The best-kept secret of this offseason seemed to be that Roy Oswalt was going to be a free agent. Sure, there were some procedural moves that had to happen first. But the Philadelphia Phillies were not going to pay him the $16 million or so he would cost to keep around in 2012. He was going to be available for the right team.
Of course, it's important to remember that Roy Oswalt would be available for one key reason: A recurring back injury caused retirement fears in June. According to CSN Philadelphia, Oswalt had been getting cortisone shots for years for degenerative disc issues. At $16 million, that was too big a risk for the Phillies to take.
Fortunately, Oswalt did return in 2011, and he did so at a pretty high quality. His xFIP for August was 3.78 and he improved to 3.58 in September. His FIP (2.58 Aug, 3.27 Sept.) and ERA (3.71, 3.51) were better both months, and FIP is probably a better measure here when you consider career tendencies. So it's safe to say, when healthy, he's going to be pretty valuable to a team.
Oswalt was thought to want a 2 or 3 year deal until Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com tweeted that Oswalt was willing to take a one-year deal. The thought is, Oswalt would like to prove he's healthy and get one nice multi-year deal out of it before retirement. (Maybe part of the great disappearing Oswalt story is that ESPN.com itself doesn't even have a story on this.)
So why bring the Tigers into this?
It feels like the kind of move Detroit needs to make. I don't think anyone is going to sit here and debate that Oswalt can be a valuable contributor in the rotation. Some have mentioned that Detroit needs a left-hander, but I would argue that Detroit doesn't need a left-hander. Especially if they had a pitcher of Oswalt's quality whose splits are nearly equally good no matter the side of the plate the batter stands (career OPS against of.680 vs. RHB, .694 vs LHB)
People may also get into the mind set that the Tigers only need a back of the rotation starter. This always causes me confusion. I thought the goal of baseball was to score as many runs as you can, and limit opposing teams from scoring as many runs as they can. Me, I'd be perfectly happy with a rotation of five aces. Short of that, give me the five best pitchers you can feasibly sign. You set out to sign a No. 5 pitcher, you just end up complaining that he pitches like a No. 5 pitcher all season.
If Oswalt is available and fits the 2012 budget, you try to sign him. If he's not interested, that's fine. If you're not interested, I'm confused.
But like every deal, you can't judge just by the player. You have to judge by whether it fits into your plans and budget. In this case, Oswalt is looking for a one-year deal. That should fit into the plans just fine if you want to give your pitching prospects a little more time to develop. Working in tandem, if you're afraid of signing Oswalt and losing him to injury, you've still got those prospects to fall back on.
What about using the money on position players? There's only one possibility for the Tigers that will cost money, and that's Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. As many of you know, the Tigers might need upgrades at second and third bases, but the chances of that happening are not that high. For one, the free agent market is now so bad it's out of the question. The Tigers would need to make a trade to bring in a quality infielder, and the infielders people would like to receive are generally going to cost at least one or two top prospects -- maybe even Jacob Turner. Which takes us back to that "need a pitcher" thing. If they can upgrade without giving up too much, kudos on a job well done.
After spending just $4.5 million on free agents so far this year, the Tigers ought to have some wriggle room to fit Oswalt into the budget -- unless they are absolutely certain they can sign Cespedes, anyway, and then it gets a bit fuzzy. Plus, there's no guarantee Cespedes will be a big upgrade either.
Ron Neyer of SB Nation's Baseball Nation wrote:
With a one-year deal, there's relatively little risk involved. And more to the point, there are good reasons to think Oswalt can still pitch. While his record and his (3.69) ERA were nothing special, and his strikeout rate was the lowest of his career, Oswalt's walk and home-run rates were right in line with his career marks. Also, he pushed his strikeouts up after returning to the rotation in August after a six-week absence.
It's possible that Oswalt will never again show his Hall of Fame-caliber talents for more than a few weeks at a time. But if he passes the physical, he'll probably be worth whatever it takes to get him this winter.
Oswalt just might be the best remaining upgrade the Tigers can make this offseason. I'd love to see them do it.