According to a report out of Houston, the Astros and Phillies have agreed on a deal that will send Roy Oswalt to Philadelphia, pending his approval. Details of the deal haven’t been released yet, and we don’t know if Oswalt will accept it anyway, but with a trade potentially looming, I figured I’d put some somewhat scattered thoughts to the online version of paper.
Writing about any move the Phillies make is hard. On the one hand, it is impossible to escape the overarching truth that anything they do now will be less effective than simply keeping Cliff Lee would have been last winter. That trade was inexplicable from the beginning, and has not looked any better for the Phillies since it was made. Now, four months into the 2010 season, making a move for Oswalt to upgrade the rotation is a tacit admission that they would have been better off keeping Lee.
And yet, we preach the value of sunk costs and not letting bad decisions of the past force you into more bad decisions in the future, so by all rights, we have to talk about anything the Phillies do under the umbrella of the fact that the Lee trade can’t be undone. It’s in the past, and getting the game’s premier lefty back isn’t an option. The choice faced by Ruben Amaro here is Oswalt or not Oswalt, not Oswalt or Lee. We should examine any trade the Phillies make in isolation from the deals that they made last winter.
And yet, we can’t simply look at an Oswalt acquisition on its own, because most accounts suggest that the team will have to move Jayson Werth in order to be able to afford Oswalt’s salary. It’s not a straight forward transaction, where the Phillies are giving up some future value to make the current team better. Depending on what they end up doing with Werth, they might actually make their 2010 team worse and their 2011 team better – not exactly the kind of deal you normally see from a team that is in the thick of a pennant race.
Some will try to paint this as a simple Roy Oswalt/Domonic Brown versus J.A. Happ/Jayson Werth battle of pairs, but even that breaks down, because the Phillies don’t have to trade Werth to get Brown into the line-up. With Shane Victorino on the DL, Brown is already in the big leagues, and there’s no reason that they couldn’t play him over Raul Ibanez when Victorino returns.
Trying to sort out this jumbled mess will not be easy. Oswalt would make the Phillies better. Losing Werth would make them worse. If they can make a good deal for Werth, who will leave this winter, perhaps it’s a deal worth making. Of course, Werth wouldn’t have to be leaving this winter if their moves of the past had left them with more flexibility in the present. But, again, what’s done is done, however it’s still hard to overcome the context of why this deal needs to be made in the first place, and what kind of deal it may lead to tomorrow.
There will be no easy way to analyze a Roy Oswalt to Philadelphia trade. If this deal happens, it will not lend itself to sound byte analysis, and no one will be able to sum up what is going on in 50 words. It’s complicated, perhaps more so than any recent trade. In the end, it may end up as just a part of one of the most interesting, confusing, and talked about series of acquisitions and departures in baseball history.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.