Oswalt vs. Lee: What am I missing?

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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


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.




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


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


$16 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.




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:


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.


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


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”
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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(c) Jamey Newberg




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