A couple of days ago, I wrote about the real need that the Kansas City Royals still had (and no, not Yuniesky Betancourt, who was signed yesterday to a one-year deal). The glaring need I wrote about was that the Royals still needed to address their pitching and obtain a front-of-the-line starter.
The two names I suggested were Roy Oswalt and Joe Saunders. We come to find out today (according to Jerry Crasnick) that Roy Oswalt has softened his demands. Oswalt is now asking for a one-year deal instead of a multi-year deal. In fact, Crasnick is reporting that at least six teams are interested in Oswalt.
A lot of concern has been shown to Oswalt's health. Teams were wary of giving him a multi-year deal because of it, and it appears that Oswalt wants to prove that he is healthy.
The signs of him not being himself last year are there. Oswalt's fastball velocity was in the 88-90 mph range, down from his usual 94 mph. Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz was quoted as saying Oswalt’s fastball “has no life.”
That wasn’t the only sign. Oswalt couldn’t seem to get ahead of hitters all season, with only 24 percent of all his at-bats going to 0-2 counts. That’s the lowest for him since 2008, where he only had 27 percent of his at-bats go to 0-2. His career average is at 30 percent.
That may be due to the fact that people were getting the best of Roy. Hitters hit .280 against him last year, by far the worst number he’s put up. Oswalt also posted his highest OBP and OPS of his career—.325 and .736, respectively. It’s not just an inflated stat either. In 2010 Oswalt pitched 211.2 innings and gave up 162 hits. In only 139 innings last year, Oswalt gave up 153 hits.
That brings us back to his fastball, which he used to help strike out a number of hitters. He posted the worse K/9 rate of his career in 2011, only striking out six hitters per nine innings. The year before he had an 8.2 K/9. Though he couldn’t strike them out, he didn’t put them on either.
This, in the end, may show that he can still be himself. Clearly Oswalt wasn’t the same last year, but he did show signs of being able to come back to form. He had a better time striking out hitters in the second half last year, posting a 6.8 K/9 in the second half. Compared to a 5.3 first half, Oswalt adjusted better during the second half.
Oswalt also posted his best BAA (batting average against) of the season in September. Players only hit .242 against Oswalt in his final six games. He had 31 of his 93 K’s in that stretch. He also cut down on the baserunners during September, as he posted an 1.171 WHIP.
What should also be noted about Oswalt’s 2011 September is that he went seven innings in four of his six starts. In each of those starts, he went at least six innings, and into the seventh in five of those six starts. It’s not a full season, but it does show that he retained some of his health.
Anybody who gives Oswalt a contract is betting on him being the Oswalt of September and not of May through August. His track record is one of an ace, a Cy Young-caliber pitcher capable of leading any pitching staff.
This is where the Royals come into play. Dayton Moore has shown patience in the starting pitching market since signing Gil Meche in 2007. The majority of Royals starters that Dayton Moore has acquired other than Meche have been by signing low-tier free agents, via trades or from within.
While there is nothing wrong with that way of acquiring pitchers, it shouldn’t be the only way. You should always be trying to improve your big league ballclub. A lot of Kansas City fans (myself included) get too caught up in the great farm system the Royals have and we forget that not every single one of them is going to pan out to be great.
I know the St. Louis Cardinals just won the World Series, but you have to look at their organization. While they have a good big league club, their farm system is only average right now. Their focus isn't on making sure they have the best farm system. The Cardinals' focus is on winning championships.
I get that a big part of that is by developing players in your system, but there are times when you have to go out and get proven talent—times where you need to go out and take a chance on somebody because you are trying to improve your big league ballclub because you want to win a championship. Insert Oswalt.
It is a risk/reward situation, but I consider this a medium-risk/high-reward in Oswalt’s case. It isn’t like he didn’t come back and had a year-ending injury last year. He came back and started 15 games in August and September. In August and September, Oswalt posted an 3.61 ERA with a 6.8 K/9 rate. Much improved on the 5.13 K/9 rate he posted from April to June.
I think that he simply just needed some time off to heal and that this offseason has proven that. In other words, he is well worth the risk. I personally thought that he would get an two-year deal around $20 million on the open market, but now I can see him getting a $9 million, one-year deal with incentives on performance this year.
If that is the case, then there should be no way that the Royals are outbid in the Oswalt auction. I’m not saying that the Royals should give him the most money no matter what. Any team offering over $13 million for Oswalt this offseason is way overpaying.
That said, the Royals have no reason that they can’t and shouldn’t go after Oswalt. Though he's a health risk (I believe a minor one at minimum), a healthy Oswalt in 2012 is a steal as the Royals will then have a true No. 1 starter for their staff while only paying the price that you would for a low-end No. 2 or high-end No. 3 starter.
The Royals have financial flexibility, especially since Gil Meche didn’t collect the final $12 million of his contract. There is money that you had already spent allocated on pitching that you have to keep. Not to mention that a one-year deal on Oswalt would be great for both him and the Royals.
Oswalt gets to rebuild value for a free-agent class next year which is already looking strong with the likes of Matt Cain, Cole Hamels and Zach Greinke, just to name a few. Adding Oswalt gives the Royals a veteran starter who is proven and capable of leading a staff and (if things don’t work out) can either be traded or let go at the end of the year.
Let's not forget either that this team had the cheapest payroll in baseball last year. With the All-Star Game coming, there should be some extra cash coming in as well.
As the general manager of the Kansas City Royals, it is Dayton Moore’s job to put the best team on the field that he possibly can. That doesn’t mean going out and spending all the money in the world, but that does mean taking a look at players who will help you get over the hump and truly contend for the playoffs. I would truly wonder what the mindset of the front office is if the Royals don’t go after what seems to be a perfect fit in Oswalt and make him a serious offer.
I'm not saying the Royals will win the World Series this year if they sign Oswalt, but if the Royals are serious about contending this year, then they will take a long hard look at Oswalt. If the Royals do land Oswalt, then its safe to that the Royals have begun step two of “the process”—contending for the playoffs and World Series.
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