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January 28, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Monday, January 28

by Daniel Rathman

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Amid all of the Justin Upton hoopla last Thursday, the Mets’ signing of Shaun Marcum—first reported by CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman that same morning and analyzed by Ben Lindbergh on Friday—flew under the radar. The move came a little less than three weeks after Heyman tweeted that Sandy Alderson had “quite a bit of money left to spend,” and it appears that the third-year general manager may not be done yet.

Mets could add Roy Oswalt to fortify staff
Heyman noted back on Jan. 6 that, in addition to starting pitchers, Alderson was also seeking upgrades for his outfield and bullpen, but those have been difficult to find. The Mets were disappointed by what they saw during a private workout for Brian Wilson, and, if the team’s attempt to have its 10th-overall draft pick protected by the league proves futile, MLB.com’s Richard Justice heard that Michael Bourn will not be an option, either.

Alderson, though, is determined to leave no stone unturned. According to ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin, the Mets recently reached out to Oswalt’s agent, Robert Garber, and they view the 35-year-old as more than just a hedge on Marcum passing his physical. Oswalt appeared in 17 games for the Rangers last year, including nine starts, but he missed 10 games with lower-back tightness in July and 12 more with a strained elbow in September.

The former Astro and Phillie was better than his 5.80 ERA would indicate, striking out a batter per inning and logging his lowest walk percentage (4.2) since 2006, but to blame his .378 BABIP against and 18.6 percent HR/FB on sour luck would be overly generous. Oswalt allowed 13 hits in back-to-back starts versus the Tigers (June 27) and White Sox (July 3), serving up three first-inning home runs in the latter outing, and after that 19-2 drubbing at U.S. Cellular Field, he said candidly, “When I missed, they hit it.”

Four weeks later, in the wake of a 5 1/3-inning, eight-run drubbing at the hands of the Angels, Oswalt blamed his demise on inconsistent mechanics, which—after two weeks off the mound while nursing the aforementioned ailing back—impaired his typically excellent command. Part of the challenge for Oswalt over the past two seasons has been overcoming a gradual decline in his stuff, brought on by a combination of advancing age and the myriad injuries that he has sustained. Oswalt’s margin for error is considerably smaller that it was during his prime, and in 2012, he struggled to adjust.

The difference between the Oswalt of 2010 and the Oswalt of last year can be seen in a variety of ways, but the two images, from his Pitcher Profile, offer a stark illustration:

If you play around with the data on Oswalt’s Brooks Baseball Pitcher Card, you will notice that his fastball velocity has ticked down into the 91-92 mph range, from around 94 mph, where it sat from 2007 (as far back as the PITCHf/x data goes) through 2010. Not surprisingly, the result was an inability for Oswalt to overcome many of the location mistakes that previously went unpunished. That’s a hurdle encountered by virtually all pitchers fortunate enough to last in the majors into their mid-30s, but the key for Oswalt now is to refine his command so that the volume of mistake pitches decreases along with his velocity.

In the meantime, the relatively safe environs of Citi Field would forgive some of the belt-high gopher balls that sailed over the fences in Arlington and Chicago. If Marcum passes his physical and is healthy on Opening Day, then manager Terry Collins’ rotation could be set, with Johan Santana, Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee, and Matt Harvey occupying the other four spots. But if Oswalt is willing to accept another year of serving as a swingman—something that bothered him when he told reporters last August, “I’m a starter. I’m not really a bullpen guy.”—the injury history of New York’s projected starting five should yield plenty of opportunities for him to start.

Of course, that’s all assuming that the Mets are actually interested, a notion that was thrown into question on Sunday afternoon by the man who should know best. Garber told Newsday beat writer Marc Carig, “I’m not aware of any interest from the Mets,” and if Rubin’s report is debunked, then Oswalt will have zero known active suitors. The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo wrote back on Jan. 13 that Oswalt might only want to pitch during the second half of the season, which would make sense given the durability issues that he encountered last summer. If he does choose a landing spot before Opening Day, the Mariners and Padres—two other big-ballpark teams with possible rotation openings—and the Astros, who kicked the tires on bringing back Lance Berkman earlier this winter and could do the same for Oswalt, might be viable alternatives.

With Corey Hart out, Brewers shopping for corner-infield reserves
Last winter, the Brewers lost Prince Fielder to the Tigers in free agency, and—less than a month into the regular season—watched his replacement, Mat Gamel, go down with a torn ACL that would cost him the rest of the year. Milwaukee withstood that blow, thanks mostly to the surprising emergence of Japanese import Norichika Aoki and Hart’s ability to handle first base; now, a year later, Ron Roenicke’s squad faces yet another challenge.

Hart underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Friday, and he is expected to miss roughly the first two months of the 2013 season. That means that Gamel, who should be fully recovered from his May 22 surgery, will get a second chance to show the Brewers that he can handle the first-base ropes full-time. The 27-year-old was working on a .227 TAv when he sustained the torn ACL last year, and his career TAv in 269 plate appearances is just .236, but Gamel’s minor-league track record suggests that he can bring more thump, given good health and regular playing time.

Nonetheless, Doug Melvin is apparently looking for a Plan B at first base until Hart is ready to return. Roenicke told reporters, including MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy, that the veteran general manager is scouring the market for “backup-1B types.” Roenicke did not specify whether the search is confined to free agents or also involves trade options, but with the list of unsigned players dwindling rapidly, Melvin seems likely to cast a wide net.

If Melvin sticks to the unemployed, the favorite might be a former Brewer: Lyle Overbay, who split the 2012 season between the Diamondbacks and Braves. The 35-year-old no longer offers the slick fielding skills or 20-homer power that made him a perennial three-win player in the middle of the last decade, but he is more than capable of providing insurance for, or platooning with, Gamel for the first two months of the season. Other left-handed-hitting choices include Aubrey Huff and Casey Kotchman; Travis Ishikawa, who appeared in 94 games for the Brewers last year, signed a minor-league hitch with the Orioles in December. Carlos Lee, also a former Brewer, might be a last-resort candidate.

On the trade front, a call to Jack Zduriencik, who served as a senior assistant to Melvin for six years before heading to Seattle, might be in order. The Mariners are loaded with possible first basemen, especially following the acquisition of Michael Morse from the Nationals, and should be willing to part with at least one of them. Mike Carp may not be the most talented option available, but since he is still a year away from arbitration, he might be the cheapest. And there is a chance that cost will come into play if…

… And Kyle Lohse?
… as owner Mark Attanasio indicated after a question-and-answer session during the team’s fanfest, the Brewers decide to pursue a deal with Lohse. Attanasio told McCalvy that the 34-year-old’s status as a compensated free agent is not a strong deterrent to the Brewers, who hold the 17th overall pick in this year’s draft. Rather, Attanasio said, Milwaukee’s interest will come down to two factors: “size of contract, length of contract.”

The Brewers remain a long-shot destination for Lohse, but could come into play if his agent, Scott Boras, decides to settle for a short-term pact. Roenicke told reporters back in October that he “would always like to” see an experienced pitcher added to what currently is one of the league’s least experienced rotations, and—unless you count Tom Gorzelanny—Melvin has not yet granted that wish.

On the other hand, the Lohse idea runs directly counter to Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel beat writer Tom Haudricourt’s story from last week, which indicated that the team’s payroll strings are tightening for the upcoming season. Melvin was quoted in that article as saying, “We want to see what our young pitchers can do.” Unless that was a bluff, Attanasio’s sidestepping of the Lohse question over the weekend should not be taken as a sign that the Brewers are seriously involved.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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