Astros Officially Trade Roy Oswalt to Phillies

| by Hardball Times

For the better part of the last 24 hours, the Astros, Phillies, and Roy Oswalt have dominated the baseball blogosphere. It was initially (incorrectly) reported that the Phillies would be sending JA Happ, Vance Worley, and two unknown prospects for Oswalt and cash. Over the course of this morning, speculation abounded with many sources suggesting the Phillies were including prized prospects Jonathan Singleton and/or Jarred Cosart as part of the deal. At times, Astros utility infielder Jeff Keppinger was also rumored to be included.

Finally, the dust appears to have settled. The early reports got part of the deal right. Oswalt and $11 million are headed to Philly and JA Happ will head South to Houston. Also included in the deal are ultra-toolsy CF Anthony Gose and SS Jonathan Villar. The Toronto Blue Jays and Astros later agreed to swap Gose and first base prospect Brett Wallace.

First let’s look at the terms of Oswalt’s contract. Conflicting reports over the past two weeks indicated that Oswalt either wanted his 2012 option accepted as part of the deal or a restructuring of his contract. It seems that the Phillies will NOT be picking up the 2012 option but instead will be adding $1 million to the buyout. All told, the Phillies financial commitment to Oswalt appears to be about $5 million for the remainder of 2010, $16 million for 2011, and $3 million for his buyout. After deducting the ‘Stros $11 million contribution, that leaves the Phillies paying a shade under $13 million for the next year and a half of Oswalt.

Moving along to the on-field impact of the trade, Oswalt’s addition to the Phillies roster provides an immediate boost. He’ll be replacing the recently reactivated JA Happ in the rotation who has spent the better part of the season on the DL with a strained left forearm. In his nine rehab appearances this season (eight starts), Happ has thrown 37.2 IP with 34 K, 19 BB, and a 5.97 ERA. Due to his shaky recovery, it was very uncertain what Happ would add to the rotation going forward. Oliver’s preseason projection called for 1 WAR in 110 IP. The Fans projection at Fangraphs called for 2.3 WAR and a healthy Happ probably could have been expected to deliver about 2 WAR in a 180 IP season.

Unfortunately, this makes direct analysis a little tricky due to his uncertain recovery. From what I’ve seen, there’s little reason to expect Happ to be better than replacement level this season. He could possibly be worse. Let’s put a range on it and say he’ll probably perform somewhere between -.5 WAR and .5 WAR.

Oswalt on the other hand has put together what looks like a solid bounceback season. He has continued to be stingy with the walks this year while his strike out rate is the second highest of his career (2.37 BB/9, 8.37 K/9). His 3.42 ERA is perfectly in line with a 3.40 FIP and 3.45 xFIP, contributing to his 2.7 WAR to date. THT’s own Oliver system calls for 1.6 WAR over the balance of the season which is similar to my own expectations. In 2011, Oliver calls for 3.8 WAR. Again, this seems to be a reasonable expectation.

Taken together, it appears that the Philllies have added at least one win and as many as two in 2010. If we charitably consider Happ a 2 WAR pitcher going forward, Oswalt is expected to provide an additional 1.8 WAR over the outgoing Happ in 2011. So for an expected 5.4 WAR and 2.8-3.8 WAH (Wins Above Happ), the Phillies financial commitment is only about $13 million which is close to $2.5 million per win and well below anything they could get in the market. Since these are critical wins, the Phillies have made out very well financially in this deal.

Of course, the Astros get something out of this deal too. While a far more uncertain option than Oswalt, JA Happ can hold his own on the hill, putting together a 1.8 WAR season in 2009 over 166 IP. There was much ado over the offseason as to whether or not Happ could continue to outpitch his sabermetric peripherals (2.93 ERA, 4.33 FIP, 4.49 xFIP). He will immediately slot into the Astros rotation, where he’ll hope to quickly recover from his early season injury and get back to proving he can outpitch his FIP. If all goes well, the Astros have acquired a pitcher who can put up about 2 WAR a season over the next four years before qualifying as a free agent. However, his past injury history and current slow recovery does make Happ a bit of a question mark moving forward.

Anthony Gose, who has already been shipped north of the border for Brett Wallace, is probably the gem of the trade, although he’ll take quite a bit of polishing before he’s bright and shiny. A potential 5 tool standout centerfielder, scouts drool over his physical ability before moving on to the shortcomings. At 6’1, 190 lbs, the 19 year old speedy outfielder is already in the high A Florida State League. In the field, he flashes spectacular range and a good arm. At the plate, Gose has struggled with strike outs in a way that reminds me of Dexter Fowler. His plate discipline is improving although it’s still below average. He has just six HR in a little over 1,000 minor league plate appearances, but scouts are hopeful he can develop at least 10+ home run power if not more. It’s on the basepaths that Gose makes his name and that’s why many analysts will probably be tempted to compare him to Houston CF and former Phillies farmhand Michael Bourn. Anthony had a strong 2009, swiping a minor league best 76 while getting caught an acceptable 20 times (79% success rate). This season has not seen the same success with 31 steals and 23 times caught.

The final piece to look at is Jonathan Villar. He was the Phillies best and perhaps only middle infield prospect prior to the trade. As a 19 year old in the Sally League, Villar has put together a rather indifferent stats line, a .272/.332/.358 triple slash with just two home runs. His speed has been on display with 38 steals, but he’s also been caught 13 times. The most glaring flaw in his line are his 103 K and 23 BB in 397 PA. Still, he’s a solid C level prospect and there is hope he can develop more pop down the line.

In a busy trade season, it’s readily apparent that the Phillies did a nice job improving a shaky rotation in a cost effective manner. Just in evaluating the regular season, Oswalt brings stability and an expected one to two wins to the rotation. He also teams up well with his fellow Roy and lefty Cole Hamels to provide the Phillies a potent playoff punch. The Astros also did a fine job adding pieces of value to their franchise. Villar will continue to toil in the lower levels while JA Happ will immediately join the rotation. Anthony Gose has already been parlayed into oft-traded slugger Brett Wallace, who becomes the heir apparent to Lance Berkman.

Kudos to Ed Wade and Ruben Amaro Jr. for making the best out of what they had and entertaining me for the day.

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