Just as buzz seemed to build regarding a trade of Roy Oswalt to Philadelphia, NBCSports.com’s Hardball Talk blog reported that there may be a more serious suitor for the lifelong Astro: his old rival, the St. Louis Cardinals. Hardball Talk called the Cardinals the “frontrunners” for Oswalt’s services.
And while the Cardinals’ front office has steadfastly maintained that it is not interested in adding a starting pitcher who is signed beyond 2010, there could yet be a fit.
In particular, it’s clear that Oswalt fancies the Cardinals, and that matters quite a bit. Oswalt enjoys blanket no-trade protection in his current contract, which runs through 2011 with a 2012 option. So he can dictate where he goes, and the terms under which he goes there.
It has been reported that for Oswalt to go to the Phillies, he would require that his option, which is for $16 million with a $2 million buyout, be exercised. However, a Major League source said on Wednesday night that he has been told that Oswalt would have no such demand in a trade to St. Louis.
A Mississippi native, Oswalt would likely find St. Louis a good geographical fit, and on a personal level he would seem to fit perfectly within the Cardinals clubhouse culture. The Hardball Talk report suggested that Oswalt could come to a compromise with the Cardinals regarding the option, perhaps in the form of deferred money. But the source said on Wednesday that even that much might not be required; that Oswalt finds St. Louis such an appealing destination that he might accept a trade without any movement on the option.
That’s far from the only obstacle, of course. A big one would be the talent cost. Oswalt is a franchise icon and a beloved star in Houston, and the Astros would be unlikely simply to let him go in a salary dump.
The Cards’ most compelling potential trading chip for most teams would seem to be 2009 first-round Draft pick Shelby Miller, a right-hander who has been on a roll lately at low Class A Quad Cities. Farm director Jeff Luhnow was given the opportunity on Wednesday to classify Miller as untouchable, but declined to do so. He said the right-hander quite surely would not be moved for a two-month rental player, but that for a longer-term upgrade, any and all prospects could conceivably be in play.
The Cardinals have relied heavily on the front of their rotation in 2010, but the back half has been a question. Kyle Lohse and Brad Penny remain on the disabled list, and though Lohse is progressing rapidly from forearm surgery, manager Tony La Russa said on Wednesday that he’d still love to add not just a back-end, depth starter but a frontline type.
“If somebody is good enough to pitch, you’re improved by definition,” La Russa said. “But if you want to get greedy, the more the impact, the better it is for our team.”
That would indicate an appetite for a pitcher like Oswalt, whom the Cardinals know well. The right-hander is greatly respected within the St. Louis clubhouse, where he has been regarded as a worthy adversary for the past decade.
Any move may yet be a long way off. But an option that may have looked far-fetched for the Cardinals earlier this summer may at least be in play.