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Roy Oswalt’s Demand

Roy Oswalt is having a nice season. He’s started nine games while averaging about seven innings per outing. For his efforts, he has a 3.28 xFIP and an even flashier ERA to show. All of which is noteworthy and praiseworthy, but the real reason attention is being paid to Oswalt has to do with his actions off the field. Earlier today, Oswalt requested a trade from the Houston Astros. The club he’s spent his entire career with and the club the has the 32-year-old under contract for a total of $15M this season, $16M next season, and holds a club option on Oswalt worth $16M as well.

If Oswalt’s talent were the only measure that mattered, the takers would be lined up out the door trying to land him. The problem is his contract. That’s a lot of money for a pitcher who hasn’t topped four wins in a season since Craig Biggio and Morgan Ensberg were still his teammates. Assuming that the new team would pay Oswalt about half of this year’s money and 100% of next season’s, plus the $2M buyout in favor of the club option, that’s more than $25M. And if the new team keeps Oswalt for 2012, then that number skyrockets to nearly $40M.

Simply put: Oswalt is being paid like he can still be expected to be one of the game’s elite pitchers and that’s simply not a safe bet. Moving that contract for a good return on his talent is going to be a chore for Ed Wade, although the San Diego Padres proved such a move is possible. Of the recent high-priced starting pitchers to be traded, only Jake Peavy’s current contract had more annual money remaining than Oswalt’s. The Padres even had the unfortunate break of Peavy missing most of the season and holding a no-trade clause. Somehow, they got the White Sox and him to agree to a deal, and thus ridded themselves of his three-year, $52M deal.

Scott Kazmir was owed nearly $34M over three years and the Rays didn’t receive an elite prospect in return for him last August. Cliff Lee only had a season and $9M remaining when the Indians (and then Phillies) traded him. Even Roy Halladay was owed less money ($15.75M) than Oswalt will make next season when the Blue Jays traded him to the Phillies this past winter. Those contracts look cost efficient when stacked next to Oswalt’s, and those were for two of the game’s absolute best arms.

It’s going to be an interesting and probably pun-filled few stretch leading to the trade deadline for Houston.