with him as your ace. The Rangers have solid options behind him for a playoff rotation -- Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, and Matt Harrison are all pitchers you aren't embarrassed to have start a playoff game for you -- but they lack that horse at the top of the rotation you want pitching Game 1.
And I don't think Roy Oswalt is that guy, at this point of his career. Oswalt was, once upon a time, a legit #1 starter. He's not that pitcher anymore, though...he turns 35 in August, and seems to be more of a Colby Lewis-type middle rotation starter than a playoff anchor. And that's without even getting into the issue of the back problems that had him talking retirement last season.
If the Rangers make a move for a starting pitcher, they need to make a move for a guy who will make the playoff rotation better. I don't see that Oswalt does that. I do see two starting pitchers who will potentially be available for trade in another month or so, however, that would slot in at the top of the Rangers' playoff rotation, and immediately make them better.
First, you've got Philadelphia Phillies starter Cole Hamels. The lefty is a free agent at the end of the season, and while there have been contract extension talks between Hamels and Philadelphia, at this point, it seems more likely than not that Hamels will explore his options in free agency. He's a legitimate top of the rotation starter, and if Philadelphia continues to fall out of the N.L. East race -- something that is even more likely if Roy Halladay misses significant time with the arm problem that took him out of last night's game -- Philly could look to move Hamels.
Second, there's Milwaukee Brewers starter Zack Greinke. Greinke has been linked as a potential Ranger trade target for years, and like Hamels, Greinke is a top of the rotation caliber starter who is a free agent after the season. Greinke seems even less likely than Hamels to re-sign with his current team, and the Brewers are currently in 5th place in the N.L. Central, 7 games out of first place, 6.5 games out of the Wild Card race, and trailing the Houston Astros, of all people.
While I'd rather have Hamels than Greinke, Greinke seems more likely to be moved, and would likely be less prohibitive in terms of cost to trade for. You would think that trading teams are going to give up less for future free agents than they have in the past, given that there is no draft pick compensation for free agents who are traded during the season, but it is still hard to say what sort of package it would take to get Greinke.
If we look at what Lee fetched via trade in 2010, and what C.C. Sabathia brought back (Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Rob Bryson, and Zack Jackson) when he was sent from Cleveland to Milwaukee in 2008, it gives us an idea of the sort of framework we're dealing with. Something like 1) either Martin Perez or Mike Olt, 2) Justin Grimm or Barret Loux, and then 3) a couple of players either closer to the majors but with question marks, such as Engel Beltre or Jacob Brigham or Miguel de los Santos, or younger players in the lower minors, like David Perez or Kellin Deglan, could perhaps get you in the ballpark. The potential problem the Rangers have is that they don't have a Smoak or LaPorta type headliner as the centerpiece, unless they want to part with Jurickson Profar (which they won't do).
The counter-argument to giving up significant pieces for a Hamels or a Greinke is, as I noted above, you probably don't need either of them to make the playoffs, and why give up significant young players just to enhance your chances in the crapshoot of the playoffs? A year ago, I might have agreed...but this is a team that is probably better poised right now to win it all than they have been, or will be in the next couple of years. Josh Hamilton is likely gone after 2012. Mike Napoli may be gone. Mike Adams, Colby Lewis, Koji Uehara, and Yorvit Torrealba will all be free agents.
This team's championship window is still open after 2012, but it isn't open quite as wide, which is why I'd like to see the Rangers go all-in on trying to win this year. And I believe that means passing on Roy Oswalt, and targeting a legit #1 starter.
The Rangers having Greinke or Hamels as the #1 in the playoffs, with Yu Darvish as the #2, and then Derek Holland and Colby Lewis (in whichever order you prefer) as the 3 and 4, with Neftali Feliz, Alexi Ogando, Mike Adams, Koji Uehara, Matt Harrison, and Robbie Ross setting the table for Joe Nathan means that they would have the best pitching staff of any team in the playoffs, to go with having the best lineup in baseball. In that scenario, Texas goes into the playoffs as the favorite to win it all.