The Cardinals have engaged the Astros in trade talks for starter Roy Oswalt, but the teams have struggled to arrive at a fit, according to one major-league source with close knowledge of the talks.
The Astros like Class A right-hander Shelby Miller but aren’t sold on the 19-year-old – or any other Cardinals prospect – as the centerpiece of an Oswalt trade, the source said. Miller is 3-4 with a 4.04 ERA in 16 starts with the Quad Cities River Bandits this year.
St. Louis has the built-in disadvantage of being in the same division as Houston; some in the industry believe Astros owner Drayton McLane wants to avoid dealing Oswalt within the National League Central.
Still, it is far too early to count out the Cardinals. The Astros presently hope to get both salary relief and a package of premium prospects. Reality may dictate that they back off one demand in order to satisfy the other.
Money is an undercurrent to everything when it comes to the Oswalt market, in which the Philadelphia Phillies also have been a very active participant.
Oswalt, who turns 33 next month, has a no-trade clause in his contract. He is owed about $6 million for the rest of this season and $16 million next season. Some sources believe the right-hander would ask his new team to pick up the $16 million option for 2012 in exchange for approving the deal.
So, if the agendas of both Oswalt and the Astros are to be satisfied, the following criteria will be met:
1. The new team will be wealthy enough to assume all the money left on Oswalt’s contract and pick up the 2012 option.
2. The new team will be prospect-rich and surrender multiple high-end players.
3. The new team will not be in the National League Central.
4. The new team will be within a reasonable distance of Oswalt’s Mississippi home, theoretically ensuring his personal contentment.
It’s not clear if any major-league team will be able to satisfy all four requirements, meaning Oswalt or McLane would need to compromise in order for a deal to occur.
The Astros could be active before the July 31 non-waiver deadline even without trading Oswalt. Right-handed starter Brett Myers is having a very good season and has attracted interest from multiple clubs. But two sources said the Astros will need to be overwhelmed in order to move him, citing the team’s hope that he could be a foundation for future rotations.
Meanwhile, the Phillies have continued looking at starting pitchers other than Oswalt, including Arizona right-hander Dan Haren. The Phillies might need to trade outfielder Jayson Werth, a potential free agent, to create financial flexibility and obtain additional prospects to facilitate such a trade.
Oswalt and Haren are the top two pitchers known to be on the market. Oswalt is signed through 2011 with a club option for 2012, Haren through 2012 with a club option for 2013.