Assessing the trade market for aces Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt
Except for one thing: Lee should have big value while Oswalt just might be worth close to nothing. That's not an insult to Oswalt, just the reality of the economics of the situation.
Lee may be the only one among the two to have won a Cy Young award (in 2008, with Cleveland), but a case could be made that Oswalt actually has put together a slightly better career. He has a sizable edge in wins (141 for Oswalt, 94 for Lee) and somewhat better lifetime ERA (3.23 for Oswalt, 3.91 for Lee) -- though the AL-NL discrepancy probably accounts for the ERA edge -- and while Lee shined in the playoffs with the Phillies in 2009, Oswalt has also had success in October, winning the 2005 NLCS MVP award. However, in a couple of the categories that count most at trade-deadline time -- most prominently money -- Lee has it all over Oswalt, several baseball executives agree. Lee is in the final year of a four-year contract that will pay him $9 million this season while Oswalt is making $15 million this year, $16 million in 2011 and has a $12 million club option for 2012 with a $2 million buyout.
"At the end of the day, I don't think Houston will be able to move the entire (Oswalt) contract and get premium players back,'' sums up one AL executive. That's an opinion that's fairly widely felt, too, based on interviews.
Any team acquiring Lee would only be on the hook for about $4-to-5 million, depending on when a trade is made. Meanwhile, Oswalt comes with about a $30 million commitment. Very few teams have $30 million lying around, and those that do generally don't want to spend it.
But there are a few other less obvious differences between the two pitchers.
"There are (at least) two major factors,'' says the same AL exec. "One, Lee has done it in the American League. Two is the contract. The third factor might be that Lee's done it in the postseason [recently]. With Lee, you get two draft picks (since he's a free agent), you don't have to pay too much, and most important, he's proven he can do it in the American League.''
The contract is the biggest key, though, some others say.
Lee's value is pretty well set, having been traded twice in the past 12 months. In July 2009, the Indians dealt him to the Phillies for four solid-to-good good prospects and last December the Phils sent him to Seattle for three prospects of similar ilk. The value of top-flight prospects is so high now that last year the Red Sox turned down a straight-up offer of Lee-for Clay Buchholz, even before Buchholz raised his worth by being Boston's most consistent starter early this season. But Lee still brought some decent hauls back. Oswalt's value won't be nearly that high, and certainly not if the Astros insist on the acquiring team picking up the remainder of his full $15-million salary for 2010.
Lee's AL pedigree could bring extra teams into the mix, and even a couple richer ones. Take the Yankees for instance. The Yankees aren't necessarily seeking a starting pitcher now as they are understandably pleased with their five-man rotation and likely to become intimately involved in a trade for a top starter only in the event of injury. However, according to people familiar with their thinking, they are said to be so enamored with Lee that they are champing at the bit for next year and plan to put in a call in the coming days just in case they are pleasantly surprised at Seattle's asking price.
Meantime, a source familiar with the Yankees' situation suggests they would react to Oswalt with something akin to a collective yawn. That may be a slight exaggeration, but suffice to say, he isn't even close to their radar at this point, and barring injury, they may not even make more than the most cursory of calls.
There are other factors that could affect these two fine pitchers on the trade market. Lee is pitching a bit better this season (4-3 with a 2.88 ERA) than Oswalt (4-8, 3.23), though Oswalt has to be affected toiling for the awful Astros. But again, performance isn't the main consideration.
The no-trade clause in Oswalt's contract shouldn't be discounted as a consideration in his trade chances either. Though Oswalt recently told CBSsports.com's
Meanwhile Lee's superb rep as a top performer in the AL and also in the postseason, plus his favorable contract make him a candidate to go anywhere.
Here is a summary of the teams that have been mentioned, rumored or otherwise make sense in any Lee or Oswalt derbies, and the potential questions about each:
They've cut their payroll from $120 million to $83 million (not counting deferred monies) over two years, and some wonder if they are saving up for the big score. But more likely, owner
Offense is their current problem, but Oswalt seems like a logical fit for a team that says they seek a starter and would seem to appeal to a small-town guy like Oswalt. It's hard to imagine them laying out $30 million, not with $200-million-plus needed to be set aside to retain
They've been mentioned as a possibility, but their starting pitching is already very strong. And as one competing executive points out, "They don't spend at midseason, that's just not their style.'' So while Oswalt probably wouldn't mind an switch from Houston to Atlanta, he would seem to be an unlikely fit.
Admirably, they've already built their payroll to $95 million and revenues are up. Oswalt or Lee could be the leader of a young and solid rotation that lacks a true ace.
After a slow start, the Mets have rallied lately by winning eight of nine and suddenly look like a threat now -- a threat that could use one more proven starter to go with
The bankrupted team would appear to be a poor fit for a player with $30 million remaining on his pact. So a move across state seems like along shot for Oswalt. Lee's money could be workable, though.
They appear to have only a passing interest, if that, in Oswalt, but love Lee after seeing him up close in the World Series. Plus,
A long shot for Oswalt, since their rotation is pretty solid as it is, and they don't often add dollars (though they showed a willingness to do so last summer when they acquired
They've made some shocking additions in recent years, like
They can never be counted out, but they've already spent $82.5 million on
The reason they traded Lee in the first place last December is because they didn't have the money to keep him, and they surely want to try to retain free-agent-to-be
• One person who's familiar with the skirmishes between White Sox general manager
• Cubs manager
• Bobby Valentine interviewed for the Orioles managerial position on Friday and is not likely to be affected in his thoughts about them by just how ineffectual and dysfunctional they are at present (they're 17-46, same as the '62 Mets). The Orioles can pay, but it wouldn't be a shock to see Valentine wait to see whether a more desirable job became available. The Cubs job would probably appeal to him (or anyone else). A lot of folks see Cubs legend
• As for rumors Diamondbacks ace
• The Phillies, who are 12-15 since binocular-gate, have tried everything, and the latest thing was a players only meeting. Personally, I think the slump is just a coincidence coming after their bullpen coach was spotted with the binocs.
• The Mariners, losers of five straight, also had a players-only meeting. And the unusual thing about theirs was that it was reportedly led by newcomers
• The Angels are 12-3 since Kendry Morales' freakish leg/ankle injury. They aren't ruling out a return for Morales this year, but that would really be miraculous on his part, considering the damage to his fibula and high ankle area. He'll be fine by next year, however.
• It's hard to believe but the Reds'
• Red Sox hitting coach
• Red Sox rookie
• The Mets' sweep in Baltimore over the weekend was their first road series victory since July 2009, when they took two of three in Houston Yes, even though it was the Orioles, it still counts.
• Marlins sophomore
• For the
• One NL scout on Scott Rolen, who is batting .313 with 14 home runs and 45 RBIs: "I haven't seen him this good in years.''