Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 5/25/12
Picimg_mlb_apr_06_919b

Roy Oswalt is getting closer to signing a contract, and while his reported preference is to pitch for one of the Rangers, Cardinals or Braves, the surprising first-place Orioles are quickly emerging as a dark horse candidate for his services. The Orioles may have lost a recent waiver claim to the Rangers based on their better record — which is still strange to type — but an aggressive pursuit of Oswalt, with a relatively lofty salary for three months, may pry him away from the Rangers, the current favorites in his sweepstakes.

The Orioles have been diligent in their pursuit to date, with Dan Duquette avoiding the topic or speaking in generalities when Oswalt is mentioned. Though he may not want to reveal his hand, the club has to have interest in Oswalt on some level.

Pitching is one of their biggest needs — despite relatively strong performance early on — and he is the perfect type of pitcher for the Orioles to pursue: he won’t cost a ton for half of a season, won’t require a commitment beyond this season, and is frankly better than some currently staffed rotation members.

Oswalt would help the Orioles as, at the very least, a better fifth starter than Tommy Hunter. Were he to achieve his pro-rated Fans Projection of ~1.5 WAR from July to September, he also figures to prove as valuable as anyone else in the rotation. The Orioles starting core has produced 3.5 WAR to date, which ranks 6th in the American League.

However, it’s tough to expect Jason Hammel to continue pitching at this high of a level; there are always injury concerns about younger pitchers like Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta; and not enough is known about Wei-Yin Chen‘s true talent level with respect to how he’ll fare from here on out. Suffice to say, standing pat is foolish for the Orioles, but so is upgrading this team by surrendering prospects. By signing Oswalt, the Orioles would bring in a solid, veteran pitcher without having to part with any member of a top-heavy farm system still undergoing renovations.

Though 2011 was the worst season of Oswalt’s career, he still pitched effectively and produced 2.5 WAR over 24 games (23 starts). His peripherals were solid, with a below-Oswalt 16% strikeout rate, a 5.5% walk rate that matched his career mark, and a 45% groundball rate in line with seasons past. He pitched well, but wasn’t an ace, and somewhat declining performance coupled with injury concerns and his limited list of desired teams kept him from signing a player-friendly contract this offseason. Now, as the season has played out for almost two months, Oswalt has far more leverage in contract negotiations and it’s becoming clear that even the watered down version of himself from last year could prove very valuable, especially to a team like the Orioles.

From Oswalt’s standpoint, however, the Orioles aren’t an ideal fit. Despite starting the season off at 28-17, they are still regarded as a quasi-contender, if a contender at all. The Orioles aren’t strangers to hot starts, and as Rany Jazayerli recently noted, 2012 may play out similarly to several other seasons this millennium in which they looked strong early on and faded down the stretch. From Jazayerli’s piece at Grantland:

The 2005 Orioles won 17 of their first 24 games, and on the morning of May 27 they were 30-16 and leading the AL East by 4.5 games. They were 42-28 on June 22 and still led the division by two games. They were knocked out of first place three days later, and eventually lost 60 of their last 92 games to finish 74-88.

While the Orioles have played well through 8-14 games in various seasons since 2000, the 2005 campaign described above is most similar to their current run. At 28-17, they hold a slim one game lead over the Rays for first place, but have played solid baseball for far more than a week or two. Despite their good play through May, there are reasons to expect the same story to unfold.

The Orioles bullpen has a collective .246 BABIP and 83% strand rate. Their -5 UZR ranks towards the bottom of the league. Their lineup has the highest strikeout rate in the league and a bottom-half walk rate. Based on their runs scored and allowed, they are closer to a 24-21 team, which, while decent, would put the team in third place.

For Oswalt, the Rangers, Cardinals and Braves all represent better options as their playoff odds are greater. Those three teams are also more likely to play this way two months from now, and Oswalt probably wouldn’t want to spend what could amount to his last major league season playing for a 79-83 team that looked great through 45-50 games.

Oswalt is also unlikely to sign with a team that could fade down the stretch and look to trade him, as he has leverage now and can simply sign with someone less likely to experience that fade.

This isn’t to say the Orioles will absolutely finish the season under .500 and out of the playoff picture. It’s entirely possible this is just one of those years where they defy expectations and win a very tough division. But they’ll need guys like Oswalt to stave off regression while keeping the farm system in tact.

In that regard, this situation, like most others that have come before it, takes on a Catch-22 feel. The quasi-contender needs the player to maintain that status or increase their playoff odds, but the player prefers to go somewhere that has a better shot at making the playoffs without the effects of his production.

There is plenty of incentive for the Orioles to aggressively pursue Oswalt. They are by no means the favorite to land him, but with the Rangers looking more and more like the favorites each day, it’s time for the front office to make a concerted effort to bring him in. It’s time to throw generalities and vague niceties out of the window and negotiate.

The Orioles season doesn’t hinge on his signing, either way, but there is such little risk here for the Orioles — even if he gets hurt after one start and misses the season — that pursuing him is a no-brainer.


GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Teammate: Victor Cruz looks faster now than ever before

Donald Trump rips Boston mayor over failed Olympic bid

Power struggles becoming the norm for successful franchises

Report: Tom Brady destroyed phone, suspension to be upheld

J.J. Watt calls training camp 'the greatest'

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Hibbert asked agent to find him a coach who played in NBA

Irsay, Goodell haven't spoken about Deflategate since January

Arizona Cardinals make Jen Welter first female NFL coach

Larry Bird: Michael Jordan would kill me in 1-on-1 now

Junior Seau family says Hall of Fame went back on its word

Kobe will probably see time at power forward next year

‘Mystery pooper’ torments golf course by defecating in holes

Gyllenhaal’s parents made him turn down ‘Mighty Ducks’ role

Eli, Romo channel Rob Lowe in new DirecTV commercials

Troy Tulowitzki, the Blue Jays, and upgrading strengths

Nick Saban has incredible advice for his players on chasing girls

Nik Stauskas trolls Thad Matta

Will Smith fires back at former teammate Junior Galette

Sammy Watkins: It's a "problem" if Bills don't win AFC East

The most important quarterback in the game?

Boston Mayor Walsh refusing to sign Olympic host contract

Chris Johnson accused of smashing up Rolls-Royce rental

Astros’ playoff push prompts rescheduling of Taylor Swift

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Cardinals hire first female NFL coach

Larry Bird: Michael Jordan would kill me in 1-on-1 now

Seau family: HOF broke their word

Kobe to see time at power forward next year

Mike Pettine not ruling out Manziel

Galette appears to unload on Payton

Dez Bryant in 'financial distress' before signing new deal

Top 10 CFB coaches on the hot seat

Was Popovich close to retiring last year?

Kyle Busch continues historic run with Brickyard win

WATCH: Mike Trout HR lands in 'Trout Net'

With Cueto dealt, what's the market for other pitchers?

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker