Dustin Nippert faced five Cubs hitters Saturday. He started all five with ball one.
For the season, he's faced 115 batters. He's started 62 with ball one. That's 54 percent of Nippert's opponents that start off with a 1-0 count. The league as a whole gets behind 1-0 just 42 percent of the time.
Enough of that.
OK, OK, OK. I get it. You want to know whether Roy Oswalt will be a Texas Ranger.
I haven't gotten this many emails on one subject since St. Patrick's Day's off-the-field news.
Would Texas want Roy Oswalt? Of course. At 32, he remains one of the most consistently effective starting pitchers in baseball.
Would Houston trade Oswalt? Maybe. On the heels of the righthander's announcement that he'd waive his full no-trade clause to "try[ ] to get back to the playoffs," and that he thinks a trade might be "a good thing for both [him and the team]," Astros GM Ed Wade has pointed out that his ace "has a no-trade clause, not a ‘trade-me' clause," as a way of saying he's not going to be forced by the player into trading him. Still, you'd have to think that Oswalt's apparent assurance to Astros owner Drayton McLane that, if traded, he'd "love to come back and finish [his] career" in Houston theoretically makes the idea of springing him for a mini-foundation of young talent more palatable.
Would Oswalt agree to come to Texas? Evidently. He's apparently told friends and reporters that there are three teams for whom he'd waive the no-trade and accept a deal to - Texas, Atlanta, and St. Louis - with some suggestion that the Dodgers and Red Sox might be on his list as well.
And don't discount the prospect for Oswalt of pitching for Nolan Ryan and his former Round Rock manager Jackie Moore and his former Round Rock pitching coach Mike Maddux, with a club that sits in pretty good position as far as the standings are concerned.
There. It's on a tee, right?
Here's why you shouldn't hold your breath:
1. OWNERSHIP: Continuing to hide behind my policy not to comment on a mess situation I really know nothing about (and not to rely on or report any of the high-spun position statements fired off by the creditors bloc), I'm not going to predict where this is headed or when it gets resolved, but it seems relatively clear that a club that will have to draft a little more carefully than it might have otherwise in a couple weeks is not going to be able to take on a pitcher owed a guaranteed $29 million over the next two years while ownership remains unsettled.
OK. A turn of the donkey wheel, and the ownership chaos has vanished. Time to stitch up an "Oswalt 44" jersey in Rangers red?
2. THAT $29 MILLION: Yes, I expect Rangers Baseball Express to be ready to infuse a chunk into the payroll when it takes the ownership reins, whenever that time comes. Yes, it makes sense that a playoff-caliber starting pitcher would be targeted. Yes, Oswalt fits the description. But even if $2.5 million per month the rest of the way this season is tolerable, is spending $16 million on Oswalt in 2011 (really, $18 million, since there's a $2 million buyout to void another $16 million commitment in 2012) the smartest way to improve next year's club, given where its perceived strengths and holes will be?
3. YEAH, BUT SURELY HOUSTON WILL PUT SOME CASH IN THE DEAL: Or maybe not. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports says McLane won't do it. But let's say he changes his mind. Every chunk of cash the Astros are asked to chip in cranks up the level of young players and prospects Houston will demand in return. Case in point: It's arguable that the package Toronto got from Philadelphia in December in exchange for Roy Halladay - AA pitcher Kyle Drabek, Low A catcher Travis D'Arnaud, and AAA corner infielder Brett Wallace (via Oakland, who received minor league outfielder Michael Taylor from the Phillies) - wasn't as strong as the Derek Holland/Justin Smoak package the Jays reportedly sought from Texas in July, but a key reason that Toronto wouldn't take less from the Rangers is that they were likely (and necessarily) needing a greater subsidy from the Jays for a year and two months of Halladay than the $6 million that Toronto sent Philadelphia for the 2010 season. (Another way to look at this, however: It might be that Toronto was using the Rangers all along to leverage better trade offers from other clubs, knowing that Halladay would ultimately veto any trade to Texas. If that's true, it wouldn't have made sense for Toronto to ever back down from the Holland/Smoak demand.)
The point? The more cash Texas asks the Astros for, to reduce its commitment to Oswalt, the more it will take in players to get him.
4. TEXAS MAY BE AT A DISADVANTAGE: Each of the last two years (June 18, 2008 and July 10, 2009), I've written a report pondering whether the strength of the upper tier of the Rangers' pre-arbitration roster depth and farm system might lead other teams to try and hold Jon Daniels up in trade talks. It's still a concern. It's even more of an issue when it's Houston on the other end. McLane lost Ryan to the Rangers. He may be about to lose AAA Round Rock (and with it, conceptually, the Austin market) to the Rangers. Houston isn't competitive on the field right now. If McLane considers Texas competition off the field, and there have long been logical suggestions that he does, there's zero chance he's going to take the chance of trading Oswalt in-state without a strong pitch from Wade that the deal is set up as a slam dunk to favor the Astros long-term.
Along the same lines, though, St. Louis and Atlanta aren't exactly perfect matches, either. You'd expect McLane and Wade would bristle at the thought of Oswalt piching for the division-mate Cardinals for the next two years, a team that visits Houston nine or 10 times a season and that the Astros are obviously chasing. (Plus, their rotation is fairly well set right now.) As for the Braves, the rotation is far from their biggest need, they'll probably have a tough time catching Philadelphia or the Wild Card, and loading up for yet another Mark Teixeira trade that doesn't pay off probably isn't the best idea.
5. BACK PROBLEMS: Big concern? Not if you're trying to win now, as Oswalt is pitching healthy and averaging seven innings over his last seven starts. He's pitched nine times this year. All nine games have been quality starts. But then we get back to that $29 million through 2011, and back problems usually don't get better. Still, if the history of injections for low back issues were the reddest flag, it probably wouldn't hold a deal up.
6. BAD MATCH: Aside from pitching, chances are Houston is most interested in middle infield help, an area where Texas is relatively thin. But rewind to the Halladay trade: Philadelphia got Oakland involved in order to get the Jays the first baseman they wanted in Wallace. There are creative ways to meet the other team's needs.
Let's assume the ownership impediment is lifted. Would you offer Houston a package of Holland, righthander Blake Beavan (who is quietly having a very good encore season at Frisco, and in fact fired eight scoreless innings [four hits, no walks, eight strikeouts] against Houston's Corpus Christi affiliate last weekend, after throwing two gems against the Hooks in four starts against them in 2009), right-handed reliever Alexi Ogando, and a top middle infield prospect picked up for Chris Davis or Engel Beltre from a third club?
And probably not Houston, either.
For all the reasons that Texas and Oswalt seem like a really good fit, and that it would make a ton of sense for Houston to accommodate his wish to go somewhere else for a year and a half before coming back to finish his career where it started, accelerating a desperately needed rebuilding process, this one appears to have a bunch of hurdles that may be too difficult to clear.
Oh, and the Bartolo Colon reference the other day? Two of the four players Colon was traded for eight years ago are higher on my trade-for list right now than Roy Oswalt.
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(c) Jamey Newberg