Oswalt becomes Phillies' latest ace

Roy Oswalt will make his Phils debut Friday in Washington.
Roy Oswalt will make his Phils debut Friday in Washington.
Posted: July 30, 2010

For 20 minutes late Wednesday, Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge talked on the phone.

It had been two months since Oswalt, the Houston righthander, had demanded a trade from the Astros. He had been presented a potential deal to come to the Phillies. With Saturday's trade deadline fast approaching, the 32-year-old ace turned to Lidge, a teammate for six seasons in Houston.

Was Philadelphia a place he wanted to be?

"I promise you won't regret it," the Phillies' closer told him.

On Thursday, Oswalt told the Astros he would waive his no-trade clause. He became a Phillie later that afternoon.

The Phillies traded lefthander J.A. Happ and two prospects - outfielder Anthony Gose and infielder Jonathan Villar - to Houston for Oswalt.

Oswalt flew to Washington and spent Thursday night in a hotel room waiting for his new teammates to arrive for a weekend series against the Nationals. He will start Friday's opener for the Phillies.

"We think we acquired one of the premier starting pitchers in baseball," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said.

Incredibly, Amaro has been able to say that three times in the last calendar year. Exactly a year ago Thursday, the Phillies acquired Cliff Lee from the Indians for a package of four prospects. In the off-season, Amaro traded for Roy Halladay and dealt Lee away to Seattle. Now, he has Oswalt.

The Phillies were able to avoid dealing their best hitting prospect (now that Domonic Brown is in the majors), single-A first baseman Jonathan Singleton. Gose and Villar are likely to be three to four years away from the majors. Happ, the runner-up for National League rookie of the year in 2009, was difficult to part with, Amaro said.

The general manager said the reason the Phils ended up with Halladay and Oswalt instead of keeping Lee is because they can keep their two current aces beyond 2010. Halladay signed a three-year contract extension through 2013. Oswalt is under control through 2011 and has a mutual option for 2012.

As a part of the deal, the Astros also sent $11 million to the Phillies. That will help subsidize the approximate $23 million Oswalt is guaranteed over the next year and a half.

The Phillies also sweetened the buyout to $2 million for Oswalt's 2012 option.

Baseball and Phillies sources said money was an issue in getting the trade done. The Phillies already have the fourth-highest payroll in the majors and needed substantial money in return to make the deal work for this season and next. Even with the $11 million infusion, Amaro admitted the team is left with little financial flexibility for 2011.

A Phillies source said because Oswalt held all the power with his no-trade clause, he waited out a deal as long as possible. He never ruled out Philadelphia as a destination, but it was not his top choice.

Oswalt was not available to Philadelphia reporters. He did speak on his way out of the Astros' clubhouse.

"I'm gone," Oswalt told the Houston Chronicle. "It's pretty tough packing up my locker. It's tough to leave Houston, but I'm going to a good situation. Philly has a good situation, but now I have to hurry up and pack my locker up."

In 10 seasons, Oswalt won 143 games and lost 82 for Houston, posting a 3.24 ERA. He has started at least 30 games in each of the last six seasons. Five times he has finished in the top five of Cy Young Award voting. In the postseason, Oswalt has a 4-0 record with a 3.66 ERA in eight career appearances.

This season, on a dreadful Astros team, Oswalt was 6-12. But his 3.42 ERA ranked 19th in the National League entering play Thursday. With Halladay, Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, the Phillies have three pitchers among the top 21 NL pitchers in ERA.

"We think we can stack ourselves up with one of the best rotations in baseball," Amaro said.

The deal was far from a given, even in the final stages.

"There were so many moving parts," a Phillies source said.

Some of them were internal. In the last week, the Phillies held organizational meetings at Citizens Bank Park to assess the state of the team. Before the Phils went on their eight-game winning streak, there were those in the front office who believed the team should sell instead of buy before the trade deadline.

"Frankly, our team was not playing well enough to think we were going to be a buyer," Amaro said. "In fact, we were still wondering when this team was going to start kicking it in."

The winning made the decision to go all in on Oswalt easier. Amaro said he had initial discussions with Astros general manager Ed Wade (a former Phillies GM) several weeks ago.

The familiarity between the two GMs helped. Wade hired Amaro in Philadelphia. He is the godfather to one of Amaro's daughters.

"He's obviously been a pretty important person in my life," Amaro said. "I think when you have a comfort with someone, it makes it a little bit easier."

Wade was also extremely familiar with the Phillies' system. Happ was drafted under Wade in 2004. Earlier this year, Wade personally scouted single-A Lakewood, where Villar played. He had his scouts closely watch Happ and Gose in the final weeks leading up to the trade.

All the ingredients were there. In the last three to four days, the deal really started to materialize, Amaro said. The Phillies reviewed Oswalt's medical records and consulted a back specialist to analyze Oswalt's history of back problems. There was no structural damage, Amaro said.

The deal was agreed upon Wednesday night and presented to Oswalt shortly thereafter. It was the first deal put in front of Oswalt, his agent, Bob Garber, told the Houston Chronicle.

In the end, his friend Lidge said, the chance to win was too much to pass up.

"It gives us three top-of-the-rotation guys," including Halladay and Hamels, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "That's hard to find in the major leagues these days."

Halladay said he was impressed with the Phillies' aggressiveness. So, too, were other players in the clubhouse.

"Obviously, this team is dedicated to winning," Halladay said. "They're not going to rest. It's great."

To acquire Halladay, Oswalt and $17 million in cash over a calendar year, the Phillies have traded prospects Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Travis d'Arnaud, Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, Gose, and Villar, along with Lee and Happ.

"I know we've spoiled ourselves a little by acquiring pitching the last several years," Amaro said. "But I can assure you, this is not easy and it's not going to happen all the time."

When Lidge heard the deal was done, he sent a text message to Oswalt: "It's going to be fun. I can't wait to see you."

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb

at 215-854-2928

or mgelb@phillynews.com.

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