Best Part About the Rangers Inking Roy Oswalt? Low Expectations and a Big Upside.

Heading into Tuesday night's 10-3 ass-kicking by the Seattle Mariners, the Rangers and their fans had very little to complain about the 2012 season. Name an offensive stat -- batting average, runs scored, hits, home runs, total bases, on-base-plus-slugging percentage (my personal fave) -- and the Rangers were better than any other club in baseball.

Name a pitching stat -- team earned run average, batting average against, bullpen ERA, bullpen BAA -- and the Rangers were better than any other club in the American League.

Then, with an official announcement at 8:23 p.m., they got even better.

Just one day after ace Jered Weaver of the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim left the mound with a lower-back injury, Texas added veteran right-hander Roy Oswalt to a minor league contract, pending a much-anticipated physical. The Angels were among several clubs to reportedly make an offer to the game's most popular free agent.

The ex-Astros ace will be optioned to Triple-A Round Rock this weekend to get back into game shape after sitting out the first couple months of the season. Oswalt, who turns 35 in August, reportedly could earn approximately $4 million with another $1 million worth of incentives if he's pitching in the bigs before July 1.

After courting Oswalt since the trade deadline two years ago -- when Texas instead acquired Cliff Lee because of his smaller contract and status as a postseason ace -- the Rangers finally landed their man. And in doing so, three things became immediately apparent:

The Rangers front office doesn't view Scott Feldman as a viable starting pitcher. He'll join a long list of free agents at the end of the year that includes Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Colby Lewis, Mike Adams, Mark Lowe and Yorvit Torrealba. (Texas holds a $9.25 million club option for Feldman next year that is now certain to be bought out for $600,000.)

They're also not confident that Neftali Feliz can return from his sprained right elbow ligament in a couple months and be productive in the rotation. (If only they had kept him in the 'pen in the first place.)

And, most important, they're willing to do whatever it takes to get this team over the hump and win its first championship.

The move is hardly comparable to writing a check for $51.7 million to talk with Yu Darvish, but Oswalt brings a salty résumé with him to Texas. His career stats look pretty dang close to some guy named Roy Halladay, who incidentally just joined Weaver on the disabled list.

Halladay, 35: 192-97 record (.664) in 389 games, 3.25 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 6.9 K/9

Oswalt, 34: 159-93 (.631) in 339 games, 3.21 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 7.3 K/9

Obviously there's more to consider, such as Halladay's two Cy Youngs, perfect game and postseason no-hitter. But Oswalt's been effin' good for a long time. In fact, the only right-handed starter with more wins and a lower ERA and WHIP than Oswalt since 2001 is Halladay.

So, yeah, OK, he was really, really good at one point, but the question is: What the heck is he now?

It's not an easy one, though, since there's no real answer. We know Oswalt isn't the ace he was in the mid-2000s when he had back-to-back 20-win seasons. And we know Oswalt clearly isn't the pitcher he was when Texas targeted him in 2010, when he was spectacular in the second half following his trade to the Philadelphia Phillies, posting a 7-1 record, 1.74 ERA and 0.90 WHIP.

But no one really knows what Oswalt is at this point, especially considering he had two stints on the disabled list last year with a bulging disc in lower back. He also spent time on the DL in 2009 with degenerative disc disease in his lower back, along with missing time in 2008 because of, you guessed it, a herniated disc in his lower back. (On a somewhat related note, read Oswalt's story about touching a live sparkplug when you have time.)

Oswalt's history suggests he could establish himself as anything between a very solid No. 3 starter and the second coming of Brandon Webb. And the beauty in all this is that it's OK if he's Webb 2.0. Not preferable, but OK.

The Rangers needed Lee to pitch like an ace, and they needed Darvish to make a big splash immediately. But they don't need Oswalt to be anything, really. And that's the best part of this low-risk signing.

How many other teams could say that?

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten