Is Roy Oswalt Waiting Until The All Star Break To Sign A Contract?

By Mark Hock

In one of the bigger surprises of the offseason, Roy Oswalt still hasn’t signed with a major league team. While he wasn’t considered the top free agent starter, he’s still a quality option in a rotation and should be pitching for someone. According to Jerry Crasnick, Oswalt may have changed his approach for the 2012 season.

After waiting until spring training and failing to land a job to his satisfaction, free agent pitcher Roy Oswalt has told major league clubs that he might pull a Roger Clemens and return midseason, according to a baseball source.

Oswalt, 34, has told teams that he plans to keep throwing, stay ready and would be willing to return during the season if nothing materializes before then. That approach would mirror what Clemens did in 2006 and 2007, when he returned in June to pitch for the Houston Astros then the New York Yankees.

Oswalt’s second-half track record suggests that signing the pitcher at midseason might be a coup. According to ESPN Stats & Information, of the 84 pitchers who were active at the end of last season, Oswalt has the best career winning percentage (.739) after the All-Star break (minimum 50 starts).

It’s an interesting decision for the right hander, coming off one of the worst seasons of his career. While his 3.69 ERA isn’t that bad, Oswalt only managed to pitch 139 innings because of injuries. His 2.5 fWAR was the lowest of his career, and he saw a sharp decline in his strike out rate (6.02 K/9). The drop in strikeout rate was no fluke, as batters weren’t swinging at his pitches as often as they had in the past (8% in 2011 vs 9.7 in 2010). When you factor in the declining fastball speed (91.4 MPH), it looks like Oswalt is no longer a dominant force in the rotation.

As a baseball fan I really disliked the approach Roger Clemens took when he joined a team halfway through the season. It put the player before the team, forcing them to use lesser pitchers so that Clemens could be at his best for the second half of the season. In a sense, it was stat padding, making Clemens look better than he was since he only needed to pitch half a season. It also shows that Clemens isn’t a true athlete, since someone who thrives on competition wouldn’t be able to give up half of a season even if it meant they would falter in the second half. So if Oswalt takes this approach, it would be very disappointing as this trend should not be encouraged.

One of the better fits for Roy Oswalt are the Boston Red Sox. Earlier in the year I argued that Boston was punting the 2012 season when they traded Marco Scutaro to the Colorado Rockies for a salary dump, even if it meant giving them a better chance to sign Oswalt. I suggested that they sign either Edwin Jackson or Roy Oswalt, as their rotation is unquestionably a liability heading into the season. However since they were unable to add a starting pitcher, this trade looks even worse given the downgrade at shortstop from Scutaro to Mike Aviles.

At this point the other names typically mentioned to sign Oswalt don’t make a lot of sense. The Texas Rangers have six starters already, so they have no reason to sign Oswalt. The Cardinals front three consists of Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, and the likely comeback of the year winner in Adam Wainwright. When healthy Wainwright was one of the best pitchers in the game, while Carpenter and Garcia are fantastic pitchers at the top of a rotation. Filling out the pitching staff are Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse, and while the latter two may not be an upgrade over Oswalt the rotation isn’t a pressing need for the Cardinals. The Philadelphia Phillies might have been able to re-sign Oswalt bringing back the famed R2C2 rotation (Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee), but the signing of Jon Papelbon may have prevented them from being able to add any more players.

One thing is clear – whoever signs Oswalt will likely have the bargain of the offseason. The Red Sox are the team with the biggest need, making their signing of Cody Ross (or half of the money saved by flipping Marco Scutaro) look that much worse now that they haven’t been able to sign a pitcher. If Oswalt does follow through with this and sign around the All Star Break, he might have the biggest impact on any of the playoff races.

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