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Whether it works out or not, Phillies HAD to make the Roy Oswalt trade

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"KEEP ON PHIGHTIN' WITH JOE VALLEE"

So maybe Philadelphia IS Roy Oswalt's  kind of place after all.

Last week, Oswalt reportedly wanted the Phillies to pick up his $16 million 2012 option if he agreed to accept a trade to the team. Moreover, there was talk that Oswalt didn't want to come to a big market team. Needless to say, there were times when it didn't look too encouraging that the National League Champions would be acquiring the All-Star right-hander. However, stranger things have happened. And yesterday afternoon, Roy Oswalt officially became a Philadelphia Phillie. Wow.

So what made Oswalt change his mind? Rumor has it that former Astros teammate and now current teammate Brad Lidge had a long talk with Oswalt  that helped influence his decision to waive his no-trade clause and come to Philadelphia. Oswalt was also reported to have rescinded his earlier demand that the Phillies pick up that 2012 option. There were reports that Oswalt is not the biggest fan of Citizens Bank Park, either. Despite all of the grumblings and near misses that could have squashed the deal, Oswalt is here, the Phillies are playing better, rookie Domonic Brown looks good in the early going, and all is well in Camelot. For now.

This time last week, the Phillies appeared dead in the water (and NO, don't sit here and tell me you knew all of this was going to happen!). Well, seven days, a new hitting coach, and a perfect 7-0 homestand later, the Fightins have narrowed the Braves division lead to three and a half games. And oh yeah, the Phillies upgraded their pitching staff immensely in the process. Not only that, but the good folks in Houston are paying $11 million of Oswalt's $23 million dollar salary over the next two years.

The Phillies had to part with J.A. Happ, and two lower level prospects: center fielder Anthony Gose,Roy Oswalt photo: http://blogs.ajc.com/jeff-schultz-blog/files/2010/07/030804_NLCS_ASTROS_CARDINAL.JPG and shortstop Jonathan Villar. Happ did a great job for last year's NL Champions and is sorry to leave Philadelphia. He is well liked and respected by all of his teammates. In saying that, Happ is probably not 100% healthy (though healthy enough to pass a physical), his velocity has dropped, and teams have not seen enough of him for an overall accurate assessment on how high his ceiling can actually get.

Needless to say, centerfield is not a problem for the Phillies at this time. Jayson Werth will be playing there until Shane Victorino returns from his injury. And as far as Villar goes, his 42 (yes, 42) errors in the minor leagues won't make anyone forget Jimmy Rollins, or even Joe Millette for that matter. The Phillies could contemplate promoting great fielding but light hitting prospect Freddy Galvis at short if he is ready in 2011 if they decide not to bring Rollins back. Galvis however, is just 19 years of age and has been struggling. He may need more minor league seasoning.

If this deal works out the way it's supposed to on paper, every Phillies fan should pinch themselves and then apologize to Ed Wade  for EVERYTHING bad they have ever said about him. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that Wade is on his way out in Houston.

In Wade's defense however (did I just say that?), Astros owner Drayton McLane is known to pull the strings of everyone in the organization (sound familiar?). In other words, Oswalt might not be the only ex-Astro in the next few days. There has been talk that Carlos Lee is on his way out, and Lance Berkman  is about to become a Yankee any minute. When you sit back and think about this, the Oswalt trade falls just short of highway robbery. You didn't have to surrender Brown, Werth, or Phillies star prospect Jonathan Singleton for Oswalt, Houston is paying almost half of his salary, and there's no $16 million dollar albatross over the Phillies' head, either.

Phillies management has been aggressive in trying to fill the team's glaring weaknesses over the last two Julys. Never in a million years would I imagine that this team would go from acquiring middle relievers to pulling off the two biggest trade deadline deals over the last two summers (and NO, I don't mean Todd Jones and Felix Rodriguez, either). If Oswalt does turn out to be the real deal, savor this one. It's not a stretch to say that the Phillies can't keep pulling these deals off every year.

