Because of this, several free agents are still available. I can understand teams being wary of giving a long-term contract to Prince Fielder, who is a tad on the heavy side and has the dreaded "old-player skills" that often don't age well. Ditto not giving Edwin Jackson the five year (?!) deal he is asking for - he's been traded five times since the end of the 2008 season, after all.
On the other hand, there's Roy Oswalt. Sure, he's 34 and coming off a season when he hurt his back. Back injuries are scary things, so between that and his age, there's a good chance he'll never again be the pitcher he once was. Still, it's hasn't been so long since the 2010 season, when he led the National League in WHIP. Even last year, when he was injured, he managed an ERA+ of 105 and a K/BB ratio of 2.82. Sure, those are way down from his career 133 ERA+ and 3.52 K/BB, but they're still quite good.
|Roy Oswalt, 9/28/2010|
By dbking on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as "IMG_1540") [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
It's not like Oswalt is "injury prone" either - he just has one very specific injury. In the previous seven seasons, he made at least 30 starts every year and fell below 200 innings pitched only once. He was an extremely durable pitcher until last year, when he wasn't. It stands to reason that, if his back injury is under control, he can once again be durable.
Of course, that's a big if. There's a risk involved here. However, unlike Jackson, Oswalt isn't looking for a big, long-term investment. He is reportedly willing to take a one-year deal in order to prove that he is healthy - likely in hopes of garnering a long term investment from somebody last season. This is reminiscent of the Adrian Beltre situation. Beltre became a free agent after 2009, the worst year of his career. Instead of working toward a long-term contract with a lower potential annual value, Beltre and the Red Sox agreed to a one year, $9M contract to show the world he could again be healthy and productive. With Boston, he put up a .321/.365/.553 line to go along with his typically fantastic defense, turning that season into a 6-year, $96M contract with the Texas Rangers.
The upside for Oswalt would seem to be even higher than Beltre's was in 2010. Essentially every competitor, with the exception of the Angels, needs another starter. An $8 to $12M, one-year contract to find out if Oswalt is healthy seems like an incredibly sensible risk. He'd be making MUCH less money than AJ Burnett or John Lackey, with none of the downside. If he's healthy, he makes your team better. If he stays hurt, he's off the books after the season. It's a short-term risk for a potentially momentous award.