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  John Shiffert has been a sportswriter off-and-on since he was in the 11th grade at Germantown Friends School . . . which is longer ago than he cares to admit. A native Philadelphian currently living in exile outside of Atlanta, he is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, a true red Phillies fan who is still enjoying re-living the 2008 baseball season, a certifiable history nerd, and the author of three baseball history books, the most recent of which, "Base Ball in Philadelphia," is the story of the game in the City of Brotherly Love from 1831 to 1900. His fourth book, on that very same 2008 baseball season, "The Breaks Even Out and Midnight Comes Quickly for Cinderella," is now available. 

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All Phillies... All the Time

#21, February 9, 2012

Thinking Outside the Oswalt Box

 At this point in time, it would seem to be more thorough to identify the teams that Roy Oswalt will NOT be pitching for next year. Let’s see if we can recall all the rumors and such…

 He apparently turned down an eight-figure offer from the Tigers. He completely blew off the Pirates (smart move.) There is “no traction” to any talks between Oswalt’s camp and the Red Sox. When approached by the Blue Jays, word has it he told them to go jump in Lake Erie (or something like that.) Returning to the Astros has even been mentioned, though not taken seriously by anyone who isn’t doing major mind-altering drugs. Reds GM Walt Jocketty is disgusted by the whole affair, and claims they haven’t had any contact with Oswalt.

 On the other hand, there have been numerous reports that he would like to pitch for the Cardinals or the Rangers, however, neither team has a spot in their rotation for him, nor the money to sign him, at least not without moving serious payroll. Even the Mystery Team doesn’t seem to be a likely possibility.

 Considering that Oswalt would undoubtedly prefer pitching for a contender, there are lot of other teams that can be ruled out for 2012 at this time as well… for instance, the Athletics, Mariners, Royals, White Sox, Twins, Indians, Orioles, Mets, Cubs, Dodgers, Rockies and Padres. Then there are the other contenders. In the American League, the Yankees have recently filled out their rotation with a trade (Michael Pineda) and a free agent signing (Hiroki Kuroda), and are, in fact, looking to get rid of a starter (that would be A.J., Burnett, of course). The Rays also have a full house in the rotation, and are possibly looking to move one of their Jeff Niemanns, and don’t have the money anyway. The Angels are sort of booked after throwing an obscene amount of money at Albert Pujols.

 In the National League, the only real strength on the Giants’ roster is the rotation, and the same could also be said for the Braves and the Brewers. The Marlins’ once-every-decade single season push to respectability (if you really want to consider them contenders) has already added two starters, Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano. The D’Backs, also not awash in cash, have added Trevor Cahill from the Athletics fire sale (that sound you hear is Connie Mack, spinning like a top). Finally, despite their pretensions to glory, the Nationals aren’t a real contender in 2012… there’s this little matter of scoring runs, don’t you know.

 That just about covers it. In all of major league baseball, there doesn’t seem to be a home for Roy Oswalt, at least not without some serious changes on one side of the equation or the other.

 Wait a minute. That’s only 29 teams. There’s one missing. That’s right, the team Oswalt’s coming from, the Phillies. Now, Ruben Amaro, AKA RAJ, AKA, the Stealth GM, has made it publicly and eminently clear that there is no room in the Phillies rotation for Oswalt, and the team doesn’t have the room under the Luxury Tax threshold to sign him anyway. All well and good, and maybe Amaro is completely sincere in those thoughts. But… this is the Stealth GM, and this is an organization that has shown it is willing to think outside the box. Who else would have called up Bean Stringfellow this fall to see if Billy Wagner was willing to un-retire?

 No less a source than Jayson Stark has reported that the Phillies have been calling around to see if there is any trade interest in Joe Blanton and at least part of his $8.5 million, one-year salary. (The answer, it would appear, is, “no.”) There are also numerous reports that the Phillies have at least talked about bringing back Oswalt, and that the pitcher is interested in returning to Citizens Bank Park, where he has been far more successful than most mortal pitchers (a description that leaves the other Roy out of the equation.) One of the great truths to negotiations is that it takes both sides wanting to get a deal done for the deal to get done. So, it would seem that that requirement already exists in Philadelphia. The question then is, how do you make it happen?

 As is typically the case, it would take both sides giving a little. Oswalt has already come off his multi-year demand, now he just has to lower his price a little, say to maybe $8 million for one year. That’s not exactly chump change, and it would set him up, as a similar deal did for Ryan Madson, to re-enter the market next year, maybe with a lot more leverage… assuming he is sincere about wanting to continue pitching.

 On the Phillies part, it’ll take some more outside the box thinking, which is to say, RAJ may very well have thought of this already. In this scenario, the player to trade isn’t Blanton, who is at the bottom of his value, thanks to last year’s elbow injury. No, the player to trade is Kyle Kendrick, who is at the top of his value. It’s Economics 101; there’s no demand for Blanton, but there would be demand for a relatively young, cheap pitcher coming off his best year. Trade Kendrick for one year of Oswalt? Why not? It’s a one-year contract for Oswalt, and, more importantly, Blanton’s $8.5 million comes off the books after 2012 either way. Would controlling Kendrick, a hole-filler at best, through the 2014 season be all that important?

 Kendrick’s $3.65 million salary for 2012 won’t cover the tab for Oswalt, but, suppose RAJ continues thinking outside the box, and also dumps the salaries, in trade, of Chad Qualls ($1.5 million) and Ty Wigginton ($3.5 million)? Outside the box? Yes. Off the wall? No. That’s more than $8.5 million right there and, more importantly, except for the backup third base spot, there are already players under contract to take their places. And, how hard is it to find a cheap, back-up third baseman? For example, the Tigers might take a case of Roy Oswalt baseball cards to get Brandon Inge off their hands.

 As for the pitching end of things, with Oswalt back in the rotation, Blanton becomes an extra pitcher. And, speaking of backs, if the Red Sox, Rangers and Cardinals, all teams in a similar position to the Phillies, aren’t worried about his back, why should the Phillies be worried? Maybe they should, but, consider this…

 Right-handed set-up men are $12 million a dozen. They already have three on the roster; Jose Contreras, Michael Stutes and David Herndon, to say nothing of Michael Schwimer (don’t go out and buy a Schwimer #44 jersey, these things can change), Brian Sanches and maybe Phillippe Aumont. And, that’s also to say nothing of Joe Blanton. A few years ago, in 2007 to be exact, the Phillies took a hard-throwing starter who didn’t seem to be getting good results as a starter, and made him a successful reliever. Brett Myers. Think about it. You can bet RAJ has.

 Even without Kendrick, and with Blanton in the bullpen, the Phillies have been stocking up on number five starter types like Joel Pineiro, David Bush, Pat Misch and maybe even Scott Elarton. Of course, Blanton could also be slotted in the role planned for Kendrick, sixth starter/long man. In other words, there are plenty of potential pieces to fill a hole if Oswalt’s back does give out.

 Roy Oswalt may or may not still be an elite starting pitcher. Except for the second half of the 2010 season, he hasn’t been ROY OSWALT for an entire season since the 2008 season (17-10, 1.179 WHIP). Still, wouldn’t you rather have him in the rotation than Joe Blanton coming off an elbow injury, or Kyle Kendrick, even coming off his best year? You can bet the Stealth GM would prefer that, Now, if they can just find a back-up third baseman…