Oswalt trade proves Phillies GM Amaro made mistake with Lee
Given the quality of the three prospects Amaro received for Lee, that was sketchy reasoning to begin with, but now that he's sent three other youngsters to Houston for Oswalt, it's clear that Amaro realized his mistake in the intervening seven months. Consider this: if the Phillies had held on to Lee but lost him to free agency, they could have expected to get roughly 32 starts from him, and with Lee and Halladay fronting the rotation, they would have been prohibitive favorites to win another pennant this year, if not another championship. Oswalt is signed through 2011 with what is effectively a mutual option for 2012. If he opts out of that final year (and the catch-22 of player options is that if he's healthy and effective he will opt out, and if he isn't he won't), the Phillies can expect roughly 44 starts from him between this year and next. The catch there is that the extra 12 starts the Phillies will get from Oswalt are coming with the Phillies already trailing by three games in the National League East and 2.5 games in the Wild Card race with just two months to play, in large part because of the absence of Lee over the previous four months.
Those deficits are not insurmountable, but Oswalt, while certainly one of the better pitchers in the league, is clearly inferior to Lee at this point in their careers. Just look at their respective lines to this point this season:
Lee: 2.40 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, 16.29 K/BB, 6 CG, 76% quality starts
Oswalt: 3.42 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 3.53 K/BB, 1 CG, 75% quality starts
Yes, Lee missed three starts in April due to an abdominal strain, but he has made 17 starts to Oswalt's 20, pitched in the tougher league (albeit in a friendly home ballpark for most of the season), and has clearly outpitched Oswalt overall. What's more, Lee is a year and one day younger than Oswalt and, unlike Oswalt, lefthanded. Although the Astros are paying $11 million of Oswalt's salary through the end of next year, with Oswalt's $2 million buyout for 2012 factored in, the per-start cost of each pitcher to the Phillies works out as nearly identical. Given all of that, there's really no reason to prefer Oswalt over Lee. Yes, Oswalt will be able to impact two pennant races to Lee's one, and there's a slim chance that he'll stick around as an effective front-of-the-rotation starter for 2012, but then there's also a chance the Phillies might have re-signed Lee, one that seems to have evaporated with his departure from the team.
The bottom line is that Amaro traded Lee unnecessarily, then watched as his team, still the favorites in the NL East, sank out of first place. You can't blame the Lee trade for the injuries to
Oswalt has been worth 3.5 wins above replacement according to SNLVAR, but he's not replacing Blanton, he's replacing Moyer, who is likely to miss the rest of the season with what an MRI revealed to be a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and a strained flexor pronator muscle. Happ, one of the three players sent to Houston for Oswalt, took Moyer's last turn. Now that spot in the rotation goes to Oswalt.
SNLVAR had Moyer at 1.6 wins above replacement prior to his injury. Pro-rating their respective SNLVAR totals over the final dozen starts of the season, we get roughly one win above replacement for Moyer and roughly two wins over replacement for Oswalt. That means Oswalt will only make the Phillies a win better than they would have been with a healthy Moyer over the remainder of the season. Of course, a healthy Moyer wasn't an option, but Cliff Lee was, and his SNLVAR projection for those final 12 starts works out to 3.5 wins above replacement, or another win and a half better than Oswalt in addition to the extra five wins over Blanton he already would have provided. If the Phillies wind up missing the playoffs by less than seven games, you now know exactly why.
Of course, if the Phillies to return to the playoffs, and Oswalt, Halladay, and
From 2005 to 2007, his age 27 to 29 seasons, Oswalt posted a 3.03 ERA and averaged 224 2/3 innings a season, but that's not the pitcher the Phillies just acquired. In the last two and two-thirds seasons, he has posted a 3.71 ERA, and in his last two full seasons, he has averaged fewer than 200 innings pitched, due in part to a herniated disk that forced him to the disabled list last year. A 3.71 ERA over 195 innings is still good, but it's not the performance of a second ace. Rather, Oswalt projects as a third starter for the Phillies in 2011, one who is creeping into his mid-30s (he'll be 33 in a month and 34 before the end of the 2011 season) and has been receiving cortisone shots for what now seems to be a chronic bad back.
As for Amaro's efforts to restock the farm system, as Baseball Prospectus prospect guru