When the Philadelphia Phillies declined to exercise starting pitcher Roy Oswalt's $16 million mutual option on October 24, there was little surprise among fans. Paying $16 million for a player who posted a losing record amidst an injury-riddled season would have been absurd, and the Phillies opted to pay Oswalt his $2 million buyout.
Even when the Phillies declined to offer arbitration to Oswalt on November 23, it was nothing shocking. Despite Oswalt being the only Type A free agent not offered arbitration this offseason, had he accepted, he could have made more money than the Phillies felt he is worth at this stage of his career.
What the real surprise is, though, is that Oswalt is still unsigned with two days left before the mandatory reporting date for pitchers and catchers. Being a model of relative consistency over the last few seasons, Oswalt was considered one of the top free-agent starting pitchers this offseason, and one of the top free agents overall.
In spite of this, Oswalt and his agent, Bob Garber, have not found a suitor for the Mississippi native. While he's had some opportunities to sign, he hasn't been content with the teams offering the contracts, such as the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Just a few weeks back, it was rumored that Oswalt and the St. Louis Cardinals were closing in on a contract. However, the rumors proved to be false, for the Cardinals have no payroll or rotation space to sign Oswalt.
It's also for the same reason that the Texas Rangers—Oswalt's other top choice—have not signed the veteran right-hander.
Although both Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. and ESPN.com reporter Jayson Stark have stated that Oswalt to the Phillies is "[not a] fit for us right now" and is "not gonna happen," respectively, things can change.
Of all the teams interested in Oswalt's services combined with his interest level in pitching for the respective teams, the Phillies likely lead the pack, but the team would have to trade Joe Blanton in order to allow for both a rotation spot and payroll room to accommodate Oswalt, though they have considered that possibility.
Should Oswalt's demands subside and his asking price comes in somewhere below $8 million, if not below $5 million, he could be a possibility to re-sign. There are many positives to bringing back the man, and if the Phillies do decide to go that route, it could benefit them for a number of reasons, reasons which we'll investigate today.
I know, I know...the exact opposite happened last year with Oswalt at the helm, but things are a little different now than they were at this point this year.
The team's rotation is headed by Roy Halladay, followed by Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. After those three aces, it comes down to what will likely be Vance Worley and Joe Blanton in the fourth and fifth spots, with Kyle Kendrick, Joel Pineiro and perhaps Dontrelle Willis in the fold.
While the rotation is practically set in stone, any trade, cut or injury could call for a significant change.
ESPN.com's Jayson Stark speculated that among the big names who could be moved in spring training is Joe Blanton. Blanton, who's due to make somewhere from $8.5 to $10.5 million next season in the final year of his three-year, $24 million extension signed before the 2010 season, could be attractive to teams in need of an innings eater.
Aside from last season, Blanton has pitched at least 175.2 innings in every full season of his career, and if you take 2010 out of the equation, Blanton has never pitched a season with fewer than 194.1 innings under his belt. Although his injury risk is a concern, that's pretty darn good.
However, it would take quite a bit to ship Blanton off. Not only would the Phillies have to absorb most, if not all of his salary, they would get little in return. This could make it more difficult to sign Oswalt, for the Phillies would need toe payroll space to afford him.
But should a potential Blanton deal come with little salary relief for the Phillies, an Oswalt deal would likely not be possible.
In terms of ideals, it still would be great to bring Oswalt back. If the Phillies trade Blanton, Oswalt could come back to the team and get another shot at winning it all. And it would be very beneficial to the Phillies, too—assuming he's healthy, of course. The first three spots of the rotation are practically set in stone and Vance Worley, who filled in for both Oswalt and Blanton last year, has his spot to lose.
But what about that fifth starter? With Blanton out, the Phillies could give it to Kyle Kendrick, who was very successful as a long man out of the bullpen and as a spot starter last year. Pineiro could also win the spot if he puts up good spring training numbers. And even Willis, although the chances are slim to none, could have a shot at making the rotation.
But with Oswalt, the spot is guaranteed, and if he's healthy—though that's a big if—you know what you're getting from him: an ERA likely in the 3.00-3.50 range, at least 200 innings and maybe over 150 strikeouts, along with anywhere from 10 to 15 wins.
