Roy Oswalt and the Must Trade Clause

According to Jerry Crasnick, Roy Oswalt may announce today that he’s going to sit out the first half of the season, then make himself available to contenders for the second half of the season, also known as the late career model set by Roger Clemens. Oswalt rebuffed offers from teams outside his geographical preference, and by waiting June, he’ll leave open the possibility that either St. Louis or Texas will decide that they need him after all.

Still, training on your own and throwing bullpens at home isn’t the same thing as facing Major League hitters. While Oswalt can do his best to keep in top physical condition, he’s not going to be able to replicate a live game situation. And, any team looking to sign him this summer will have to take the lack of recent performance into consideration when they offer him a contract. That extra risk will likely drive the price down, and Oswalt will probably end up settling quite a bit less than he could have gotten if he signed with a team now.

So, here’s a thought – maybe Oswalt and his agent should invent the anti-no-trade clause. We’ll call it the Must Trade clause. Pick a team that could use a quality starter, plays in a pitcher’s park (in order to keep his value as high as possible), and isn’t expected to be a strong contender this year – say, for instance, the Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, or the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sign with them for something along the lines of the $8-$10 million for one year that Oswalt has reportedly been seeking from Texas or St. Louis.

However, make it a non-standard contract with a few interesting wrinkles.

1. The base salary is $5 million, paid out evenly over the course of the season.
2. There’s a $3-$5 million signing bonus, payable September 1st.
3. Oswalt specifies a list of teams to which he will accept a trade before the season begins.
4. If Oswalt is not traded to one of those teams by August 1st, he has the right to opt out of the contract and become a free agent.

Under this scenario, Oswalt is basically guaranteed to end the season with a team that fits his criteria for where he wants to play, and he gets more money than he will in any scenario where he sits out until mid-season. In addition, he gets to spend the first few months of the season facing Major League hitters hitters and proving that he’s still a quality starter. An expected also-ran gets a low cost rotation upgrade for the first half of the season and the chance to flip him for a interesting prospect at the deadline. And contenders can wait around and see how their roster shakes out before deciding if they want to bring in Oswalt for the stretch run.

Everyone wins. Plus, it’s interesting. What do you say, Roy? Want to be the first guy with a Must Trade clause in your contract?




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

54 Responses to “Roy Oswalt and the Must Trade Clause”

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  1. Alec says:

    Wouldn’t those teams looking to sign him just not trade for him and wait to see if he hits FA?

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  2. Schu says:

    Except the whole point is he doesn’t care about money, just the location of the team he pitches for.

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    • EarlSweatshirt says:

      Exactly. He turned down what, 10 million from Detroit? Reportedly the Red Sox offered him 5-6m. Both of those teams are stone cold contenders. He clearly wants either Texas or St. Louis.

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      • jj says:

        Really? If STL offers him $1mil he will take it? I can’t believe he doesn’t care about the money to at least some extent.

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  3. Tasintango says:

    Interesting idea but I still don’t like it. Don’t think he will, either.

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    • sc2gg says:

      Hey, it’s a much better idea than the “Wish You Could Trade Me” clause that Prince Fielder has in his current contract that kicks in in 2016.

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  4. Person says:

    Is there any team that would be a willing partner to this? They’d be signing a guy who doesn’t really want to play for them, and would probably receive less than market value in a deadline trade, since potential trade partners might instead wait for him to be released in August. But I could be wrong.

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    • Daryl says:

      My thoughts exactly. I don’t see the Ms/Pirates/Padres being interested unless the teams to which he allows a trade is larger than just St. Louis & Texas such that you can actually develop multiple bidders for the playoff stretch.

      A mutual option before the signing bonus kicks in would change it a bit (say August 1), as that would limit the contract to 2/3 of the 5 million.

      Do it M’s!

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    • chuckb says:

      The team still gets 4 months of performance from Oswalt. That’s 2-3 wins above and beyond what they’re expecting from what they’ve got now. Those 2-3 wins aren’t nothing.

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  5. That’s a very interesting idea. The only thing not addressed is the increased risk of injury. By sitting out Oswalt’s injury risk drops, but if he signs with Pittsburgh or whomever he risks hurting himself and thus his value. Of course, in that scenario he still gets his money, which is fine, but if that’s what Oswalt wanted, as was pointed out in the article, he’d just sign now and be done with it.

    In any case, interesting idea.

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    • jorgath says:

      But, see, the flip side is that by sitting out, he won’t be in as good shape when he eventually signs, which probably (there’s not enough data on this kind of move) makes him more prone to injury AFTER he signs, since he’ll be trying to do physically strenuous things while not In The Best Shape Of His Life.

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  6. ettin says:

    This would fit well for a team that is not really contending and has a pitching prospect that they want to bring up in the 2nd half for some MLB seasoning. Interesting idea.

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  7. swieker says:

    Love this idea. Is there any reason to think this would violate the CBA or that the commissioner’s office would otherwise void a deal with this clause?

