Source: The Cardinals are the front runners for Roy Oswalt

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A major league source tells me that, contrary to what we’ve all been hearing for the past several days, the Phillies are not the front runners for Roy Oswalt.  The St. Louis Cardinals are.

In fact, the Astros have been talking with Cardinals GM John Mozeliak for several days now, and Oswalt is quite amenable to go to St. Louis if the teams can agree on what players will head back to Houston.  For their part, the Cardinals are convinced that matching Roy Oswalt up with Dave Duncan would take a guy who is already an ace and turn him back into the Cy Young candidate he was a few years ago. I’ll stop believing stuff like that when Dave Duncan actually fails for once. Which I wouldn’t bet on, frankly.

Of course, the big issue everyone has been talking about today has been Oswalt’s desire that his 2012 option be picked up.  That’s $16 million, and that ain’t hay.  My source tells me, however, that Oswalt would be willing to work with the Cardinals to make the option more palatable, possibly in terms of deferring some money.  The sides aren’t quite that far yet.

As for that option: my and everyone else’s sense on this as the news spread about it today was that wanting the option exercised would effectively scuttle any deal. If Oswalt is willing to be flexible on it, however, it wouldn’t be daunting.  And let’s not forget: Oswalt bargained hard for a no-trade clause, and one of the things he gave up to get the security that he’d stay in Houston was a guaranteed pay check in 2012. If he’s going to lose in-season home he’s come to love in Houston, it’s not unreasonable to expect that someone is going to have to pay for it. 

So that’s the state of play: the Cardinals are hot for Oswalt, and Oswalt likes the idea.  Now let’s sit back and see if these kids can work something out.

The Nationals expect Bryce Harper to test free agency

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Earlier this week at the Winter Meetings, Scott Boras said that he and the Washington Nationals had had preliminary discussions about a contract extension for Bryce Harper. Harper, of course, can become a free agent following the 2018 season and is widely expected to command the largest contract in baseball history.

While that may have given some Nationals fans hope that no other team would get the chance to bid on him, the Nationals are of the view that they have no shot to sign Harper before he at least tests the free agent market. From USA Today’s Bob Nightengale:

A lot of this seems like mutual posturing, doesn’t it? Boras trying to make it appear as though the he and Harper are giving the Nats a fair hearing and the Nats trying to make it appear as though, no matter what they do, Harper is going to hit the market. I tend to believe, personally, that Boras and Harper are hellbent on testing the market, but it’s possible that there is some number that the Nats can offer to head that off, right? Maybe?

Either way: big year ahead for Harper.