Starter Roy Oswalt #44 of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
The Texas Rangers upgraded their rotation by signing Roy Oswalt, but did they upgrade it enough?
Last week, I argued that Roy Oswalt and the Texas Rangers might be a good fit. If the team was privately concerned with Neftali Feliz's elbow, or if they were simply over the idea of Feliz as a starter (they can quit any time they want to), upgrading from Scott Feldman to Oswalt made sense.
Over at the great Lone Star Ball, though, Adam J. Morris took the idea a step farther before the Oswalt news leaked. Even though the Rangers had in-house rotation options, and even though four or eight weeks of Scott Feldman probably wasn't going to be enough to stop the Rangers from making the playoffs, Morris said it made sense for the Rangers to get another pitcher. The problem for him, though, is that Oswalt isn't good enough:
If the Rangers make a move for a starting pitcher, they need to make a move for a guy who will make the playoff rotation better. I don't see that Oswalt does that. I do see two starting pitchers who will potentially be available for trade in another month or so, however, that would slot in at the top of the Rangers' playoff rotation, and immediately make them better.
From a simple wins/losses standpoint, Roy Oswalt makes the Rangers better. Maybe by a win, maybe by three or four. Any time a contending team can improve their playoff chances by that much, they have to consider it.
Except we're not talking about the Rangers improving their playoff chances. CoolStandings.com has the Rangers with a 98.1-percent chance of making the playoffs; Baseball Prospectus has their chances at 98.8 percent. Everyone knows that midseason playoff probabilities are completely infallible, so the Rangers are as good as in.
Or not. The end of the 2011 season will provide it-ain't-over fodder for the next few decades. But the Rangers would have to lose quite a bit to tumble from the top of the American League to the sixth-best record. And the twin collapses from the Braves and Red Sox wouldn't have mattered with the additional wild card. The Rangers have two wild cards as backup plans behind a .633 winning percentage at the start of June; they're forgiven if they want to build a team for the playoffs as opposed to the regular season.
Oswalt is a pitcher for the regular season. He'll help the Rangers win in 2012, and he'll help their efforts to win a division title. But that's a title that was about as likely with Oswalt as it was with Scott Feldman. Hell, Corey Feldman. The regular season was never the issue.
And when it comes the playoffs, it isn't automatic that Oswalt cracks a playoff rotation. Yu Darvish, Colby Lewis, and Derek Holland should have spots secured, which likely leaves a duel between Oswalt and Matt Harrison for the last spot. That isn't a huge gain for Texas for the postseason. It might not even be a gain at all -- recent struggles aside, Harrison should still be an above-average starting pitcher, which is about what the Rangers should expect from Oswalt.
They could have expected a little more from the pitchers Morris mentioned, Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke -- deadline acquisitions the Rangers would feel comfortable matching up against a Jered Weaver, CC Sabathia, or David Price. The Rangers made a move like that in 2010, acquiring Cliff Lee when they were 4½ games up in July, and that led to a pennant.
The Rangers are in a rare spot relative to their peers -- they have gobs of prospects and organizational depth to accompany a young pitching staff and (Josh Hamilton aside) a lineup filled with people who should be around for a while. They're having their cake, eating it too, putting some in the freezer, throwing it at each other when things get slow in the office, and squishing it between their toes because it just feels neat. If there's any team that can afford to give up some of their best prospects for a short-term solution, it would be the Rangers.
The Rangers know better than any other franchise, the pros and cons of such a big trade. They've seen them first-hand. Of the twelve players involved in the last three Cliff Lee trades, the most successful so far is Blake Beavan. The second-most successful is Mark Lowe, who was traded with Lee, not for him. Prospects are often at their peak value when they're just an idea in the head of an opposing GM.
But the Rangers are something of a still-developing dynasty exactly because another team took a huge risk that didn't pan out. The Braves would be especially scary if they still had Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, and Matt Harrison to go along with their current roster, instead of memories of Mark Teixeira and Casey Kotchman.
Not much has changed since Tuesday morning. The Rangers were good. They're still good. The Rangers were heavy favorites to secure one of the five playoff spots in the American League. They're still heavy favorites. They're a little better now, and they're also $5 million poorer. But the most important difference is they are almost certainly done upgrading their rotation. That might be a missed opportunity. Forget what I wrote last week -- the folks at Lone Star Ball nailed it.