The National League East has seemingly been the busiest division in baseball since the World Series ended. The Phillies are reportedly finalizing a deal that would pay closer Ryan Madson $44 million over four years*. The Marlins have been meeting free agents Mark Buerhle and Jose Reyes as they prepare for a big splash with the opening of their new ballpark. The Nationals have re-signed Chien-Ming Wang and still want more starting pitching.
The Nationals have Phillies free agent starter Roy Oswalt in their sights, with FoxSports.com reporting yesterday that the Nationals plan to make a “major push” for Oswalt, who went 9-10 with a 3.69 ERA last year while fighting a bad back. He fits the profile of the kind of veteran starter General Manager Mike Rizzo has said he wants to acquire.
“The pitcher we’re looking for is a good leader type of guy who can throw a lot of innings,” Rizzo said. “He’s shown he can win in the big leagues and really lead our staff, not by having the best stuff on the staff, but by showing how to be a professional and how to be a winner and how to pitch 200 innings in a season many, many times. That’s kind of the guy we’re looking for.”
As far as leading the staff, Oswalt has the experience – more than 2,100 innings over 11 seasons – and the reputation. In conversations earlier this offseason, two Nationals players said, unprompted, they hope to see Oswalt come aboard this winter.
In the past, Oswalt has expressed his willingness to play in Washington. In 2010, when he pitched for the Astros, Oswalt told the Post he would waive a no-trade clause to accept a deal to Washington.
If the Nationals do attempt to sign Oswalt, the structure of baseball’s offseason will likely cause it to happen in late November at the earliest.
Oswalt is a Type A free agent, which means if the Phillies offer him arbitration and he declines, the team who signs him must give the Phillies their first-round round draft pick as compensation.
If any team signs Oswalt before the Nov. 23 deadline for clubs to offer their own free agents arbitration, then an arbitration offer will be assumed and the team will lose its first-round draft pick.
By waiting, teams may find an opportunity to sign Oswalt without losing the pick. The Phillies have a tricky decision to make whether or not to offer Oswalt arbitration.
Earlier this offseason, the Phillies made Oswalt a free agent when they declining a 2012 option that would have paid Oswalt $16 million. If the Phillies offered salary arbitration and Oswalt accepted, they would be stuck paying him a similar salary.
The Phillies may still offer Oswalt arbitration in the hope he declines. They could bet on Oswalt choosing more than one year guaranteed, in which case Oswalt would decline the arbitration – and the Phillies would receive their compensation picks when he signs with another team.
(Just a thought: The Phillies, if they plan on not offering Oswalt arbitration, could attempt to pull off a cunning move here. If they can present a false front that they’re trying to re-sign Oswalt before the arbitration deadline, it could put the pressure on other teams to sign him early and allow Philadelphia to gain the compensatory draft pick without the risk of offering arbitration.)
Oswalt’s value as a free agent would rise if the Phillies do not offer him arbitration, since teams competing to sign him would not have to give up a draft pick. If the Phillies offer Oswalt arbitration and he declines, Mark Buerhle, another Nationals pitching target, may become more attractive.
Oswalt has been the better pitcher. But Buerhle, 32, is younger, seemingly healthier (Oswalt, 34, missed about 10 starts with a bad back this season) and would probably be cheaper to sign. Buerhle is also a Type B free agent, which means the Nationals would not lose a draft if they sign him, no matter what.
*The contract makes not trading Drew Storen at the deadline look a lot better, no? Storen last season saved 43 games in 48 opportunities with a 2.75 ERA and a 3.7 strikeout-to-walk rate. Madson saved 32 games in 34 chances with a 2.37 ERA and a 3.88 K/BB rate. Next season, since Storen is still a zero-to-three player, Madson will earn about 26 TIMES what Storen makes. With Jonathan Papelbon still on the market and likely to exceed Madson’s deal, it’s a good time to have a good, young, cheap closer.