Roy Oswalt could be a tremendous value if he bounces back from an awful 2012. (Image: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE)

The Yankees Should Sign Roy Oswalt

The New York Yankees have some holes to fill, but none are so urgent as their starting rotation. With Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte reaching free agent status, CC Sabathia is basically the only sure thing in the Yankees rotation. Let’s take a look at the rotation as it stands right now:

1. CC Sabathia
2. Phil Hughes
3. Ivan Nova
4. David Phelps
5. Adam Warren?

At this moment, the Yankees have one ace and a lot of a question marks. Phil Hughes is probably the only pitcher outside of Sabathia to have a guaranteed spot. When your second-best starter is just a year removed from a 5.79 ERA season, you know you’ve got some problems.

Luckily, there are a lot of good pitchers that can fill up those spots. First of all, there is a very good chance that the Yankees re-sign Pettitte, Kuroda, or both. With regards to Pettitte, it’s pretty much all his decision – the Yankees would surely sign him if he decided to pitch again, but given that he’s 41 years old and coming off an injury-riddled season, no one could blame him for calling it quits – for good this time.

Kuroda will definitely pitch next season, but it’s unclear whether he will pitch for the Yankees. He is reportedly seeking another one-year deal, but may make a good fit for the Los Angeles Dodgers or Boston Red Sox. As Chris Carelli suggested a couple days ago, the Yankees should, and probably will, offer him a qualifying contract worth one year, $13.3 million. As luck would have it, that’s probably right around what he’s looking for anyway.

But say the Yankees don’t sign one or both of Pettitte and Kuroda. What do the free agent options look like? Well, there are a number of options, ranging from higher-profile, expensive pitchers like Zack Greinke and Kyle Lohse, to bottom of the barrel guys like Jeff Francis and Scott Feldman.

Based on the likely cost of the bigger-name guys, the Yankees’ wish to lower their payroll, and the recent pattern in free agent spending, I believe that the Yankees would make the most of their money by finding a Kuroda-type pitcher – a veteran who is looking for a short-term deal, would be relatively inexpensive, yet has the potential to provide a lot of value for his cost.

Looking through the list of free agent pitchers this year, one name popped out: Roy Oswalt.

Oswalt spent the first half of 2012 as a free agent, hoping that he would make more as a free agent this year if he was signed by a contending team mid-season. The Rangers gave Oswalt about $5 million at the end of May, but his plan backfired, as Oswalt blew up during his time with the Rangers to the tune of a 5.80 ERA in 59 innings. In fact, he only made nine starts, and pitched out of the bullpen the rest of the time. He’s also 35 years old and clearly on the decline.

That’s the bad part about signing Oswalt. Here’s the good part. He’s only two years removed from a 200+ inning 2.79 ERA campaign, his peripherals were very solid last year, and over his career, he’s been fantastic at limiting home runs from left-handed hitters.

The first point doesn’t require much elaboration. He has a career 3.28 ERA and was extremely good just two/three years ago. In 2011 as well, Oswalt was solid, with a 3.69 ERA over 139 innings.

As to the second point, Oswalt actually had a 3.17 SIERA (an ERA predictor based on a number of factors, such as strikeout rate, walk rate, and groundball rate) this season, indicating that he was much better than his ERA indicated. His main issue was a .378 BABIP and an 18.6% HR/FB rate. Given the small sample of the season, his true talent ERA is likely to be much closer to his peripherals than his actual ERA, so in that regard, Oswalt doesn’t actually look so bad.

Finally, Oswalt has done a fantastic job at limiting home runs from lefties over his career. The Yankees have a 116 park factor for home runs by lefties, so this is a very important trait. Obviously, 2012 was a very bad year for Oswalt regarding the home run ball, but before that, he had been very very good at limiting home runs from the left side, giving up only 0.69 HR per 9 innings over his career. That is much better than the league average of about 1 HR/9 against lefties, so Oswalt would be a particularly good value for the Yankees.

Most importantly, Oswalt probably won’t cost a lot. He doesn’t have much bargaining leverage given his horrible 2012 performance, and his age along with some injury risk should drive down his cost significantly. He will also probably be looking for a one-term deal in order to raise his value for 2014. It seems very unlikely that Oswalt will ask for anything more than $10 million over one year, and it could be significantly less than that.