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  8. Vinnie says:

    Other than the awful PR signal that it would convey to the fan base, it sounds like a good idea. I still feel like there’s some other potential downside to the team that signs him that we’re all missing, but it hasn’t come to me yet.

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  9. Keith says:

    Fascinating concept. Would be great it if the Pirates or Mets or the like took you cue. Hopefully Oswalt’s announcement is a last-gasp salary drive or other negotiating tactic, to squeeze another half-mil out of the Cardinals or even Red Sox. If not, it seems self-destructive. And it’s definitely sad. He’s 34. Three or four decent seasons and he’s in HOF conversations. Clemens was already past win # 300 and, like, 60.

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  10. Bobby Ayala says:

    Terrible idea. No team wants a lame-duck player, especially a non-contender for $5+ million dollars. And last I checked, no team wants to hand out contracts that give 100% of the leverage to the player.

    Signing Chris Young, etc, for <$5mil would be cheaper, better for the clubhouse, better for the fans, and would probably net a better return at the deadline.

    Next.

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    • chuckb says:

      Except Chris Young is terrible and won’t help anybody and Oswalt is good and will help a team. Oswalt does limit his options by only being willing to be traded to 2 teams so maybe that reduces the amount a team like the Pirates or M’s should be willing to pay him but those 2-3 wins that Oswalt offers above Young are worth something, even to teams like the M’s and Pirates. They could be the difference between having a .500 season or not. Those wins matter.

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      • Bobby Ayala says:

        I didn’t literally mean Chris Young and ONLY Chris Young, I just picked a random guy who hasn’t signed yet, implied by the “etc.” Think Freddy Garcia or Bartolo Colon last year.

        Finishing 80-82 as opposed to 82-80 doesn’t really matter to anyone, or if it does, not to the extent of having a guy in the clubhouse who doesn’t want to be there who’s taking up a spot on the 25-man roster affects your team negatively. No point in paying him $5mil, or $3mil, or whatever, just to weaken your draft position and hopefully not A) Opt out, sign with another team, and get you nothing in trade; or B) Get injured, in which case you have to pay him the whole $8-$10 mil, or whatever, to sit on the DL.

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      • Vegemitch says:

        Bobby… if Pittsburgh is doing well enough throughout the season to possibly finish .500, it is going to be a major story all year for that team and generate a lot of enthusiasm for the team. Finish 82-80 and they literally may have a ticker tape parade. These factors will also allow the team to be competitive for free agents that are ignoring the city currently.

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      • VB says:

        I agree with your premise, but I would actually think that a team on the playoff bubble could use that more than anyone else. It would suck losing Oswalt before September, but if you look at Boston, they just need pitching, anyway they can get it.

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    • Mike says:

      Teams take one year risks on players every year, even non-contending teams. The A’s did it a couple years back on Ben Sheets. The Pirates did it this year with Erik Bedard. There’s very little difference to the team in losing a player in August as opposed to after September, while the reward is the possibility of a young player or two coming back for him. The only difference I would make would be to make the opt-out deadline to be after he were to clear waivers to remove that possibility.

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  11. Jeff K says:

    Like that idea, but I would add another condition: he can only opt of contract if (the not expected to contend) team he originally signed with is more than 5 games out of a playoff spot on August 1.

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  12. bender says:

    Also known as an “Opt Out” clause

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  13. Curtis says:

    Seems like a terrible idea for the team.

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  14. Brian says:

    How would his teammates feel about this deal?

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  15. Trotter76 says:

    It’s kind of like telling your girlfriend you’re just dating her until someone better (or worse, someone *specific* that’s better) comes along. Bad scene, Bix.

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    • Vegemitch says:

      This happens all the time… what do you think a “friends with benefits” situation is? Everybody wants a relationship with additional fulfillment but also have other needs that they want to fill. So they fill those needs until something better comes along and they both know it.

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  16. junker23 says:

    Could he sign with an independent league team on like, a week by week basis and just blow away a bunch of guys there? Might keep him a bit more fresh than just throwing on his own and could serve as a kind of extended spring training.

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  17. Great out of the box thinking! I would love to see him do this.

    But the Reds better not sign him up or else Mat Latos will call him a mercenary every day.

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  18. Jay says:

    Why is signing mid-season going to drive his price down? It didn’t for Clemens on a per game basis. If a contender needs a starter in July, isn’t a FA Oswalt going to be more attractive than trading top prospects? Yes, there’s a risk, but there is with a trade too.

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  19. KitchenSink says:

    Brilliant idea. Win-win. Flat out brilliant.

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    • Baseball Star says:

      I see this a real lose for the team. They end up losing, but getting a worse draft pick because the won a few more games. They sign a contract that admits they plan to lose which kills ticket sales. They end up with a player who has incentive for the team to lose against a few teams in the league, and could care less if his own team wins when he is not on the mound. Bad, Bad, Bad idea for the team!!!!!

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  20. Keystone Heavy says:

    Or, Roy, you could just sign with Detroit or Boston or even the Mariners/Pirates and try and help them win a World Series and not just demand to play for the 2 defending pennant winners. Am I the only one that finds his entire mentality in this offputting?

