Where Should Fantasy Owners Hope Oswalt Lands?

Heading into the offseason, Roy Oswalt told teams he was looking for a multiyear contract, which severely limited the market for the 34-year-old. Now that he has relented on that demand, and has instead said that he’s looking for a one year deal to rebuild his value after an injury plagued 2011 campaign, he has teams beating a path to his agent’s office — or at least politely calling and leaving a message stating their interest in his client.

Money will of course be a factor in Oswalt’s final decision — money is always a factor in any decision regarding player movement — but it isn’t unthinkable that he might take less to play in a park that will make him a more attractive option this time next year. That said, he’s not passing up $5 million a year from the Mets to take $1.50 and a bus pass from the Cubs, so perhaps not all things are weighted equally.

In looking for the places that will help him regain the most value, the most advantageous landing spots for Oswalt are places like San Diego and San Francisco — pitcher-friendly parks in an offensively weaker division. While it’s theoretically possible that he could end up there, the Giants have a pretty full staff already and the Padres are trying to get younger and cut payroll; Oswalt doesn’t exactly fit that framework.

With apologies to AL-Only players looking for another starting option, Oswalt is best served by staying in the NL and away from the DHs of the American League. Yes, this does limit his potential landing spots, but it’s a good step to take to keep his ERA on the low side. Does that mean that a team like the Twins — who need pitching and who own one of the majors’ more pitcher-friendly parks — are immediately out of the equation? Not necessarily, but any move to the AL is likely going to portend a rise in ERA and a drop in strikeouts, neither of which is what teams want to see when Oswalt comes back around in free agency next winter.

In addition to the NL, Oswalt should be looking for a team with a particularly adept medical staff. Oswalt’s back issues are well documented and something that any signing team has to be prepared to deal with. For Oswalt, working with a medical staff that can keep him on the mound for as close to 30 starts as possible is in his best interest since proving he’s still capable of staying healthy for a full season is going to do wonders for his next contract. If he misses another 5-6 starts again in 2012, teams will be rightfully skeptical about him ever approaching 30 again.

Since we’re allowed to be picky when deciding someone else’s future for them, Oswalt’s new home should make life particularly difficult on lefties. Oswalt’s career platoon splits aren’t particularly bad, but he is typically slightly worse against lefties, though right-handers actually gave him more trouble in 2011. Here again, it would be nice for San Diego to open their doors to Oswalt, since their left-handed park factor is a downright unfair 59 according to Statcorner.com — his draft stock would improve by at least a round or two in my book — but it’ll never happen.

So, if fantasy owners were picking Oswalt’s new home, he’d be headed to…Pittsburgh?

Indeed, despite a rough year in 2011, the Pirates have had one of the top medical teams in baseball over the last few seasons, own a park that plays relatively neutrally — but did slightly favor pitchers — and play in the NL Central, which seems likely to be an even easier division than it was last year. They haven’t been named as a suitor for Oswalt, but if the price was right, I find it hard to believe they wouldn’t be interested. They aren’t exactly bullish on starting pitching at the moment.

One of the X-factors here is Miami, since we have no idea how their park will play next year. Their med staff has been solid over the last few seasons, and we can reasonably expect that they’ll be even better with the new facilities in their new park. Their infield defense should be solid, but I have concerns about how the amount of ground their outfielders will need to cover, as well as the ability of some of those outfielders.

There are, of course, landing spots that fit some of the criteria, but not others. The White Sox are consistently among the best medical staffs in baseball, but they’re an AL team in a hitter’s park, so probably not exactly the best place for a pitcher to rebuild. Nats Park is fairly tough on lefties and the Nationals are in the NL, but their medical staff doesn’t have the best track record keeping pitchers healthy.

It’s all a continuum, some spots are better than others for Oswalt’s — and by extension fantasy owners’ — success in 2012, but if you’re keeping Oswalt come hell or high water, you should be rooting for the Pirates to land him. Failing that, the Marlins are probably his second best option, though the NL East was no picnic last year and it isn’t going to be much easier in 2012.

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Dan enjoys black tea, imperial IPAs, and any competition that can be loosely judged a sport. Follow him on Twitter.

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Dave S
Dave S

If Oswalt is healthy, and pitching like he can… he can pitch anywhere. I’m thinking he would also much prefer to play for a team with a decent shot at the playoffs, and maybe win a series.

Arizona? Ballpark doesn’t help… but good team, great weather, and seems like a plus medical team.

St. Louis? Close to home. High quality team.