Roy Oswalt would like to spend his 2012 season in either Arlington or St. Louis. Unfortunately for him, the two teams that met in the 2011 World Series both have full starting rotations at the moment, and don’t seem keen on making room for him, especially at the price he’s reportedly asking for at the moment (roughly $8-10 million by most accounts). The Boston Red Sox would like to add some depth to a rotation full of question marks, but they appear to be low-balling Oswalt at the moment, and haven’t made any significant moves so far this winter. That leaves one team currently reported as in the hunt for Oswalt as a likely landing spot for the former Astros’ and Phillies’ stand-out: your very own Cincinnati Reds.
Would Oswalt be a good fit for the Reds? Absolutely.
Oswalt battled injuries in 2011, but as recently as 2010 he was able to pitch 211.2 innings between Houston and Philadelphia, putting up a 2.76 ERA and 3.27 FIP while striking out 8.21 batters per nine innings in the process. That’s an outstanding performance, and made Oswalt a 4.7 fWAR and 5.1 bWAR player that season. Even more encouraging moving forward is the fact that Oswalt pitched pretty well after returning from the disabled list last season, posting a 3.91 ERA over 61.2 innings over his last two starts with a 7.4 K/9 and 2.18 BB/9 while averaging just over 6 innings per start. Oswalt certainly comes with injury risks, but there’s still a lot of reason to bet on his ability to perform, especially when you’d be asking him to fill a mid-rotation role on a staff headlined by Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos.
Unfortunately, the Reds are apparently up against the boundary of their 2012 budget as well, and would need to clear some payroll space in order to acquire Oswalt. It’s always difficult to make assumptions about a team’s budget from the outside-looking-in, given that we know basically nothing about the franchise’s budget plan, but we can make some inferences from the fact that John Fay thinks that trading Homer Bailey could be an option towards freeing up some salary. The odd thing is, Bailey is only scheduled to make $2.425 million this year, and I find the idea that a MLB franchise in the Reds’ position would allow $2.5 million to come between them and a one year deal for a starting pitcher they want to acquire to be a bit of a hard pill to swallow. Maybe the Reds really don’t have the cash available to stretch their budget by that much, but that would be pretty surprising to me.
Here’s the thing though: the last time I contributed to this site, in analyzing the Latos trade, I noted that one of the more under-appreciated aspects of building a team was the value of having a coherent organizational strategy, and that’s even more true now that the Reds have traded for Sean Marshall as well as signed Ryan Madson to a one year contract. The Reds are as pot-committed to going for it all in 2012 as any team in baseball so, at this point, they should make any move that upgrades them at the margins this season.
Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that 2012 isn’t just the Reds’ best chance to win the World Series since 1990, it’s also their best chance for the foreseeable future as well. Even just looking ahead to 2013, the Reds will likely be without Ryan Madson and Brandon Phillips, and scheduled raises to Cueto, Jay Bruce, and Joey Votto alone will account for roughly $12 million in additional payroll. Which isn’t to say that the Reds won’t still be a good team this time next year, but it’s going to be very difficult for them to maintain the level of talent that they have on the roster right now. And so, to that end, if I were in the GM’s chair I’d do what I had to do to acquire Oswalt at this point (unless there’s something really worrisome in his medical reports, anyway). Maybe I wouldn’t go so far as trading Bailey, but I’d certainly think about it, given his history of shoulder problems and the fact that he’s already reached his arbitration years despite never starting more than 22 games or pitching more than 132 innings in a season.
At the end of the day, the Reds are at a bit of a watershed right now. They have a good team, to be sure, but the Cardinals will hardly fade into oblivion with the return of Adam Wainwright and the acquisition of Carlos Beltran. A weak division otherwise would seem to give them a great shot at the wild card as a fallback (and there’s still a possibility that a second wildcard is added this season, which would change the calculation quite a bit), but Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington, San Francisco, and Arizona all figure to provide quality competition in that regard as well, to say nothing of Miami, Milwaukee, and maybe even Colorado or Los Angles on the periphery. After the substantial investment the Reds’ organization has made in this coming season, it would be downright tragic to miss the postseason over $2.5 million.