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  21. ben says:

    yes. because the other teams that know that Oswalt must be traded would really be willing to give up anything of value for him.

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    • Brian says:

      If there’s competition, they’ll have to. Even if its only one other team.

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        That is an duopoly, and since quantity is fixed, it means that he would go for, at most, the price that the second bidder is willing to pay. At worst, he goes for the price that the second bidder is willing to pay minus some surplus for them.

        Take all that into account and it’s pretty clear that the team signing him is really hoping he takes that opt out.

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  22. John says:

    I don’t really see the signing team getting anything good in terms of a prospect because they would have no leverage in trading, because he has to be traded. When you are forced to do something, teams will try to get the biggest bargain possible. The only thing that would drive his price up would be a team wanting him for the playoff run, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he wants to go there. The Tigers seem like a lock for the postseason, and he didn’t sign their 10M offer, so why would the Rangers/Cardinals offer much for Oswalt, barring injury?

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  23. Matty Brown says:

    He will sign with St. Louis for a Backhoe.

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  24. jlr04 says:

    OK Dave, I admit you had me going there at first read, but the more I think about it the worse it gets. Why in hell would Oswalt need to replicate a live game situation for four months? If in shape and throwing regularly, 2 or 3 starts in AAA is more than enough come June when the Cards come calling. The real question is why turn down Detroit’s 10m, its not that far from his Mississippi digs. And why should Pitt stoop so low to give him that deal. Its embarrassing. Their fans would be justified in storming PNC with pitchforks if traded while on the periphery of contention.

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  25. SteveDola says:

    I just dont see the reason for a team like the Pirates or Padres to sign Oswalt with a contract as you described. They get 3-4 additional wins for close to 5-6 million? thats a little steep dont you think? 3-4 wins to a team like the ones mentioned isnt going to equate to a hill of beans at the end of the season when they are 15 games back. Also, potential trade partners would have them over a barrel knowing that he has this clause in his contract. They wouldnt receive anything close to his value. I like the way youre thinking outside the box but Oswalt would be the only winner in this scenario and those small market teams would never agree to such a lopsided contract with no upside.

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  26. SteveDola says:

    and btw, Oswalt isnt that good anymore…I dont know who he thinks he is but hes not winning 20 games anytime soon. He should jump at the chance to play for the Tiger or Sox but instead hes going to sit on his butt for 4 mths and get picked up by the cards where he’ll only start 10-12 games and prolly suck for most of them. I dont understand the move by the 34 yr old pitcher—times a wasting my friend…is this your last Hooray??!

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  27. Jeff in So. Indiana says:

    Maybe he’s just sitting out Spring Training like stars in other sports sit out training camps and sign afterwards…

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  28. Shane says:

    His market value will be fine mid season even if he just stays in shape. Think about it; teams often give the equivalent 10 million dollars or more in the form of top end prospects and picking up the remainder of the aquired players contract in order to find a player that will help them get into the playoffs. Especially when teams pitching staffs break down mid year. Dave this idea is biased towards your own teams well being as you have seen pitchers return you prospects in recent years. You think Oswalt would add a couple wins to your team through the first hundred or so games until Hultzen and co are likely to show up later in the year. When this happens you are hoping Oswalt could net you something like 3 of Lavarnway, Iglesias. Boegarts, Jacobs, Kalish, Middlebrooks etc.. In theory Oswalt would keep his value up playing in a pitchers park, and after seeing them trade Bedard to the Sox you know his health is not necessarily all that important as long as he can come back and show something prior to the deadline in a couple starts. So the 3 to 3.5 million really has nothing to do with any added value to the Mariners (or Padres) for that matter. It’s what that 3.5 million could by your team in prospects which are stronger bets than draft picks. I would venture to guess that teams looking for a starting Pitcher in July or August would rather pick up a guy who has been training and keeping his back healthy over the first 2/3 of the season than trade legit prospects for the same guy with back issues who has been being used and abused by another team in cold weather. He will be healthier and will not cost teams prospects (or draft picks under the new CBA.) If healthy and throwing well teams won’t think twice about Oswalt’s competitive value at that point especially if it only costs them cash and not high end prospects. You know how desperate teams can get for pitching in July. This piece has no journalistic integrity and stinks like #6org. Your pieces have become increasingly biased as your team continues to struggle. Your writings have become less based in sabermetrics and more tilted towards the attitude of a wannabe Seattle Mariners GM who thinks he can punch holes all through the new CBA and wants so badly for the Japanese cotingent running your team to see what you bring to the table. The truth is you may have quite alot to offer such an organization but your continued pursuit of that have called your journalistic integrity into serious question. Journalists are supposed to be after the truth and their pieces should not be writings intended to sway others into buying into your mind, skills and knowledge, which by the way are three things I think you have. Right these pieces at USS MARINER and PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE give us the straight unbiased dope (as much you can) here at FANGRAPHS.

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