With a healthy Oswalt, the back of the rotation is reliable and less of a worry, and even if Oswalt doesn't return to post-2010 All-Star Break form, he's still a dependable option as a fourth or fifth starter.
Last year, when Cliff Lee signed his five-year, $120 million contract to return to Philadelphia, the city went nuts. Fans were ecstatic that the pitcher whom they had loved had reciprocated his feelings towards towards the fans, the city, and the team, and upon his signing, the combination of Roy Halladay, Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt was dubbed many names, such as the "Four Aces" and "R2C2."
Prior to Lee's return, the trio of Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt was known as "H2O." T-shirts and other memorabilia bearing the H2O moniker sold like hotcakes as Oswalt pitched to a 7-1 record with a 1.74 ERA following his arrival from the Houston Astros on July 29, 2010.
When Lee came along, the Four Aces and R2C2 items hit the shelves, and they sold just as well, if not better.
Lee being traded and Oswalt's arrival allowed for the H2O nickname to come to fruition. But what if Oswalt ultimately signs elsewhere? Not only does H2O get left in the dust, R2C2 is dead.
You can't really do much with RC2. It just doesn't work.
Bringing Oswalt back would lead not only to a continuation of Phillies apparel sales, but it would also lead to increased ticket sales (although with the sellout crowds, that isn't much of an issue) to see an ace pitcher one more game out of every five. With three aces, assuming the Phillies didn't have their sellouts streak, three of five games are prone to selling more tickets than the remaining two.
But with four aces, as was the case last year, tickets sold like crazy, and considering that just one game out of five did not consist of an ace-caliber pitcher, the fact is that Oswalt's presence was probably a huge contributor to ticket sales.
The return of Oswalt becomes even more important if Cole Hamels hits free agency next offseason and signs elsewhere. While that would be the equivalent to Doomsday 2012 for Phillies fans, if Oswalt signed a one-year pact and signed another after the season, it would still guarantee that the team had three aces instead of a possible two, with only Halladay and Lee remaining.
Oswalt's presence on the team isn't only vital from a sports standpoint—it also makes huge economic sense for the Phillies.
Although the Four Aces didn't consist of the same pitchers at the end of the season as it had at its beginning, the Phillies rotation still lived up to the hype by allowing the fewest runs in baseball, posting a 2.86 ERA among the entire pitching staff.
Compare that to the second place San Francisco Giants, whose starters' combined ERA was 3.28, a distant second. In addition, the Phillies rotation had the majors' most strikeouts with 932 (the second-place Giants had 871), as well as baseball's most wins (76), complete games (18), shutouts (21) and innings pitched (1064.2). The rotation also allowed the fewest walks in the majors, giving only 221 batters free passes all season long.
With Roy Oswalt as a part of that success, less pressure was placed on the offense to have to deliver in every single inning of every single game. They knew that their pitchers had enough going for them that providing a two- or three-run lead would suffice to win most games.
This became even more important because the starting lineup has gotten older by the passing year, and with Hunter Pence being the team's only everyday starter under 30 years old (not including Mayberry as part of Mayberry/Nix platoon), offensive production becomes that more important.
Yes, the Phillies did have the best offense in baseball from July onward, but that was mainly due in part to the Hunter Pence trade. Pence providing the aging lineup with some youth and some pop reinvigorated the rest of the team's position players. It prevented the opposing pitchers from pitching around certain hitters to force outs upon others.
Despite the offensive boost in the second half of the season, keep in mind that the Phillies had an eight-game losing streak in the last week and a half of the season, and their offense was not enough to win three games of the NLDS against the eventual World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals, though Cliff Lee's Game 2 four-run blown lead and Oswalt's dismal performance made it a bit more difficult.
Nevertheless, the offensive production can't be guaranteed as the 2012 season begins, which is why Oswalt is needed to prevent fewer opposing runs and to give the offense some more leeway if they have an off night.
Since Ryan Howard will be out for (probably) at least a month to start the season, offensive production by the rest of the team is sure to suffer, and pitching becomes that much more important to allow for as many victories as possible.
With Oswalt in the fold, there's less stress on the remainder of the offense to produce runs, something that may be difficult without The Big Piece in the lineup.
