MLB Free Agent Contract Prediction: Roy Oswalt

WASHINGTON: Roy Oswalt #44 of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

What sort of contract will Roy Oswalt get, considering that he's a good pitcher with a lingering concern with his back?

There's a free-agent pitcher on the market who isn't going to require a huge, five-year deal for over $100 million. He has a career 3.21 ERA and 133 ERA+, and he's pitched more than 200 innings in six out of his last eight seasons.

Also, his back is made up of damp graham crackers, and those two seasons under 200 innings have come in the past three years. Still, where is the Roy Oswalt frenzy? He was ace enough to be one of the four aces, but now that the Phillies have the bespectacled magic of Vance Worley in the rotation, Oswalt is adrift in the seas of free agency, where he's only good enough to be the contingency plan for whatever team can't sign a pitcher to a crazy multi-year deal:

Oswalt camp waiting for CJ, Buerhle to sign to see exact market, most teams see Oswalt as fallback option

Did you ever see the Twilight Zone where there's a gremlin on the wing of an airplane, screwing with the wiring in front of William Shatner? That's going on right now with Oswalt's back. There are vertebrae flying out of there, tendons, small pebbles … but when he's healthy, he's a mighty fine pitcher. One of the best of his generation, really, and aside from those minor concerns about his back melting, he's only 34.

The risk/reward ledger for Oswalt is based entirely on what sort of contract he's seeking. Does he want a one-year deal, where he can showcase himself as a healthy ace-type, which would lead to a large multi-year contract after 2012? Or is he seeking that multi-year deal now, knowing that concerns about his health and durability will hurt the average annual value of the deal?

If he's looking for a one-year deal, he might be the best free-agent pitcher on the market. Pitchers are precarious, fragile things, and the good ones usually want a lot of guaranteed money for a long time because pitchers are precarious, fragile things.

But he's not looking for a one-year deal, according to Jon Morosi. He's going for the multi-year deal right now.

"His back feels great," (agent) Bob Garber told FOXSports.com.
"It literally feels great. I'm holding his spine in my hands right now," Garber said. "It feels smooth, yet sturdy. We're waiting for someone to invent some sort of robo-spine, and then he'll be unstoppable." Garber then pretended to bite into the spine as if it were a gold coin, completely missing the point of why old-timey people bite into gold coins.

The second blockquote might not be real, and maybe I should shut up about the back. If it feels good, then Oswalt is probably the Oswalt of old, which is one heckuva pitcher. But there can't possibly be a worse free-agent commitment to make than one to a pitcher who is dealing with some scary injury issues. Think it's overreacting to call the injury scary? Check out some of the quotes Oswalt gave to CSN Philly this year:

"You throw as long as you can and when you can’t throw anymore you don’t," the 33-year-old pitcher said after the game. "Hopefully it’s not to the point where I can’t throw anymore. If it’s at that point, you just have to accept it."

"Hopefully it's not to the point where I can't throw anym ...ssssssaaaaaay, is that a three-year deal for many millions? Fine and dandy, this back. Strong as an ox. Need help moving? I have a pickup truck we can load up, no problem."

Oswalt will get multi-year offers, I'm guessing. But with each year tacked on to the end, with each set of performance bonuses attached, the contract will be diluted to the point where a multi-year deal isn't going to be a huge windfall compared to a one-year deal and another shot at free agency next year. Is there a team that would gamble $30 million on Oswalt's back, even? I'm skeptical.

The teams that are interested in Oswalt are the teams that are looking for a pitcher. So, like, all of them, just about. The Red Sox would love to have him, and they could afford him. If the Nationals lose out on C.J. Wilson, they would be right to get excited about a Strasburg/Zimmerman/Oswalt troika leading off their rotation.

But I'll go off the beaten path for this one, because I'm getting a feeling that Dayton Moore is a man who is more confident in his offense than you might think.

Prediction: Royals, one year, $15 million. No option. Think of it as the money they were planning to give to Gil Meche.

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