Roy Oswalt Roy Oswalt Roy Oswalt

Roy Oswalt’s Patience Pays Off

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Now that the Texas Rangers have signed free agent starter Roy Oswalt to a one-year deal worth as much as $6 million, the early season rumor mill just got a lot more boring. For Oswalt, who will turn 35 at the end of August, this has to be considered a personal victory. The veteran right-hander waited patiently for his market to develop on his terms despite receiving interest from a wide variety of teams stretching back to the off-season. Unwilling to accept an offer that didn’t come from a team on his short list of favorite destinations or meet his financial expectations, Oswalt chose to sit out the first two months of the season and wait until a better opportunity arose.

He ended up getting exactly what he wanted, both in terms of team and dollar amount. Because the 2012 season is nearly a third of the way completed, Oswalt’s contract is the equivalent of a $9 million deal (assuming he meets all his performance bonuses), and he gets to play for a team that’s close to his home in Mississippi. Oh, and it just so happens that this team is about as much of a lock to reach the post-season as any club in all of baseball. Not a bad deal when you look back at how this played out. Seriously, Roy Oswalt has to be feeling pretty smug at this point.

So how should the Rangers feel? Well, it’s hard to suggest they shouldn’t be smiling a little as well. Their high octane offense is already well known and is probably the game’s best, thanks to an incredibly deep and impossibly well balanced lineup. The Rangers lead the American League in runs scored, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and home runs; you’d pretty much have to go out of your way to think up an offensive category they’re not dominating. Even after giving up 21 runs to the Seattle Mariners (don’t ask) last night, the team’s overall run differential still sits at +79, easily the best in baseball.

The thing is, it’s not like Texas is a one trick pony; they can pitch, too. Their rotation has contributed 4.9 wins above replacement as a whole in 2012, good for fourth in the AL. Ranger starters seem to be giving up their share of the long ball (thanks in part to a hitter friendly stadium and Colby Lewis), but they miss plenty of bats and give the opposition few nights off with no obvious weak link in the rotation chain. Bringing a pitcher of Oswalt’s caliber only makes a deep rotation even deeper, and that’s not good news for other teams.

That said, there’s no guarantee Oswalt is ready to channel the greatness of former teammates Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte; he may not be able to provide high quality pitching after taking random personal vacations from the game and then choosing to rejoin whenever the desire for more domination strikes. He may not be the pitcher he was in his prime. He may not even be the pitcher he was in 2011.

Make no mistake, Oswalt was still a valuable pitcher a year ago, when he contributed 2.5 WAR in 139 innings according to FanGraphs despite battling injuries that may have hindered his performance. That said, his K/9 rate of 6.02 was easily a career low, and his average fastball velocity dipped to 91.5 MPH, over one mile slower than his 2010 speed and nearly two miles slower than his 2009 mark. The extra lay-off may have given him much needed time to rest and return to full strength, but it may have added layers of rust he’s no longer young enough to work through. Add in the fact that he’ll be facing generally tougher offenses than he’s typically faced while spending his entire career in the senior circuit, and there’s just no way to be sure you’ll see anything close to vintage Roy Oswalt in 2012.

Seeing as how this deal is not likely to affect the Rangers’ bottom line, however, it’s probably a worthwhile gamble for a team that already features too many weapons for most teams to withstand. In the worst case scenario, Oswalt is hurt, ineffective, or some combination of both, and fails to help the team at all. In this case, the team is still extremely good and has his salary off the books after another likely playoff run concludes. The best case scenario is that a team that was already the best in baseball just added a shut-down starter who will only make them that much harder to beat; this will be especially invaluable in a post-season series. This is a nice fit for both sides, and even if it doesn’t work out, it was still a good decision by the Texas front office.

Can’t get enough of Spencer? Check out his work at StanGraphs and follow him on Twitter at @shendricks221.