Oswalt vs. Lee: What am I missing?

OK, that whiteboard document I mentioned the other day is starting to pile up with things I need to write about, but I'm not going to do a full-length report today.

I have just one question to toss out there.

I've read a bunch of articles and heard a bunch of radio talk in the last week suggesting something like this:

It would take a lot in the way of young players and top prospects to trade for Cliff Lee - but not as much as it would take to get Roy Oswalt, since he's under contract for the 2011 season while Lee would just be a two-month rental.

Really?

Answer this: What would you pay Oswalt on the open market this winter? Let's say this was his free agent year, just like Lee. Assume (however unlikely) that Oswalt would want just a one-year deal for 2011. You're Texas - not the Yankees, not the Red Sox, not the Angels. What would he be worth?

Would you pay him $10 million to pitch here in 2011?

$16 million?

$18 million?

If, like me, you would not pay Roy Oswalt $18 million to pitch for Texas in 2011 if he were on the open market, then the second year remaining on Oswalt's current deal is a negative, not a positive.

Right?

If you wouldn't choose to pay Oswalt $18 million to pitch in 2011 ($16 million base plus $2 million buyout for the 2012 option), then you'd be better off trading for Lee and recouping the two first-round picks in next year's draft when (if?) he signed elsewhere this winter.

Two other things on that point:

1. Sure, you'd get draft pick compensation a year later on Oswalt, but right now Lee is a solid Type A free agent while Oswalt is a Type B - if Oswalt stays in that territory over the next year and a half of baseball (will he really get better?), then he's going to kick back a supplemental first when he leaves via free agency (purportedly to return to Houston), rather than the first-rounder plus supplemental first that Lee is sure to bring. So with Oswalt you'd get the compensation a year later - and probably a first-round pick less.

2. Lee is a better pitcher.

All that ignores another obvious point - that Lee makes $9 million in 2010, while Oswalt makes $15 million. That means Lee will earn $3 million over the final two months this season, and Oswalt $5 million.

That $2 million difference isn't all that significant - if you were getting an equal or better pitcher, that is, which I don't think Oswalt is.

Now, Houston may ask for more than Seattle will, especially from the Rangers (see my May 23 report for reasons why), but don't assume the Mariners will be any more reasonable in their demands, or that they should be. Won't Jack Z need to be extra sure that he doesn't lose a Cliff Lee trade with a team he's chasing inside the division? Won't there be more suitors for Lee - not only because he's a better pitcher but also because his lack of the no-trade card that Oswalt has widens the field?

And back to my primary point - isn't the fact that Lee is a "rental" a plus, when weighed against the $18 million you'd have to commit to Oswalt to be in your uniform in 2011?

I think Lee is going to cost more. Probably more than Texas ought to give up. It seems to me that all these stories and talk show segments suggesting the price for Oswalt will be higher than Seattle's price for Lee are wrong.

If, instead, I'm the one who's wrong about that, then I don't need to take Houston's calls - unless they want to talk about Blake Beavan or Alexi Ogando or Michael Kirkman plus a bat (Mitch Moreland?) for Brett Myers. If not, and if the price for Oswalt really is greater than it is for Lee, then I'm not sure why I wouldn't take the time I'd be spending on the phone with the Astros and dial up the Mariners instead.

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title_authors

Jamey Newberg

Dallas attorney Jamey Newberg has been commenting on Rangers from the big club down through the entire farm system since 1998.

Scott Lucas

Scott Lucas was born in Arlington, Texas, to Richard and Becky Lucas. He lived mostly in Arlington before moving to Austin, where he graduated from The University of Texas. Scott works for Austin Valuation Consultants, Ltd., and has published several boring articles about real estate appraisal and environmental contamination. He makes a swell margarita and refuses to run longer than ten kilometres.

Eleanor Czajka

Eleanor grew up watching the AAA Mudhens in Toledo, Ohio. A loyal Ranger fan since 1979, she works "behind the scenes" at the Newberg Report.

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