Although the New York Yankees' offseason priority is adding a starting pitcher, there is one high-profile free-agent starter who has apparently been crossed off the team's shopping list.
No, it's not C.J. Wilson.
It is Roy Oswalt, whose history of lower back problems make it highly unlikely that the Yankees would take a chance on him, despite his 159-93 career record and 3.21 ERA compiled over 11 National League seasons.
Oswalt, whose option was declined by the Phillies after a 9-10 (3.69 ERA) season, has had back problems dating to his days with the Houston Astros. He reportedly has two degenerative discs in his lower back and while he has never undergone back surgery, he has had numerous cortisone shots. As recently as June, when the recurrent pain sent him to the disabled list for six weeks, Oswalt talked about possibly having to retire because of the injury.
Those concerns prompted a baseball insider with knowledge of the Yankees' thinking on the free-agent pitcher market to tell ESPNNewYork.com that the club was "very worried about his injury history. The guy's falling apart from that back of his. That's why Houston dumped him."
The Astros traded Oswalt, 33, to the Phillies at the 2010 trade deadline for J.A. Happ and several minor league players. Oswalt went 7-1 for Philadelphia the remainder of that year and was 16-11 with a 2.96 ERA overall during his time with the Phillies. Still, they declined his $16 million option for 2012, presumably because of the same injury history that is scaring off the Yankees.
The Yankees have not, however, ruled out making a bid for Wilson, who went 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA for the Texas Rangers this season, but had a miserable postseason, going 0-3 with a 5.78 ERA in the ALDS, ALCS and World Series.
"The Yankees certainly have interest in finding out how much he wants and for how long," the insider said. "But I doubt they would pay him anywhere near the $100 million range."
Wilson's agent, Bob Garber, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
"I have no comment about any particular player we might be interested in," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "I said (Tuesday) that we will be focusing on pitching, and mainly starting pitching."
Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com.