The Numbers Game: Cardinals’ cost per WAR scenarios if they sign Oswalt


Each Wednesday, I’ll look at St. Louis Cardinals news from a sabermetric viewpoint. The column is titled The Numbers Game. I’ll review anything from translating traditional statistics through the microscope of today’s statistics, to WAR calculations, win probabilities and the increasing spectrum of sabermetrics. I realize that sabermetrics is not mainstream…yet. With this in mind, I will do my best to purely use the numbers to explain either a trend or explain my point of view on a subject. Don’t worry, we won’t be reviewing calculations.

The rumor mill surrounding Roy Oswalt has slowed down since he was packing his bags for St. Louis this past Friday. Oswalt has since visited with the Texas Rangers on Monday. As of this morning the only word we received from the meeting was it was “good”. Bringing Oswalt into the Cardinal rotation is viewed by many as a good move for depth and because it provides a boost over Jake Westbrook, the suspected pitcher to lose innings with Oswalt on board. The Cardinals have also been looking for a trade partner for Kyle McClellan. With Oswalt reportedly looking for $10 million, McClellan’s $2.5 million salary removed was perceived to balance what the Cardinals could afford to pay Oswalt.

In a vacuum and assuming Oswalt is going to be healthy (a big assumption), which of the following players would you want?

On its face, signing Oswalt looks like the right move. A healthy Oswalt is obviously a firm upgrade over either Westbrook or Kyle Lohse. We thought the Cardinals had $7.5 million left in their budget to spend for 2012, so why not go for it? But, today Ken Rosenthal writes that $10 million, even with moving McClellan, could be too much for the Cardinals. Rosenthal states Oswalt may not have much leverage, especially if he continues to assert he will only pitch in either St. Louis or Texas, where each team has a full rotation set already. I won’t dwell on Oswalt’s leverage or lack thereof right now. I’d like to visit the financial aspects of the prospective moves.

I’ve been in favor of signing Oswalt since it was announced he would settle for a one year contract back in late December. I even suggested offers would be around $10 million. If we look at signing Oswalt and the subsequent move of trading McClellan from a cost per WAR scenario, are the Cardinals really gaining anything by this move?

These are estimations for Oswalt, McClellan and Westbrook (as a starter with 183 IP), pulled from Bill James’ projections found on FanGraphs. I simply used the same number of innings for Westbrook in the reliever role as was projected for McClellan who Westbrook essentially replaces. Westbrook’s stats as a reliever are proportionate to the number of innings pitched as a starter. Easy enough.

We can see by these projections that for $7.5 million more in salary the Cardinals would gain only 0.7 WAR. We further see that the cost of 1 win is $1.367 million more than currently constructed. This is not financially responsible and this could be the Cardinals’ hang up. They cannot simply look at the transactions as getting rid of McClellan to make room for Oswalt. The move is adding Oswalt, trading McClellan and transferring Westbrook into the role of reliever and spot starter at a robust $8.5 million for the season.

One thing to consider is maybe, and this is a big maybe, the Cardinals can figure out a way to trade Westbrook instead of McClellan. Westbrook of course, would have to waive his no trade clause. One thing works to the Cardinals’ advantage. Westbrook is going to be a free agent after the 2013 season. He could lose a good chunk of value in the open market if he throws just over 100 innings this season and if a majority of those innings are out of the bullpen. He may feel that if he can showcase himself as a starter for another team, it would prove beneficial versus a yo-yo act in and out the Cardinals’ rotation. He certainly has a better shot at more money in 2013, if he throws 183 innings and performs well in 2012. His worst case scenario is that all five members of the rotation are healthy. If that ended up being the case, he would have a hard time accumulating 100 innings. This is all pure speculation of course. At this point that is all we can do. So, what would it look like if the Cardinals could convince Westbrook to waive the no trade clause?

Here we see a scenario where the Cardinals trade Westbrook and pay $4 million of his salary (no one is taking on Westbrook for $8.5 million). Now they are shedding $4.5 million versus the $2.5 million for McClellan so it brings the Cardinals into a territory they may feel more comfortable pulling the trigger. The estimated WAR increases to 4.3 and the cost per WAR is lower too. Who knows if this is something that general manager John Mozeliak is trying to work out. It really would hinge more on Westbrook and someone willing to take him on for $4.5 million than Mozeliak’s desire to trade Westbrook.

One thing is clear, Oswalt feels he is worth $10 million and doesn’t seem to be backing down from that. The Cardinals would have to believe in a complete rebound out of Oswalt to pay the $10 million. If they felt that way now, they may have already made the deal. Since the risk is bringing doubt, the Cardinals would have to go out on a limb to pay $10 million and hope to trade McClellan. Or they can let Westbrook know he is looking at a season in the bullpen and a shrinking value for 2013. Maybe with some pressure, they can they move the unmovable?

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