With one of their starters out for at least a month or two, the Texas Rangers sign the best starting pitcher on the market to bolster their rotation.
On the surface, it's a deal that sounds great, but it becomes a bit less exciting the more you look at the details.
The idea probably sounds especially palatable when the announcement comes the same day as a Scott Feldman and a labored bullpen result in 10 runs allowed against the Seattle Mariners. No one should suggest upgrading from Feldman to Roy Oswalt isn't a good idea, and it's not like the deal to get it done is particularly worrisome. Per Jon Heyman, Oswalt will get $5 million guaranteed -- plus up to $1 million in incentives -- value that would not be so difficult for him to reach, even in a shortened season. It's not a contract the Rangers will be on the hook for past this season, and it doesn't cost them a prospect.
The problem -- which Adam Morris agrees with at Lone Star Ball -- is that the Rangers just don't really need Oswalt, most likely, in part because he is not going to spare them from a lot of Scott Feldman time. It appears Oswalt will need around a month to prepare, with Richard Durret citing a more optimistic an unnamed source as saying June 20th. So we'll still see most of the starts Feldman was supposed to get, anyway, prior to the return of Neftali Feliz.
Oswalt is a recently-good/once-great pitcher, but this is not adding Cliff Lee at the All-Star Break. Lee did not help the Rangers' fortunes in the AL West much in 2010, but he gave the Rangers the all-important top-heavy starting playoff rotation come October. In 2012, the Rangers are not in a position where they are likely to need the difference between Roy Oswalt and Neftali Feliz to win the AL West; that thing is mostly wrapped up even though it's only May. Heck, they might not even be in the position where the slight gain from Oswalt is even important for playoff positioning; if you look at Baseball Prospectus's forecasts for the rest of the season, they expect Texas to outpace the Yankees for homefield advantage by more than 10 games! Like in 2010, the Rangers do not have a particularly top-heavy rotation for the playoffs, and Oswalt doesn't change that. He doesn't give them a "bona fide ace" they can match up with anyone in game one of a playoff series.
The Rangers probably don't make this move just for a month of Oswalt over Feldman, so this probably means a return to the bullpen for Feliz. There is just not a lot of guarantee he is an improvement over Feliz (or even Feldman, for that matter). This is a pitcher who lost a mile per hour off his fastball after returning from injury last season, and has not thrown a pitch in 2012. There's reason to be a tad concerned about his ability to get back to a high level.
For what it's worth, and it's not worth nothing, the forecasts are pretty optimistic on Oswalt. Steamer, possibly the best system at pitcher forecasts, saw a 4.05 ERA talent pitcher out of Oswalt this season; the level that has made, say, Carlos Zambrano a 0.9 WAR pitcher at FanGraphs in 66 innings pitched. ZiPS is even more positive, thinking him about a 3.60 ERA talent guy in 2012.
With prep time missed, advanced age, and recent injury, there are reasons to be less confident in those projections than you would be with some other guys, but there is at least a little bit of excitement out of them. The problem is, those numbers are likely to be higher when he faces American League lineups, and it doesn't have to go up a lot for him to be a negligible -- if any -- gain over Feliz. They are not at all an improvement over what Feliz had been doing by putting up a 2.74 ERA and 3.57 FIP. Steamer's pre-season expectations for Feliz were merely a 4.66 FIP, and ZiPS projects him at 3.71 for the rest of the season. Oswalt has to be pretty good to be worth $4.5 million on top of Feliz, and there is not much reason to expect him to be quite that good.
So perhaps the Rangers' scouting department has good reason to be down on Feliz's chances of returning in a timely manner, or starting long term. If that's the case, it is at the very best depressing after finally getting a delicious taste of Feliz the MLB Starting Pitcher. If that's not the case, this move becomes a tad bewildering.
Or, perhaps this was a case of ownership going over the General Manager's head due to personal bias.
Nolan Ryan was key to Oswalt signing..Roys wife was in Nolan's daughters wedding..Ryan negotiated entire deal..Stl, Phi,LAD all wanted in— karl ravech (@karlravechespn) May 29, 2012
Note there is nothing in there suggesting Jon Daniels is opposed to this move, so don't go stressing about turmoil yet. It is at least a mildly concerning report, though.
Perhaps there are other plans out there we will see before too long. In the mean time, Oswalt is not necessarily exciting, and perhaps a bit distressing. Unless the young starting pitcher is in worse shape than imagined, it is not necessarily a beneficial move for the regular season, nor the post-season. If Feliz is in worse shape than imagined, the gain of Oswalt is off-set by the concern over an important talent in the Texas organization.
All of those words spilled on why Oswalt does not make a ton of sense for the Rangers does not mean this should be some anger-inducing event, though. While it does not result in a top-heavy rotation for the playoffs, it does give the Rangers embarrassingly-deep rotational depth. When Feliz is back, the Rangers only have extra insurance at this point. That extra insurance is also a guy with the potential to maybe be the best in the rotation. Too much good starting pitching is a hard thing to accomplish, and the Rangers might be approaching that state with this move.
And, of course, this is a front office and scouting department that has done so much right in recent years, it's hard to disagree with the moves they make and feel much confidence in your being correct in questioning them.
Sensible or not, though, Roy Oswalt is now a Texas Ranger. In a month or so, he will be taking the mound for already the best team in baseball, hoping to tap in to the stuff that once made him look like a future Hall of Famer and make them even better. The part where we argue about whether or not the Rangers should sign him is over, now is the part where we watch and (hopefully) enjoy.