Think about the progression of a professional baseball player for a second. They start in the bowels of the minor leagues, riding buses and eating nothing but fast food. A year goes by, and you're moved up a level if you're lucky. Then another year, another level. Another year, still in the minors but another level. And if you're really good, after four or five years, you get to enjoy the majors … where you have six full seasons before you can decide where you go.
When you think about it like that, you can understand where Roy Oswalt was coming from this offseason. It's not like this is the first time he had a choice -- that was when he signed his first extension to stay in Houston -- but this is the first time he's been on the open market, with complete autonomy of where he plays. Damn straight he's going to be picky. He wanted to stay close to his family. If that wasn't possible, he wanted to take his time and sign with a team midseason.
That doesn't mean that you shouldn't be annoyed the dude still hasn't picked a team. I mean, c'mon already. But you can understand it.
Oswalt has been throwing for teams over the past week, and he's said that he'd like to sign with someone soon. A look at the suitors, ordered from least likely to most likely:
The Texas Rangers had a little interest in the offseason, but decided to commit to moving Neftali Feliz in the rotation. That move might not have been what broke Feliz, but regardless, the right-hander isn't expected back until the All-Star break. Rangers GM Jon Daniels isn't ruling Oswalt out:
"He hasn't faced hitters yet," Daniels said. "He's definitely going to take some time. But we've got to consider all our options, and he has to be one of them considering that he's unsigned."
The Rangers' status quo is fine, even without Feliz. They can plug Scott Feldman into their rotation, and he's good enough to be a fifth starter for a lot of major-league teams. And if something else happens, they can still move Alexi Ogando from the bullpen -- all he did was make 29 starts with a 125 ERA+ last year. This isn't a team looking to trade for Bruce Chen on the last day of the season.
But Oswalt would still be an upgrade if -- and this is a big if -- the Rangers aren't thrilled with how the Feliz-to-the-rotation gambit went. Daniels explains:
Daniels said the Rangers have to consider the possibility that moving into the rotation contributed to (Feliz's injury) problem.
"That's something we have to talk about," Daniels said. "We don't know the answer. He is as strong and as well-conditioned as he's ever been. There weren't any warning signs. But everything is on the table for discussion."
Moving Feliz in and out of the rotation is something of an annual tradition for the Rangers. They gather around a Feliz-conversion tree, sing Feliz-conversion carols, exchange gifts … really, it's a blast. But they have to be a little concerned with how quickly the elbow soreness appeared after his extended time in the rotation. Moving him to the bullpen would give them an even more ridiculous selection of relievers -- Mark Lowe has the highest walk rate in the pen, and he's walked four batters in 15 innings. He's the black sheep of the bullpen, what with that shameful 2.40 ERA. Feliz would push almost everyone back a slot and make the bullpen even deeper. Unnecessarily so, even.
There's also a chance the team is secretly worried about Matt Harrison. His peripherals are pretty much identical to last year, when he threw 185 innings with a 3.39 ERA (129 ERA+), so that's probably unlikely. But with Feliz out and Harrison shaky at the start of the season, a name-brand starting pitcher would make them feel more comfortable.
The best reason for the Rangers to sign Oswalt is to annoy the rest of the league. Considering the Rangers' already substantial advantage in the AL West, Oswalt would be the true definition of a luxury -- the ivory backscratcher for the team that has everything. But it would also mean he'd be kept away from teams like the Red Sox and Tigers, who might be the playoff competition. That's no small consideration.
When a team as smart as the Rangers can get a little better at the same time they can make their rivals worse, they put on their thinking antlers and carefully consider the move. Oswalt to the Rangers doesn't make a ton of sense, but it makes a little sense. And a little sense might be enough. Getting him would improve the team.
It would also let the Rangers put their feet up on the desk, laugh the laugh of a fat tycoon, and light a cigar from superfluous talent they had piled up in a closet somewhere, just because they could. Considering how the Rangers have started the season, that's about all that's left to kill the time until October.