Oswalt Wants Out Of Houston

Steve O Speak

It has been a rough year for the Astros as they have fallen to the cellar of the N.L. Central and are tied for the 2nd worst record in baseball. Things are about to get worse for the Astros after the news came out that star pitcher Roy Oswalt wants to be traded.

Oswalt has been a tremendous homegrown talent for Houston over the years. And while his record stands at 2-6 the blame can’t be on Oswalt’s shoulders. His ERA sits at 2.66 and has a 1.07 WHIP to go along with 60 strikeouts in 61 innings pitched. Oswalt has once again been his dominate self, but the team around him has crumbled to the point of complete dysfunction. Oswalt has won 139 games for the Astros over the years, but will likely be making his last few starts wearing a Houston uniform.

Oswalt who already said he would be willing to waive his no trade clause, has now sent a message through his agent to Astros G.M. Ed Wade that he would like to be traded. Now if the Astros are smart they will honor that request quickly and quietly (don’t want it to get messy since he does have the no trade clause he can veto trades he doesn’t like), and not try to convince their ace to stay. Now I realize their will be some fan backlash, but this really is the best thing for Houston.

They are a team stocked with high priced veterans and have no chance of contending these next two years (the years in which the Astros have Oswalt under contract, for roughly $29 million), and should cash in on him while they can. The Astros farm system is the definition of being barren, so an Oswalt trade can help jump start (start) their rebuilding process (as well as moving a few other players). They can also use the money they are saving by trading away these big contracts to draft and sign a higher level of amateur talent, which was the blueprint that made them successful in the mid-late 90’s and carried over to this decade. Also the money they save this year and for the future can be invested into younger free agent talent next offseason. Players who will be with the team 4-5 years from now when their rebuilding process is complete.

The most important thing for the Astros is to run and not walk in making this deal. Now that is not to say agree to the first deal to come along, but Houston should be proactive and not wait around for teams to send them proposals. For one thing if they act now, they can sell the acquiring team on the fact that they will get an extra two months of Oswalt (which would amount to at least 10 starts) compared to if they wait until the trade deadline at the end of July. Teams might be willing to pay a higher price for those 10+ extra starts. Not to mention by putting Oswalt on the market now more teams might have an interest in him. Teams like the Cubs and Red Sox are struggling right now, but have high expectations to this season they are likely to try to jump back into contention with a big move. If you wait until the end of July they might be out of the race. Also some surprise teams like Texas and Washington could be in the mix right now, but might not be willing to pull the trigger later in the season. By waiting the Astros run the risk of other frontline pitchers hitting the trade market and being dealt to teams with the biggest need.

Not only does Houston need to act quickly but they need to make sure they don’t attach too high of demands to their star pitcher. Oswalt is a top of the line pitcher, but he isn’t a Cy Young type of guy. He has some injury history (though not too serious) and does have a no trade clause which means he will have somewhat of a say into where he goes. And while his contract isn’t breaking the bank, it is also more expensive than most, and the $16 million he will make next year puts him in the top 10 among pitchers. So Houston shouldn’t expect to get a prospect bonanza for their ace, and need to use what both the Padres and Blue Jays did as an example of what not to do.

Both San Diego and Toronto were in a similar position where their ace pitcher wanted out of their situation, but had some leverage with the no trade clause (and were also in their early 30’s like Oswalt). The Padres decided not to move Jake Peavy before the start of last season, because they wanted a bigger return. By waiting ended up losing all their leverage. One of the teams hot on Peavy’s trail was the Atlanta Braves, but they filled their pitching woes by signing a couple free agents and trading for Javier Vasquez, taking them completely off the market for Peavy. In addition to losing out on one of his primary suitors Peavy experienced some injury issues last year which further depleted his trade value. While they got a couple of solid prospects, they didn’t receive any difference makers in return for their ace.

The Blue Jays made a similar mistake later in the season when they set an exorbitant price tag on Roy Halladay and ended up not moving him until this offseason. By waiting Halladay’s value went down since he would have helped a team with two playoff runs last season, compared to just one as an impending free agent (he did sign an extension after he was traded). The Blue Jays placed too high of demands and were left with nothing last season. While they ended up getting a good return for their ace from the Phillies, I’m sure they could have pried more away last July. Philadelphia ended up trading 4 prospects to the Indians for Cliff Lee (who they sent in a trade to the Mariners to recoup some of the prospects from the Halladay deal). While they weren’t going to send all those prospects from both deals to the Blue Jays for Halladay, my guess is they would have sent at least two of the guys they dealt to the Indians Toronto’s way for that extra playoff run with Halladay. By holding out the Blue Jays got nothing to show for it, in fact they ended up spending an extra $6-8 million on Halladay for the rest of the season, a season where two weeks after the trade deadline the team couldn’t come up with the money to sign a number of their top draft picks. Had Toronto moved Halladay then, gotten the extra prospect or two and used that money to sign their draft picks, their rebuilding process with be much more advanced than it is today.

Houston needs to make an Oswalt (as well as maybe a Berkman) deal happen ASAP. Before any more leverage is lost on their part. The Astros need to get younger and Oswalt’s unhappiness is the first step in doing so. It might get worse before it gets better, but there will be a light at the end of the tunnel if the Astros are smart.

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