Did the Red Sox Miss Out on Roy Oswalt?

The past offseason didn’t just have an elephant in the room – it had an elephant the entire room was on top of stampeding down the streets of Boston like a pachyderm “rolling rally.” If this elephant had a first name, like the song goes, it would be P-I-T-C-H, and it’s second name would be I-N-G. Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, Bard, Lackey, you name it, pitching was a problem for Ben Cherington to solve during his early days as Red Sox General Manager. But how? Well, one potential solution was to sign Roy Oswalt.

Theo Epstein had a philosophy when it came to pitchers: the shorter the better. No one-year deal, unless outrageously expensive, could really come back to hurt a big market team like the Red Sox. It’s a sound strategy that any team could get behind. While John Smoltz and Brad Penny didn’t work out, the highest profile pitchers the Sox practiced this strategy with, teams often pick up a guy from the scrapheap and hope for the best. Just look at the Kevin Millwood and Bartolo Colon renaissances of the past few years. Yes, Millwood was let go by the Sox, but he wasn’t showing the same stuff in the minors that he would in the majors. No one could have seen this type of run coming from the veteran.

Back to Oswalt: rumors during the winter and spring were that he wanted to pitch close to home in Mississippi. When he eventually signed with the Texas Rangers, it made a lot of sense. Now, Oswalt has come out to defend his choice, and has said in no uncertain terms “I never got anything” from the Red Sox. Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal discussed the recruitment process with the hurler and Oswalt said that while a number of teams expressed interest, the Dodgers, Phillies, and Red Sox never actually pulled the trigger to make formal, final offers to sign him.

Oswalt isn’t the young gun he was when the Astros were in the World Series – the righty has chronic back issues – and the Red Sox had Daisuke Matsuzaka and Aaron Cook waiting in the wings to help out a beleaguered rotation. Not making an offer, with the team already spending a considerable amount of money on pitchers (John Lackey) who wouldn’t even play this season, might not have been the best use of money. The bullpen at the time was a complete unknown, the outfield was in shambles, and Kevin Youkilis was a shadow of himself after missing the end of the 2011 season.

So what did the Red Sox miss out on? To start with, Oswalt has taken his lumps with the Rangers: in 29.1 innings he has a 5.22 ERA. However, things aren’t as bad as they look, at least results wise. Additionally, sandwiched by strong outings, Oswalt had back-to-back disastrous outings. On June 27th he gave up five runs in six innings to the potent Tigers lineup. Next time out: eleven runs (nine earned) in just four and two-thirds innings against the White Sox. His other three starts: 18.2 innings and just three runs allowed.

Oswalt still remembers how to strike people out too: 25 Ks in his 29.1 innings this year compared to just 6 walks.

At the end of the day, the Red Sox probably just didn’t think Oswalt could stay healthy. Sure enough, Oswalt was supposed to face the Sox during their series this week but was scratched because his back, as it has in recent years, acted up. Oswalt is on track to start Monday, but just a day ago that start was to be Sunday. And a few days before that, he was certain to start on Saturday. Given the Red Sox substantial disabled list obligations at the time Oswalt signed, the front office probably couldn’t justify adding a player who, no matter what the upside, wasn’t likely to remain healthy for even half a season.

(cross-posted at Sports of Boston)

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