Cheap Seats

Houston, what's your problem?

The Cardinals and Astros have dug in their heels over a potential Roy Oswalt trade. And the bullheadedness could be disastrous for both clubs.

The Redbirds need pitching help and Houston needs to rebuild for the future while cutting payroll. What could possibly stand in the way of a mutually beneficial trade?

Well, the Astros owner's wackiness for one thing. Drayton McLane says he's reluctant to trade his ace pitcher within the National League Central Division. Seriously? The Astros are so far out of contention that they could never hope to be a factor for the Central Division crown in the year and a half left on Oswalt's current contract. According to Baseball Prospectus, the Astros currently have a .00073 chance of making the playoffs this season. Next doesn't look much better with Lance Berkman likely hitting the road as a free agent and Carlos Lee continuing to bog down the payroll with little production in return. The real truth is McLane is hung up in his ego. He'd trade Oswalt to the Cardinals in a minute. But to do it, he wants to make it look like he gutted the St. Louis farm system and snookered the Cardinals.

It's a shame because Houston could save up to $24 million over the next year and a half by letting Oswalt go -- and they could get a couple of prospects to boot. A slugger like Cardinals farmhand Allen Craig could look nice at first base for the 'Stros for years after Berkman and Oswalt are retired.

Two weeks ago I thought the Cardinals could make it without a trade for a significant starting pitcher. But that has changed now that it looks like Brad Penny could be out for the season. A lot of things would have to go perfectly for the Cardinals to make a serious playoff run without adding a hurler:

1) Kyle Lohse would have to come back and make us all forget everything that has happened since April of 2009. He could go on a rehab assignment as soon as next week. But who knows how effective Lohse will be after a two month lay-up -- much less after having a surgery that no major league pitcher has had before?

2) Jaime Garcia has to continue to pitch like a number three major league starter -- despite the fact that he is only a rookie and he's coming off Tommy John surgery. Garcia hasn't pitched a full minor league season in three years and he has never pitched a complete major league season. When will he hit the wall?

3) Chris Carpenter will have to stay healthy. Adam Wainwright, too. Any setbacks to the big two at the top of the rotation would be it without the addition of a talent like Oswalt. The best thing about adding Big Roy would be that the Redbirds would basically have three aces. They wouldn't be outmatched in any potential playoff game.

While the Cardinals appeared to be in the driver's seat last week with Oswalt publicly stating his desire to pitch in St. Louis and his willingness to use his no-trade clause to force Houston to send him where he wanted to go, that has weakened considerably. Oswalt softened his stance, saying that he would welcome a deal to the east coast where the Phillies are said to be very interested in his services. Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick toward the non-waiver trade deadline. The Cardinals can bet if they don't get Oswalt before July 31 that they won't get him, period. The Reds would almost surely claim Oswalt on waivers just to make sure the Birds don't get him. That's bad for Houston because, while they'll get rid of Oswalt's paycheck, they won't get any players back.

Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and a deal will get done.