Best case scenario for the deal:

Oswalt returns to his dominant form, joins Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels  to become the best 1-3 punch in the majors, and the Phillies win the World Series. The Phillies will also have Oswalt in 2011, and the above scenario can possibly be repeated. If Oswalt is on the decline, the team only pays him $2 million on his 2012 option to walk away after next season.

Worst case scenario for the deal:

Oswalt went 6-12 for the Astros this year, but he is among the league leaders in quality starts. Yes, Houston is an absolute graveyard, but Oswalt is also rumored to have had several cortisone injections in his back this season. Yours truly is the same age as Oswalt. And take it from someone who received numerous injections for a bad back just the other day: it's no picnic, and I'm not even a major league pitcher.

Is Oswalt's less than spectacular record this season due to his back issues? Or more because he just isn't the same pitcher he once was? Remember Freddy Garcia with his 1-5 record and $10 million dollar price tag? That was THE most expensive win in the history of the franchise. Make no mistake, you consider who the Phillies gave up, the money factor (which is relatively small for a year and change) and getting Oswalt is a move Ruben Amaro HAD to make. If Oswalt falters, so be it. Philadelphia could be a culture shock to him. He is a consummate pro, but it will be interesting to see if or how he adjusts.

A Final Thought

Call me crazy, but with this trade, the Phillies have "officially" become a big-market team. The Cliff Lee trade last year was the beginning of the transformation. Though Lee was eventually moved, they acquired Halladay and then grabbed Oswalt. This trade sends a message to the Braves, the American League, and all of Major League Baseball for that matter that the Phillies are indeed in it to win it.

Although fans will probably never completely get over the Lee debacle from last December (unless the team wins the World Series again), Ruben Amaro has to feel a little relief right now.  Don't think Ed Wade didn't throw him a bone here, either. Reports are out there that there were better offers on the table for Oswalt. Sometimes, it's true that who you know can make or break successful business deals.

If Oswalt fails to perform however, the ghost of Lee will continue to haunt Amaro, the team, and the fanbase for a very long time. Simply put, Oswalt was the best pitcher available on the market. He fits the Phillies' needs, and the Phils were aggressive in pursuing him from the start. And don't worry just yet about the Phillies being the National League version of the Yankees. NOBODY is hated more than the Yankees, and the Phils have to win 25 more titles before the franchise is in that company.

When healthy, Oswalt is obviously a tremendous upgrade in your rotation. However, by no means does this guarantee the Phillies' fourth consecutive National League East crown. The Phillies have a better 1-3 punch at the top of their rotation than the Braves. However, they still have questionable fourth and fifth starters, while Atlanta is overall deeper one through five in their rotation. This won't matter in October, but you have to get through the season first. If Oswalt is effective and the Phillies are fortunate enough to make it back to the Fall Classic, their rotation is stabilized. Last Fall, it was duct taped.

The back of the bullpen for the Phillies is still an absolute nightmare. That was further reinforced last night, when the bullpen once again could not hold the lead. Atlanta's bullpen is the best in the National League if not all of baseball. And as we witnessed up close and personal two Octobers ago, a "lights out" bullpen helps you win championships.

Oswalt can pitch like Steve Carlton all he wants, but if he can't go nine innings, chances are the latter innings will always be an uncertainty unless the team upgrades the back end of their pen. Right now, it looks like the Phillies are tapped out as far as making any other significant moves. Then again, that was assumed in regards to Oswalt. Who knows whether it was discussed or not, but I wonder if Wade is willing to move Brett Myers,  too. He's a fourth or fifth starter, AND he can close. Just a random thought. Breathe easy, everyone. He's not coming back.

 In the meantime, Keep On Phightin.'

Quote of the week:

"Mets lose in 13 innings. Phillies close to getting Roy Oswalt. Dear Baseball, please stop punching me in the face. Thank you."

- Twitter post from Matt Cerrone, who runs MetsBlog.

 

Joe Vallee is a lifelong Phillies fan and former Phillies batboy. Joe has claimed to have seen about 98% of every Phillies game since the early 1980's.

Contact Joe at jvallee@philly2philly.com