After struggling with back problems and taking a leave of absence to be with his family in the wake of a tornado last year, many assumed Roy Oswalt would leave in free agency. After all, the Philadelphia Phillies have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Joe Blanton each making significant money in 2012, plus 2011 surprise Vance Worley in the mix.
Oswalt was 9-10 with a 3.69 ERA in 23 starts last year, seeing a significant drop in his strikeout rate and posting the first losing record of his 11-year career. Those aren’t the kind of numbers that make teams want to sign Oswalt, but the 14.5 wins he averaged since 2001 show he’s been a force in this league.
Oswalt is 34 years old and at just six feet tall, 190 pounds, he’s small in stature, but he can still be a number two or three starter for a contending team. Oswalt is probably the top free agent still unsigned, and reports have linked Oswalt to many teams this offseason.
Teams have inquired about whether Oswalt can be utilized as a relief pitcher for them, but his agent, Bob Garber, says there is no chance Oswalt pitches as a reliever in 2012.
Oswalt has been on the radar of the Texas Rangers, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, and Phillies primarily, although he has not signed yet. Oswalt said he is willing to wait until after pitchers and catchers report before signing a deal.
Considering Edwin Jackson earned a one-year, $10 million deal with the Washington Nationals, Oswalt could almost certainly get the same kind of deal.
Oswalt’s days of being a Cy Young candidate are probably over, but he should easily be able to win 12-15 games with a 3.50 ERA. He is a crafty right-handed pitcher with a good fastball, changeup, and curve.
Conceivably, the Phillies have no room on their rotation for Oswalt with Blanton and Worley manning the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. Kyle Kendrick was also re-signed to a one-year deal in the offseason to be a long reliever and spot starter, if necessary.
If the club can trade Blanton, that opens up a spot for Oswalt. I think the Phillies would prefer to keep Kendrick as a reliever and not put him in the rotation unless there is an injury, although $3.5 million is a lot to pay a long reliever, and especially one that doesn’t overpower hitters. Realistically, the Phillies won’t be seeing a return of Oswalt to the team unless some team surprises everyone and takes Blanton off the Phillies’ hands. Even if the team does trade Blanton, GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. may not want to pay about $10 million for one more season of Oswalt; he may choose to just go with the cheap Worley as the fourth starter and Kendrick as the fifth.