I’m going to put aside Dan Haren for the purpose of this post. I figure he will — and should — cost a ton in prospects if the D-backs decide to deal him, and his contract is reasonable enough that teams with more premium prospects than the Mets can make a pitch for him if he becomes available. Plus I’m not certain why the D-backs would be eager to trade a great pitcher signed to a reasonable contract through 2012 with an option for 2013. Rebuilding processes don’t take that long; Haren should be part of Arizona’s long-term plans, not part of a firesale.
Instead I’d like to look at Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt, the two top-flight pitchers most frequently rumored to be available this season. Initially, I figured there was no way the Mississippi-born Oswalt would waive his no-trade clause to join the Mets, but he has since suggested he would. So dehumanizing this as much as possible, I want to compare Lee and Oswalt as commodities.
Lee is a better pitcher than Oswalt. By WAR, he has been worth 1.5 wins more than Oswalt in 2010. And Oswalt is enjoying his best season in three, so he’s more likely to regress in the second half of the season (though it’s hard to imagine Lee maintaining his historically good peripherals).
Frankly, I have no idea what either will cost. The Mariners traded three prospects for Lee in the offseason, only one of whom cracked Baseball America‘s Top 100 prospects list — Phillippe Aumont, who was No. 93.
But then teams don’t necessarily measure prospects the same way Baseball America does, plus that deal now looks like a complete fleecing. The Mariners were paying for a full year of Lee (plus the draft picks he’ll bring when he flees for free agency) and a team acquiring him now would be trading for a half season (plus the picks). But again, players seem to be worth more at the trade deadline than in the offseason, and it appears unlikely the Mariners will receive less value in young players than what they traded for Lee.
So in short, no clue. If I had to guess, I’d say it takes at least one high-end young player or prospect and 1-2 promising midrange guys for Lee, but that’s pure speculation.
But because Lee is signed to a reasonable deal that ends after this season and Oswalt is signed to an expensive deal that runs through 2011, there may be a disproportionate difference in their costs. Every competitive team could reasonably make a play for Lee, since none will be hamstrung by his contract. Only the teams that can afford to take on the $18 million guaranteed to Oswalt after 2010 can bid for his services.
That means there should be significantly more teams in the mix for Lee than for Oswalt. More competition means the Mariners can ask for more in return, driving Lee’s price higher.
So though Lee is inarguably better and would do more to help the Mets contend in 2010, it strikes me that the Mets might actually be better-served pursuing Oswalt. Granted, that assumes the Mets have — and will continue to have — some payroll flexibility, and I don’t know anything about their budget. But theoretically, the high salary should mean less to the Mets than most MLB clubs and the prospects — since they don’t have a whole lot of them — should mean more.
Of course, there’s that whole human element to consider. Oswalt has been the Astros’ ace for a long time now and certainly means a lot to that franchise. They may not be motivated to deal him — even with his big contract — without receiving top-flight talent in return. So again, who the hell knows? Consider this post useless.