If the Astros are to trade Roy Oswalt, his strong preference is to go to a contending team that has a chance to win immediately -- much in the same way Roy Halladay's preference this past offseason was to go to the Phillies.
Oswalt's full no-trade clause and high salary -- Oswalt is owed about $29 million over this year and next -- as well as his recent injury history and the possible prospect demands of the Astros, could extremely limit Houston's options, according to rival executives.
"I've got a small window," Oswalt said. "I've got two years left, and those two years, I'm trying to get back to the playoffs. I haven't been there since '05."
Oswalt said Saturday that he did not demand a trade, but communicated to owner Drayton McLane through his agent that dealing him might benefit both parties.
"I've been here 10 years and given everything I've got for 10 years, done everything I need to do to stay on the field," he said. "Hopefully, there may be some options for both of us out there. I'm not looking for an 'out' for me, from the standpoint as a franchise player for 10 years. But I think it would be a good thing for both of us."
Oswalt is 2-6 despite a 2.66 ERA. The Astros entered Saturday's game with Tampa Bay with an NL-worst 15-27 record. Oswalt said he and agent Bob Garber have been talking to McLane for 4-5 days and asked team executives about their timeline for rebuilding.
"I just kind of asked as an option, and what they were thinking as far as which direction they're going, do they plan to get young, or try to get some more players, or what direction are they going?" Oswalt said. "They didn't really have an answer for what they were going to do right now."
Oswalt said he has a few destination teams in mind, but he wouldn't specify them. Sources say Oswalt will want to be traded to a team capable of contending for a championship right now, much like Halladay essentially indicated to the Blue Jays that he was willing to go to a very small group of teams, which included the Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies.
The AL-West leading Rangers could be interested, according to rival executives -- but Texas has been operating with significant financial assistance from Major League Baseball, and some executives with other teams would be apoplectic if the MLB allowed the Rangers to make a deal for a pricey pitcher such as Oswalt. The Tigers could use a veteran starter like Oswalt, and Detroit has always been willing to spend aggressively when the team has a chance to win, but it's unclear whether the Tigers would be willing to surrender their best young pitching prospects to make a deal -- or whether Oswalt would want to play for Detroit.
The Mets tried to trade for Oswalt two years ago and might have the need now, but it's unknown whether Oswalt would approve a deal to the struggling New York club. It also appears very unlikely that the Yankees or Red Sox would spend the money necessary to make an Oswalt deal.
In fact, rival officials handicapping the possible Oswalt market wonder whether the Astros will have a lot of offers to choose from -- especially given that two other veteran pitchers, Cliff Lee and Ben Sheets, may be available later this summer.
The Dodgers typically would be a candidate to acquire a pitcher like Oswalt, and L.A. has a clear need for a frontline starter. But the team's payroll has been in lockdown because of the impending divorce of owner Frank McCourt.
The Cardinals already have significant payroll obligations and two frontline starters, in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. The Cubs are more likely to be buyers than sellers; the White Sox acquired Jake Peavy last summer and have a greater need for hitting than for a pitcher. The Phillies may not be in position to spend money on a starter as they were last year with Lee, and the front office has been concerned about leaking too many prospects in trades.
The Nationals are thought by other teams to be in position to be aggressive, if the front office decides to make moves. But Oswalt would have to approve a deal to a franchise that hasn't been in the postseason in almost three decades, and to a team that lost 103 games a year ago.
The Angels have a need for a starter like Oswalt, but their farm system has been depleted in recent years.
Oswalt's contract expires after next season, and the Astros hold an option for 2012. He was drafted by the organization in 1996 and played in the majors since 2001. The Astros started 15-30 in 2005 and rallied to take the NL pennant, but Oswalt doesn't foresee a turnaround like that this year.
"Now, we're close to that record now and the stance isn't the same as it was in '05," he said. "It's not like I'm not happy here. This is the only place I know. They've given me a chance to play since '97, and I've always wanted to finish here.
"But I want to win, too. If you go into spring training and you're not willing to win the whole thing, there's no sense in playing."
Oswalt said he was surprised when news broke about his request, and he doesn't want to become a distraction. He's due to start again in Milwaukee next Wednesday, and insists it'll be business as usual.
"It won't be awkward to me," he said. "I'm going to compete and hopefully, keep the game close and hopefully, we'll win some games. You never know, we may take off and start winning games, a bunch in a row. Me personally, it won't be awkward to me. As far as the players, I don't think it's really different for them."
If the Astros can't deal him, Oswalt said he'll dutifully take his starts and play out this season here.
"I still don't want people to think I'm leaving because we're not doing well right now," he said. "The reason is I don't have much of a window left to play, and I want another shot at winning.
"We've got some great players, we've got some good young players coming up with Michael [Bourn] and Hunter [Pence], they're going to be superstars for a while," he said. "I just thought it was a time in my career where I needed a different place, I guess you could say."
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. The Associated Press contributed to this story.