According to multiple reports, the Texas Rangers and Roy Oswalt have agreed to terms on a one-year contract, worth $5 million plus a possible additional $1 million in incentives. The Texas Rangers are already arguably the best team in baseball, and this move only adds to the depth of their current pitching staff, which already sports the 4th-best ERA in the MLB.
In many ways, because it was the Texas Rangers signing Roy Oswalt, instead of any other team (perhaps one having more health issues, or less success at this point in the season), this signing creates more questions than answers. The following questions are ones that I don’t have answers to. However, it should be noted that these are not an indication of doubts of Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels and his staff in the Rangers front office.
Question #1: When will Oswalt be ready to pitch?
According to reports, Oswalt is expected to make 3-4 minor league starts prior to joining the big league team, setting him up for a late-June debut with the club. This follows a similar routine that Andy Pettite took this year with the New York Yankees. Oswalt spent much of 2011 battling issues with his back, and at 34 years old, there are no guarantees of his ability to work through those injuries and recover to performing at a major-league level. If he is not able to return to prior form, an argument could be made that there will not be a spot for him with the major league team because of the already deep and effective Rangers staff.
Question #2: Will Oswalt be effective enough to justify this deal?
Oswalt has a career 3.21 ERA, and for several consecutive seasons was among the game’s most dominant pitchers. In 2011, he pitched 139 innings for the Philadelphia Phillies, posting a 3.69 ERA and 6.0 K/9. Joining the Rangers will be the first time Oswalt has pitched for an American League team in his career. The more offensive-minded league, along with the Rangers hitter-friendly home ballpark will not provide a cushy welcoming to Oswalt if he is not able to pitch to the high standards he has established in his career.
Question #3: Whose spot and role on the roster will Oswalt be filling once he is ready?
The Rangers have an available spot on their 40-man roster for Oswalt, but at this time would need to do some juggling with the 25-man roster to add Oswalt. The most likely candidates to be taken off the roster would be Scott Feldman (but would be a hefty price tag, considering the Rangers owe him $6.5 million in 2012), Mark Lowe (who has been very effective in 2012), Brandon Snyder (requiring a 13-man pitching staff and limiting the offensive options on the Rangers bench), or a spot could open up by the end of June with another player being sent to the disabled list.
Question #4: On a related note, does this mean that the Rangers are looking to trade one of their young pitchers?
An easy, though complicated, solution to the where-to-put-Oswalt problem would be to find value in the trade market by moving one of the current members of the Rangers pitching staff, such as Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, Feldman, or Lowe. Any such move like this would only be for a piece that would be of value to the Rangers (such as a right-handed bench bat that can play corner outfield and first base), as each of these players currently serve a significant purpose, and their loss would not be taken lightly.
Question #5: Does this mean that Neftali Feliz’s future as a starting pitcher is at risk?
Perhaps of greater concern is Feliz’s health. He currently sits on the disabled list with a strained pitching elbow. The move to land Oswalt could signal 1) the Rangers fear Feliz’s injury may be a reoccurring issue, and 2) the Rangers front office may no longer believe in Feliz as a starting pitcher.
Question #6: Does this take the Rangers out of the running for additional trades for pitching this summer?
Entering the 2012 season, the Rangers were reportedly at or near the limits of their budget. Also mentioned in those reports was that the Rangers budget did account for making moves during the season. Will the $5-6 million that will be paid to Oswalt limit Daniels from making further moves? If Oswalt pitches well, does that mean the Rangers will not pursue the trade market if a top-of-the-rotation pitcher becomes available? The Rangers always play their cards close to their chest, but if recent history is any indication, we can expect they will still be very much involved in the trade market throughout the rest of the year.
The Rangers ownership and front office clearly feel they have a solid handle on the answers to these questions, and many others that this writer has likely not considered. At the very least, the Rangers must believe the financial commitment they are making to Oswalt is worth the risk. As one who is familiar with the end products, but not the interior of the workings of the Rangers organization, I have complete confidence in their decision to sign Oswalt, even if I don’t have all of the answers today.