Can the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers again?


It looks like the competition between the 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals and the two-time defending American League champion Texas Rangers is still going on. Now it is the front offices that are playing a game of Risk and Monopoly in the form of Roy Oswalt. Who will come out on top?

Beginning Friday, there were numerous reports that Oswalt was close to signing with the Cardinals. MLB Trade Rumors sums the Friday action up nicely here. Saturday, word from St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Joe Strauss, was that the Cardinals front office shot down the theory that a deal was imminent. Yesterday, speculation mounted that the Cardinals were looking to move Kyle McClellan in order to clear some payroll for Oswalt. McClellan becomes expendable and the only move since Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook both have full no-trade protection. The Rangers seem to be the biggest competitor and Oswalt is set to meet with them today.

Both teams will want to make trades in order to make room in the rotation and clear payroll space for Oswalt’s reported $10 million request for one season. Not only does the Oswalt signing become a competition, but there is also the possibility of competition in the trade partner, as each team has been linked to the Baltimore Orioles as possible suitors. Oswalt is the ‘Risk’ figure in our board game analogy. It is a risk well worth taking in my opinion as I wrote a few weeks back when Oswalt’s requested contract length was reduced to one year.

Luckily for the Cardinals, it seems that one move does not have to precede the other. There are enough suitors for McClellan, apparently up to four, where the Cardinals can worry about signing Oswalt first and then work a trade. Since the Cardinals are looking at a payroll decrease, they will be accepting a lower level prospect in return for McClellan. It is all well and good to stock up on properties as in Monopoly, but would you rather have hotels on those properties or houses? Oswalt is the hotel to McClellan’s house.

The Rangers have an incredibly deep and talented bullpen and as a result have been shopping Koji Uehara for a while now. If they were to take on another starter, Matt Harrison would probably move to the bullpen, which would require a trade for roster space and Uehara seems to be the likely candidate. Moving Uehara is a no brainer for the Rangers if it helps them afford Oswalt. Uehara’s name continues to pop up as returning to the Baltimore Orioles. Wouldn’t you know it, the Orioles are also said to be interested in McClellan. Who has the advantage here?

Looking at the Orioles pitching staff, it would seem that McClellan’s versatility would be a better fit. Uehara is a relief pitcher and while he was successful in his stint with the Orioles, he was a non-factor in the Rangers pursuit of the AL championship run. That said, since there are additional teams looking at McClellan, this part of the competition may fizzle.

The biggest issue the Cardinals have is the Rangers seem to have a lot more flexibility with payroll and could possibly outbid the Cardinals. Without Oswalt in the mix, the Cardinals are already on the books for $106.6 million in payroll for 15 players (minor league third baseman Zack Cox is among them and it is not certain if he will make the big club in 2012). Using Oswalt’s desire for $10 million and eliminating McClellan’s $2.5 million, the Cardinals reach $114.1 million with 10 players left to pay. The payroll would creep toward the $119/$120 million mark.

The Rangers are committed to 14 players as of today for a little more than $92.6 million. The Rangers will be handing over significant raises to Mike Napoli, Nelson Cruz and Elvis Andrus, all of whom are going to arbitration. MLBTR has these three players projected to earn a total of $17.8 million in 2012. That would raise the total for 17 players to $110,425,000. Adding Oswalt at $10 million gets them over $120 million with 7 players left to pay, so they could approach $124 million when finished.

While the dollar value is higher for the Rangers, they have not been shy about spending recently. To them another $2-3 million for Oswalt would not hurt their budget. The same cannot be said for the Cardinals who seem to be maxed out if they add Oswalt.

The Cardinals know that Oswalt has a desire to stay in the National League and play in Baseball Heaven. How much of this will play into where he chooses to go is not really known. Both teams look to be in solid position to defend their league championships so Oswalt couldn’t be in a better situation as far as the team he ends up with.

Beyond Oswalt, it will be interesting to see if the losing team in his sweepstakes turns their attention to Edwin Jackson. He’s 28 and is still perceived to have plenty of upside. It would be even more fun, if Oswalt goes in a completely different direction and the Cardinals and Rangers begin to fight over Jackson. That would certainly make Scott Boras happy and continue to fuel the competitive fire between the Cardinals and the Rangers.

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