On Oswalt and McClellan

Unless you’re a Cardinals fan that lives under a rock, you’ve heard the recent rumors relating to Roy Oswalt and Kyle McClellan. To catch you up, the Cardinals and Oswalt were reportedly very close to an agreement this past weekend, with a couple reporters calling the signing “imminent.” Of course, since the St. Louis scene wasn’t all over the rumor, I questioned it’s accuracy. And now, just over the last days or so, the St. Louis Cardinals are actively shopping Kyle McClellan, purportedly to get a roster spot and an extra $2.5 million of salary room so that they can increase their offer to Oswalt.

Now, Oswalt’s agent said within the last couple weeks that he would not be a reliever this year. That means he likely has more than one team interested in him to pitch out of the rotation. That’s where he’s been successful in the past, and I wouldn’t want to sign him as a reliever anyway, there is no guarantee a successful starter can adjust to the differences coming out of the bullpen. Which is also another reason against moving Westbrook to the bullpen.

As I sat and thought about these moves last night I’m confused. I cannot for the life of me figure out the cost-to-benefit analysis on this move. You’re trading away 27-year-old Kyle McClellan, who was one of the best middle relievers in major league baseball in 2010, his last season pitching solely out of the bullpen, to add a 34-year-old sixth starter who has had back problems off-and-on for the last few years, culminating last year where he only made 23 starts.

It seems like the 2012 Cardinals are banking hard on injury prone players and praying they remain healthy. They gave $14 million to Rafael Furcal, $26 million to Carlos Beltran, and now seem to be on the verge of giving Roy Oswalt somewhere in the $7-10 million range. These signings all sound great… if it were 2004.

Here are three reasons against signing Roy Oswalt.

First, the cost-to-benefit analysis doesn’t work out for the Cardinals. There was an excellent post at Viva El Birdos yesterday talking about Oswalt replacing Westbrook in the rotation or the use of a six man rotation. If you don’t feel like reading all of that, what his analysis eventually showed is that replacing Jake Westbrook with Roy Oswalt would theoretically result in a net gain of 13 fewer runs allowed, basically what ultimately boils down to just about 1 win over the course of a season. So basically the Cardinals look to be trying to spend $7-10 million for 1 more win.

Many Cardinals’ fans aren’t happy with Westbrook and would be happy to trade him for a bucket of balls. Westbrook, for some reason, had the worst season of his career, posting a 4.66 ERA but still 12 wins. However, in the second half he posted a 3.89 ERA. He struggled most of the season for sure. For what reason, we don’t know, but it’s safe to say that most fans were expecting the 3.48 ERA Jake Westbrook we saw at the end of 2010 when we traded for him. So to get the Westbrook we got was a shock. Something to remember is that Westbrook is likely to be better this year.

And I’m back to my statements of last offseason where we got rid of a couple players who failed to perform in 2010 but had previously had success for a couple of players who failed to perform in 2010 but had previously had success. If we’re going to be crossing our fingers that someone suddenly becomes productive again why all the shake up?

But that doesn’t stop many of us fans from going all googly-eyed about the idea of Roy Oswalt in the rotation. He has the sexy name that everyone wants, but it doesn’t seem worth it.

Second, you have to ask yourself: Is Roy Oswalt better than Jake Westbrook?

If you’re asking for 32 starts from both and they give them to you, Oswalt is going to be the better pitcher. However, when you look at the whole of the situation: Oswalt’s back, Westbrook’s no trade clause, a full rotation already… I’ll take Westbrook because it’s a better use of the organization’s money.

Many fans defend the idea saying Roy Oswalt could be the Lance Berkman of 2012. How many times does lightning strike the same place? How many times do you win on two consecutive pulls of the slot machine? How often will a roulette wheel turn up 17 twice in a row? To expect someone to come out of a perceived nowhere and put up a season like Lance Berkman did last year is naive. Could it happen? Yes, but it is exceptionally unlikely.

And third, it’s easy to sit here and say sign Oswalt, move Westbrook to the bullpen or trade him. However, you have to ask yourself what is the impact of the move on the locker room’s makeup? What if Westbrook isn’t happy about his demotion out of the rotation? He was willing to move to the bullpen in the playoffs for the team, and appropriately so because he was the team’s least successful starter in 2011. I think he understands that, but he’ll want the chance to show he can still be a successful starting pitcher. An unhappy player can easily poison a locker room and a poisoned locker room won’t be winning many championships.

And in summary, the question that we should be asking about the Cardinals’ interest in Roy Oswalt is what it means for the current rotation? The Cardinals have apparently also checked in on Edwin Jackson recently as well. That has me wondering why you’re looking for another starting pitcher when you already have five locked in under contract and a young Lance Lynn getting his starter’s arm back at Memphis (or that’s the plan anyway). Remember the news that Chris Carpenter might not be able to make his start in Game 1 of the World Series due to an elbow issue? Could there be injury concerns about one of the Cardinals’ starters that haven’t been made public?

That is a much larger concern.

Reports are now that Oswalt is visiting with Texas early this week. Personally, I think that’d be a great home for him to finish out his career and they could use a veteran pitcher to lead that rotation.

One thing is certain. After this offseason, I don’t know how anyone can call Bill DeWitt “cheap” anymore.

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