Roy Oswalt has officially announced that he is officially not signing anywhere, for now. Instead, he intends to keep in shape so that when some contender loses a starter, he can sign up and save the season. How to explain this sudden change of heart? The eminently quotable Lance Berkman has declared it “strictly a money thing”, adding that he think Roy can get “the same money in half a season as he can in a full season”. I think its much more likely that his teams of choice, the Cardinals and the Rangers, quite simply have no room for him whatsoever in their rotations. Were he willing to assume a kind of long relief role it would be a different story; however, he has made it quite clear he will not be pitching out of the bullpen under any circumstances.
I can’t say I’m really all that disappointed. Acquiring Oswalt to serve exclusively as a starter would have required trading Koji to make financial space, and moving Matt Harrison to the bullpen to make space in the rotation. I don’t think its abundantly clear that Oswalt would have been a significantly better pitcher than Harrison in 2012, and here’s why.
When comparing their preseason projections, Oswalt is clearly the winner. He is expected to pitch to a 3.68 ERA, compared to Harrison’s 3.97 ERA. However, the problem with using the projection systems is that a player’s particular situation is not well accounted for. ZiPS uses 3-4 years of data depending on age, and for both players that misrepresents the player they are currently. Although Oswalt came back strong from his DL stint in 2011, the fact remains that he had a very serious back injury which limited his effectiveness. The inherent fragility of Oswalt reduces his value. Matt Harrison, on the other hand, is being penalized for his performance in years before he started to get serious about being an elite pitcher. As has been documented by a variety of sources, Harrison decided to read a book (a first), and then changed his approach to attacking hitters and his delivery (Evan Grant of DMN covered this transformation here). Obviously, the transformation worked, and Harrison was a dominant starter. I expect he’ll be able to maintain much more of the success of the previous season than ZiPS predicts.
We also learned this week that the trade with the Athletics for Koji Uehara has fallen through. This marks the third failed trade, after the trades he blocked to the Blue Jays and a “mystery team”. It probably means that signing Mike Gonzalez is basically not going to happen. I can’t say I’m too disappointed about this either. Trading Uehara is more of a “fit” issue than it having anything to do with his performance. It seemed like he really didn’t want to play with the Rangers this season, and the Rangers obviously tried to get him someplace where he could have a fresh start. Hopefully the offseason turmoil won’t affect Koji’s play on the field. Assuming all goes to plan, he should be an excellent reliever.
ZiPS projects Uehara to maintain his excellent strikeout numbers at 10.26 K/9, limit his walks to 1.67 BB/9, and overall pitch to a 3.35 ERA and a 3.12 FIP. Mike Gonzalez, on the other hand, is expected to have a 4.44 ERA while maintaining a 8.67 K/9 and a 3.85 BB/9. Also, take this with a grain of salt, but Ron Washington has noticed that Uehara’s fastball has been sharp, with movement it was missing last season (T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com reported this). I would have been excited to a get a good prospect in return and just use Michael Kirkman instead, but the Rangers have demonstrated a commitment to a solid bullpen, and keeping elite personnel is part of that.
Overall, I think I’m happy that the Rangers are sticking with what has worked, rather than jumping the gun or weakening the team unnecessarily, just for the sake of changing things up.