It’s not too surprising that Astros’ ace Roy Oswalt asked to be traded to a contender this week. Houston has not only won just 15 games this year, they trail only the lowly Orioles for the worst record in baseball.


But shortly after Oswalt’s announcement, the Washington Nationals made it very clear that they were interested in the 32-year-old three-time all-star.


The Nationals? 


Is there any real chance that the Nationals would be willing to part with some of their prized prospects after going so long without any? And would Oswalt, who wants to play for a contender, be willing to wave his no-trade clause to come to a team that is coming off back-to-back 100 loss seasons?


Yes, and probably.


Team executives believe that the Nationals are close to contending right now. The team is a game above .500 even though all-star Jason Marquis has yet to win a game for them and Stephen Strasburg has yet to get a whiff of a major league locker room.


If the team is a .500 club right now, how much better would they be by adding Jason Marquis, Stephen Strasburg and—yes—Roy Oswalt?


Since Oswalt joined the team in 2001, the Astros have been a good, but not great team, averaging 84 wins per season over that period. Since 2006, the Astros have gotten older and less talented and have averaged just 77 wins in that time.


Even in their World Series season of 2005, the Astros won just 89 games.


The Astros are in a downhill spiral and Oswalt wants the opportunity to win now.


He said today that he wants to remain close to his Mississippi home, so Atlanta comes to mind. But they have an outstanding rotation and really don’t need him. The Mets need him, but they aren’t contenders this season and really, it is doubtful they have the financial flexibility to make a deal.


The Reds are 25-19 and are a peripheral contender, but after stealing Aroldis Chapman away from the Nationals this spring, I doubt they have the resources to cover his contract.


Oswalt is owed the balance of his $15 million contract this year and is due $16 million in 2011.


If Roy Oswalt is the difference between not contending next season and contending, I have to believe that the Lerner family, owners of the Nationals, would be willing to take on a contract of that size.


And yes, I think Oswalt would be willing to come to Washington. He knows about Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen. He sees that the team is improving and must understand that he could be the player that takes the Nationals on a real pennant chase, perhaps this summer but certainly in 2011.


I think he will waive his no-trade clause if the Nationals really make him feel wanted.

The big question, then, is what the Nationals would be willing to give up to get him.


The Astros have made it clear they want a major league ready pitcher to take Oswalt’s place as well as multiple prospects.


Assuming everyone is healthy, here is the pool from which the Nationals will draw their 2011 starters:


1.       Stephen Strasburg

2.       John Lannan

3.       Jason Marquis

4.       Scott Olsen

5.       Jordan Zimmermann

6.       Livan Hernandez

7.       Chien-Ming Wang

8.       Ross Detwiler

9.       Craig Stammen

10.      Luis Atilano

11.      Matt Chico

12.      J.D. Martin


Strasburg, Marquis and Lannan will be the cornerstones of next year’s rotation. If Livan Hernandez continues to pitch well throughout this season—if he keeps his ERA under 3.50 in other words—I think he too could return in 2011. That is unless Chien-Ming Wang makes a full recovery from his surgery and dazzles in the second half of 2010.


And of course, Jordan Zimmermann will have a spot in the rotation as soon as he is healthy.


It would seem then that the 2011 rotation is already filled.


Strasburg is untouchable, and Marquis and Livan are just too old to be considered for the Astros’ youth movement that will start any day now. And while John Lannan has had success at the major league level, he will likely never be any more than he is now, a number-four starter with an ERA around 4.00.


That leaves Zimmermann, who is both young enough, and talented enough, to be the cornerstone of any potential trade for Oswalt. And Tommy John surgery is no longer a hit-or-miss procedure; pitchers who have the surgery almost always return to form. The only thing lost is time.


Without Roy Oswalt, the best-case scenario for next year’s rotation would look like this:


1.       Stephen Strasburg

2.       Jason Marquis

3.       Jordan Zimmermann

4.       Chien-Ming Wang

5.       John Lannan


That’s certainly a good rotation, but it could be better.


It could include Roy Oswalt.


I believe that the Astros would accept Jordan Zimmermann as the cornerstone of a prospects-for-star deal. But he wouldn’t be nearly enough.


Putting on my general manager hat for a moment, these are the players I would offer to Houston for Oswalt (them accepting is another matter altogether):


Jordan Zimmermann: He won’t become another Roy Oswalt, but he’ll be close. Once he matures, Zimmermann could be counted on to provide the Astros with very good-but-not-great numbers: 13-10, 3.60, 9.1/2.8/8.9.


Zimmermann is expendable for a couple of reasons. First, Stephen Strasburg is ready to take the spot originally reserved for him in the Nationals’ rotation right now. Secondly, last season’s amateur draft netted the team two very young but very good starting pitchers.


Trevor Holder was taken in the third-round last year and is following up a good 2009 season with an outstanding 2010 campaign. In eight starts, Holder is 3-1, 3.88, 9.3/0.8/6.5 for Class-A Hagerstown.


The surprise of the draft has to be Daniel Rosenbaum, a 22nd -round selection out of Xavier. In nine starts for the Suns, Rosenbaum has blown away his Sally League competition, going 1-1, 1.53, 7.1/1.5/8.0.


With Strasburg in front of him, and Holder and Rosenbaum behind him, the Nationals find themselves in the amazing position of not needing this future number-one starter.


Scott Olsen : At 26, Olsen is still relatively young. He has proven major league experience, and has pitched very well this season (2-2, 3.77, 9.4/2.9/6.7). A healthy Olsen could win 10-12 games a season for the Astros with a ERA in the 4.00-4.25 range.


Yes, his health is a question mark, but his latest stint on the disabled list is a minor problem.


Justin Maxwell: In every large trade, there is always a player like Justin Maxwell, someone with seemingly endless potential but who as of yet been unable to turn the potential into stardom. Perhaps the band-box dimensions of Houston’s home park might help jump-start Maxwell’s offense.


Chris Marrero : If the Nationals as expected sign Adam Dunn to an extension this summer, Marrero becomes a man without a position. The Astros will be in need of a replacement for Lance Berkman pretty soon. While Marrero has not lived up to his first-round billing, he could still become a decent major league hitter. .275-20-80 is not out of his reach.


Michael Burgess : Burgess is a high strikeout, low average hitter with a ton of power. Maybe he’ll make it to the major leagues, but maybe he won’t. He is expendable, especially now that Destin Hood is in the organization. Hood has shown the ability to hit for power, but will be a much better contact hitter than Burgess.


I have a feeling that Houston might also want Ross Detwiler, but I don’t know if the Nationals would give up both he and Zimmermann. But that’s one of the benefits of having so many quality starting pitching prospects in the system. The team could overpay for someone like Oswalt and not be hurt too badly in the long term.


Right now, the Nationals are one or two great players away from real contention. Their 23-22 record is good enough for a third place tie in both their division and the wild card hunt. To win the wild card—the most likely option—their most difficult competition would come from Atlanta, Cincinnati, San Diego and Los Angeles.


The Nationals as currently constituted couldn’t beat out any of those teams. But the addition of Roy Oswalt could make the Nationals the second or third best team in the wild card chase.


And from that position, anything could happen.


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