Part of Roy Oswalt's success as a Philadelphia Phillie has come from the fact that he's pitched in Citizens Bank Park. Although it's a hitter's park, Oswalt has kept his cool pitching in front of the home crowd. In his career at the Bank, he's gone 13-4 with a 2.93 ERA with 113 strikeouts and a 1.12 WHIP in 20 starts consisting of 135.0 innings pitched.
Simply put, he's almost unstoppable in the City of Brotherly Love.
I know, only half of Oswalt's starts will come at home. You want more concrete evidence. I get that.
Against the rest of the NL East in his career, Oswalt is 22-18 with a 3.63 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and has fanned 325 batters over 386.2 innings pitched. Keep in mind that this is over his career. Over the last two seasons (I'll have to include potential Astros starts in the 2010 season)—his two as a Phillie—Oswalt has put up a 9-5 record with a 2.90 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and has 103 Ks in just 127.1 innings pitched.
Ladies and gentlemen, that is incredible.
As we've covered, Oswalt's teams of choice are the Cardinals and Rangers due to their competitiveness and close proximity to his Mississippi home, with the Phillies not too far behind. We've also mentioned that the Red Sox, Tigers and Pirates have offered one-year contracts. In addition, the Cincinnati Reds have kicked the tires on Oswalt.
With almost half of the interested teams in Oswalt being from the American League, which became that much tougher with the signings of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Detroit Tigers, respectively, Oswalt may not have interest in seeing his numbers possibly spike due to increased competition.
Although the NL East has grown tougher this offseason as well, seeing players such as Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle, Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson join the division, none pose the same threat as the aforementioned power-hitting first basemen.
The National League itself is easier now, and that should definitely play a role in Oswalt's decision, unless it's solely about the money for him.
Put it this way: Oswalt has spent the last year-and-a-half pitching for the Phillies, and he's done well in Phillies pinstripes. He's shown dominance against division rivals and his home splits at Citizens Bank Park are difficult to top.
If Oswalt's basing his decision on the amount of Benjamins he's going to receive, then the Phillies may not be able to do much. But if Oswalt is willing to take comfort, prior success and experience into account like Cliff Lee did one year ago, Philadelphia would be the most logical choice.
With Roy Oswalt back in the fold, the Phillies' chances of making the playoffs and winning the World Series are that much greater.
Oswalt has pitched in eight different postseason series: five with Houston; three with Philadelphia. In the postseason, Oswalt has gone 5-2 with a 3.73 ERA, 1.34 WHIP and has 56 strikeouts in 72.1 innings.
Is he the best pitcher in the postseason? No. Far from it. But he has the experience under his belt not only pitching in just the postseason, but he's taken the mound in all three of the NLDS, NLCS and World Series in his career.
Aside from the postseason success, regular-season success is instrumental to making the playoffs. As a Phillie, Oswalt has clearly demonstrated the ability to succeed in the regular season, and he has been a huge part of the Phillies' October play the last two seasons, especially in 2010.
Had Oswalt not been acquired and not pitched as well as he had, the Phillies might not have made the postseason, and even if they had, it might not have been by as comfortable a margin.
The one goal that has eluded Roy Oswalt in his career is that World Series ring. Like Roy Halladay before him and Cliff Lee, Jim Thome and Jonathan Papelbon after, Oswalt chose to come to Philadelphia because he liked their chances of winning the World Series more than most, if not all other teams in baseball. And he's got good reason to think so: the Phillies have won five straight division titles, have made the World Series in two of those runs and the NLCS in three of them.
In addition, the Phillies have shown the willingness to acquire star talent at a steep cost if it means winning. Any player can appreciate a team's commitment to win.
Oswalt came close to winning it all in 2005 when his Houston Astros lost to the Chicago White Sox in the Fall Classic in four games. However, he was NLCS MVP that year, and he wanted to add that ring to his resume, pitching to win a bulldozer gifted to him by then-Astros owner Drayton McLane. Whether or not that's a conventional reason to pitch to win a game is another issue, but it couldn't be clearer that, regardless of the reason, Oswalt has a drive to win.
And like Oswalt, the Phillies have a drive to win. And while they've fallen short in recent seasons, they have arguably the best chance of any team right now to win it all.
If a ring is what Oswalt truly desires, Philadelphia is the best destination, and not only does the team provide him the best chance of attaining that ring, he gives the team a better chance of doing the same. Oswalt and the Phillies are a match made in heaven.
Let's hope that destiny prevails.