The Mariners Should Sign Roy Oswalt

Roy Oswalt is worth as much as several acres of dilapidated swamp land that happens to be full of oil that may one day be mistakenly discovered. Seattle may be no Beverly Hills, though.

Roy Oswalt has been conspicuously absent from a major league roster this entire offseason, and it’s probably about time for him to consider coming to Seattle. The 34 year old right-hander came into the offseason with high hopes, and probably overshot the market. His desire for a three-year deal probably made several teams shy away, though he’s flirted with the Red Sox and Rangers, among other teams.

Oswalt may not seem like an ideal buy-low candidate for the Mariners, as his advanced age, handedness, and diminutive stature all play against the elements the Mariners are presently looking for in a typical free agent. However, like much of Oswalt’s career, he bucks all trends and scouting reports.

Coming off of a 2011 season that saw Oswalt miss several starts as a result of back problems, and the aftermath of tornadoes surrounding his home in Mississippi, Oswalt may appear on the downslope of his career. But It was the first season that Oswalt hasn’t made 30 starts since 2003, only the second time since the same year that he didn’t surpass 200 innings pitched, and he posted his lowest strikeout rate of his career (6.02 K/9).

Oswalt was still able to be effective though. He pitched 139.0 innings of 3.95 xFIP ball, and was good for 2.5 WAR over the course of an abbreviated workload. His xFIP- was 103, which means that his xFIP was three percent higher than league average. For his career Oswalt has out-resulted his xFIP, which may be, at least in part, attributed to his style of pitching.

chart from

Oswalt throws a large portion of high fastballs, which generally get turned into fly balls. Oswalt’s fly ball rates aren’t sky high, but despite that his infield fly rate for his career is about a percent above league average, which means that he’s about 10 percent better than league average in the category, and certainly a higher percentage of his fly balls were infield flies. Even last year, as decreased velocity may have sapped some of Oswalt’s strikeout numbers, the pitches that batters are now making contact with appear to be heading into infielders gloves, as his 14.4 percent infield fly rate indicates.

The big draw for the Mariners to sign Oswalt though, is that he actually has fared remarkably well against lefties for his entire career. Oswalt has posted a better xFIP against lefties (3.50) than against righties (3.64).

He strikes out lefties at a higher rate than righties:

Walks them at close to the same rate:

And he’s held lefties to a lower home run rate:

Oswalt has also yielded only a .124 ISO to lefties, against a .138 against righties. A really easy argument could be made that Oswalt has been better against lefties during his career than he has against righties. All of this is important of course, because Safeco Field plays near-neutral for left-handed pull hitters, but plays hell on righties.

Also—as previously mentioned—Oswalt’s results have been better than his peripherals throughout his career, and there is reason to believe that can continue. He’s been effective while pitching about a league average amount of fly balls, while generating an above average amount of missed bats. He’s done this, however, in two parks that allow a well-above-average amount of home runs in Houston and Philadelphia.

One can only project that Oswalt would benefit even more in the friendly confines of Safeco Field, where home runs and hitters of homeruns go to die long, lonesome deaths.

So what’s in it for Oswalt?

That really depends on what Oswalt wants at this point in his career. He appears to be looking for a team that is competitive. He also seems to want a multi-year contract. Seattle probably won’t offer him either of those things this year.

What they could offer him, however, is the ability to improve his stock. Safeco Field, to some extent, turned Cliff Lee into the $120 million man he is today. It turned Michael Pineda into a guy who could be traded for the best hitting prospect in baseball. It turned Erik Bedard into a guy who could be traded for anything besides cadaver tissue. Safeco Field helps pitchers. There’s no doubt about that.

But Oswalt is an odd bird. He talked about retiring at the end of his contract with Houston. He credits a jolt from his truck battery, not Dr. James Andrews or any other orthopedic-guru for curing his arm-health-woes. And he seems to be motivated by only the finest things in life, like bulldozers. (I wanted to link all those seperately, but when I went back to find the articles I read those in, I found that I’d read them all in this fantastic piece by Buster Olney, back when I was a subscriber)

Roy Oswalt may want absolutely nothing to do with Seattle. The Mariners are a victim of proximity quite often it seems. I mean, damn, the only real time the Mariners have had any proximity advantage has involved free agents from Japan: almost 1700 miles away.

I have a funny image in my mind of Jack Zduriencik meeting Oswalt at SeaTac Airport with Oswalt arriving in nothing but a straw hat, tattered overalls, and a stick with a bandana tied to it that carries Oswalt’s baseball glove and cleats. He’s not a natural fit in Seattle. Seattle is a long way from home.

Here’s my idea. Seattle offers Oswalt a $5 million guaranteed salary, a $15 million club option with about a $1 million buyout, and a partial no-trade clause. The option and no-trade clause give Oswalt some leverage when the Mariners invariably trade him at the deadline.

The small guaranteed salary isn’t set in stone. Oswalt is likely to be worth much more than that. But it is a reflection of the undeveloping market for the veteran starter.

He’d be able to leverage his option against teams on that no-trade clause. Frequently players with remaining contract options will negotiate for their new team to pick up that option, or negotiate some sort of that-year salary increase to waive both the option and the no-trade clause.

And about that whole playing for a contender thing: It’s pretty hard to figure out who will and won’t contend if you’re a free agent right now. The only teams that seem like true locks to win their divisions are the Phillies (who don’t seem incredibly interested in bringing Oswalt back) and the Tigers (who have spent about a billion dollars and a trillion prospects to be who they are today). If Oswalt had control over who he could be traded to, he could be a lot more sure that he got traded to a contender.

Besides, if this all goes wrong it could probably mean only two things: either Oswalt got injured (historically unlikely) or the Mariners were actually good—presumably with some considerable contribution by Oswalt—and the team can let Oswalt ride his tractor off into the sunset (after making him a qualifying offer under the new CBA rules, of course), while the team collects a few draft picks upon his departure.

Should the Mariners sign Roy Oswalt?

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  • Anonymous

    I don’t see it happening but he should be worth some decent prospects at the deadline if he would come at a resonable price.

  • Franklin G.

    No way he signs with the Mariners. Take it from a Phils fan… he’s an injury risk with a balky back. He’s lost 2 to 3 mph off his fastball. And he’s a head case – who really didn’t seem like he wanted to play last year. (he wanted, as you point out, to work his tractor) He wanted one last big payday with a contender… he didn’t get it. I’d be shocked to see him pitch ever again.