Oswalt is getting up there in years, but he’s still only 35, and clearly has the potential to be a very valuable pitcher. He is particularly well-suited for Yankee Stadium given his ability to suppress home runs from left-handed batters. Additionally, one-year deals to guys like Oswalt have been some of the best signings in recent years, as evidenced by Kuroda, Edwin Jackson, Bartolo Colon (well, sort of), Javier Vazquez in 2011, and so on. The Yankees should strongly consider giving Oswalt a shot. It would be low-cost but very high reward, for he could be next year’s Hiroki Kuroda, providing exceptional value from the #2 spot in the rotation for very little money.

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Tags: New York Yankees Roy Oswalt

  • Benjamin Orr

    I’m pretty sure the Yankees have to resign Kuroda at this point. Even still, I don’t think Oswalt is going to make a world of difference. I think a few names the Yanks should keep their eyes open for are Anibal Sanchez and maybe Shaun Marcum. It’s not that I think Oswalt is a bad pitcher, but he’s certainly regressed.

    • Matt Hunter

      Completely agree about Kuroda. They really do need him. As far as Oswalt, yeah he might not make a difference, but I think he’s the type of guy that will cost very little but could provide a lot of value. Think Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. Very cheap veteran pitchers who were looking for a bounce back season. He had 60 innings of bad pitching, but that’s it. I like Sanchez a lot, but I think he’ll be asking for a lot. I was more looking for cheap guys that could be great values.

      • Benjamin Orr

        It’d be nice if we got that out of Oswalt, but realistically nobody knows. If he could spot start or go three, four innings out of the pen with limited damage, then that would be great. I think honestly though, if the Yankees don’t pursue anyone else besides resigning Kuroda, then by all means give David Phelps that fifth role. I think he’s deserved it and he can’t look any worse than Nova.

        • Matt Hunter

          I just really don’t like the idea of Hughes, Nova, and Phelps at the bottom of the rotation, with no fallback options. Hughes and Nova have each had a 5.00 ERA or higher in one of the past 2 seasons, and Phelps only has 100 career innings in the bigs and was never a highly touted prospect. I think in addition to Kuroda, they need at least one solid guy (Marcum, Sanchez, Pettitte, etc.) and one depth piece (Oswalt, Blanton maybe, etc).

          • Jimmy Kraft

            I don’t think Oswalt is any better than Hughes, Nova, or Phelps at this point in his career. Too much risk for any type of contract, in my opinion

          • Matt Hunter

            Maybe. I just feel like everyone is only looking at one bad year (where he only pitched 60 innings and had great peripherals!) and judging him based on that alone. He’s not THAT old, and he was fantastic not so long ago. Plus I think the the fact that he’s been able to limit LHH HRs so effectively is huge.

  • Ziggy Barone

    No Oswalt.(he is the oldest 35 yo pitcher in the league imo)..focus on Kuroda and Pettite and then Shaun Marcum…he knows the AL East…he made 7.775m last year…if the yanks go to 9m or 9.5….I think it could do it…He will be 31 when Spring Training starts…his era has been steady the last 4 years (3.39-3.74)..I depends on the health of his elbowarm and how many years he is looking for

    • Matt Hunter

      I agree with you about the focus. Kuroda, Pettitte, and Marcum (or some other guy) will all probably be more valuable than Oswalt. I guess I should have made it more clear in my article – I wasn’t trying to suggest that Oswalt is the solution to the rotation, or even the best option. I was just suggesting him as a possible low-risk, high-reward guy, like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia in 2011. Those two made a combined $2.4 million in ’11, yet they pitched almost 300 innings with about a 3.75 ERA combined. That’s an incredible value for $2.4 million, and I think there a possibility of getting even more from Oswalt.

  • jeffbunnell

    Matt, I do like the idea, as insurance like we did in the past with Colon & Freddy G. It’s a long season, and with Pineada possibly being out until 2014 (worst deal in a LONG TIME Cash…) the more arms we have that can get outs, the better.

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