It’s About Time!

I originally wanted to see Will Ohman in Dodger blue as far back as last October, and as his price continued to drop while the Dodgers trotted out minor league jobbers like Brian Mazone and Erick Threets, the fit only seemed more obvious: hey, maybe a contending team who badly needs a lefty specialist should bring in the lefty specialist who’s already said he wants to be on the west coast! I still can’t quite comprehend why it took so long, but common sense has finally arrived:

The Dodgers need relief pitchers, and reliever Will Ohman needs a job. Those two needs intersected on Sunday morning, when the Dodgers gave the free-agent left-hander a tryout.

Ohman, accompanied at Camelback Ranch-Glendale by his agent, went through a two-inning simulated game against Minor League hitters in front of manager Joe Torre and most of the Dodgers’ front office.

ohmanbraves.jpgGreat! Perfect! In case you’re not familiar with Ohman, he’s exactly what the team needs right now, and not even just because of (complete lack of) competition for the position otherwise. The 31-year-old Pepperdine alum made his debut with the Cubs in 2000, getting into 17 games in his first two years, before blowing out his arm and missing 2002 and 2003. Since making it back to the bigs in 2005, he’s been one of the most reliable lefty relievers over the last four seasons, making at least 56 appearances each year with quality results (ERA+ scores of 151, 112, 94, and 116).  Even better, unlike Joe Beimel, Ohman’s been killer on fellow southpaws, holding them to just a .571 OPS in 2008.

That’d be a pretty valuable addition to any team, but in comparison to Mazone (32 and yet to appear in a MLB game) and Threets (6.75 spring ERA after allowing a run and two hits in 1/3 of an inning today) Ohman’s basically looking like Sandy Koufax right now – especially when you consider that Hong-Chih Kuo is almost guaranteed to miss some time this year due to injury. (That said, until Kuo does go down, how tasty is a Kuo/Ohman lefty duo? Niiiice.)

So what’s stopping the Dodgers from signing him now-ish? Well, Joe Torre, for one:

Free agent left-hander Will Ohman said he would be ready for opening day, but Manager Joe Torre wasn’t so sure.

Of Ohman’s command when he pitched to minor leaguers in front of the Dodgers’ brain trust, Torre said, “You can see he hasn’t been pitched in games.”

From the story, Torre also mentioned:

“But there’s a certain element of sharpness you’d like to have. Where we are, how many times can he pitch [in a game]? We saw today the quality of his stuff. You can see he hasn’t been pitching in a game as far as command. Not that he’s been pinpoint [in his career].”

Well, yeah. I don’t doubt he’s rusty. Why wouldn’t he be? He’s missed almost all of spring training. But doesn’t he have enough of a track record of success to think that it’ll just take him some extra time to get going? I mean, what would you prefer to have out there in the pen? A proven reliever who might need a week or two more to get up to speed, or, well, Brian Mazone and Erick Threets?

Will Ohman. Dodger blue. Let’s make this happen.

Let’s Thin Out that Herd

vargasspringdodgers.jpgWell, today’s game against Milwaukee ought to help send some of those 5th starter wannabes to the glue factory:

Eric Stults: 2.1 IP, 4 ER, 3 BB, 1 HR (spring ERA: 12.96)
Claudio Vargas: 1 IP, 4 ER, 4 H, 2 HR (spring ERA: 8.22)

Just like most of their pitches today, any chance of these two winning this competition has to be going… going… gone.

With Shawn Estes already a washout, Eric Milton not far behind, and Jason Schmidt already counted out, that has to mean James McDonald wins this by default, right? Imagine that – we really could see a Dodger rotation that’s three-fifths twenty-five-and-under. It’s not exactly the way we all wanted to see it, but man, is that thought tasty.

Not that things went any better for the guys still competing for the 2nd lefty reliever spot, as Brian Mazone and Erick Threets each gave up a homer. Are we really going to sit by and watch the Giants go get Will Ohman? It’s not like his skill set perfectly fits what this team needs, or anything.

On another note, what is with all of the injuries? You’ve got Chad Billingsley, Blake DeWitt, and Mark Loretta all pulling muscles in the same game. You’ve got Clayton Kershaw taking a liner off the hip, Jason Repko pulling a hamstring – in addition to Manny’s previous hamstring problem – and now you’ve got Delwyn Young going for an MRI on his surgically-repaired elbow. Granted, none are that serious, but still, not a good omen.

The season simply cannot start soon enough.


That Other Pitching Battle

While trying to ignore the mounting evidence that a Delywn Young-sized mistake is about to be made, let’s not forget to focus on another roster battle that’s coming down to the wire, and for once I don’t mean #5 starter – #2 lefty reliever. You thought the fight for that last starter role featured some awesome names? At least you’d heard of Eric Milton, Shawn Estes, and Claudio Vargas, even if you shuddered at the mention of their names. These are guys even I’d barely ever heard of before this spring. With “notable” lefty contenders Carmen Cali, Stephen Randolph, Brent Leach, and Victor Garate already shipped off to minor league camp, here’s what we’re looking at…

brianmazonespring.jpgBrian Mazone:
a 32-year-old who’s yet to make his Major League debut? Oh yeah, off to a great start here. He went undrafted in 1998 and made it into 20 games for Atlanta’s A-ball team that year, before spending five of the next six seasons in independent ball, with the 6th lost to arm surgery. He finally made it back to organized ball in 2003 and has been bouncing around the minors (mostly as a starter) ever since, going 9-12 with a 4.10 ERA for Philadelphia’s AAA team last year. That was actually his worst season of the last few years, but I’m not exactly sure if that’s a good thing or not.

Mazone’s actually been very good so far this spring, allowing no runs and just 2 hits in 6.1 innings. You’d think that in a competition which is so lousy that, well, Brian Mazone can still be a top contender for the crown, a line like that would get you a good chance. Except that Tony Jackson disagrees:

Mazone pitched the eighth inning and stranded a runner on third. He now has pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings, spread over eight appearances, this spring. He also is a left-hander. And the Dodgers NEED a left-handed reliever. But this guy probably will begin the season at abq.

I’m sure there’s a good reason for that, but damned if I know what it is. Moving on…

Erick Threets: Threets comes over from the dark side, having been in the Giants system since entering pro ball in 2001. He does actually have some MLB experience, though it was pretty monumentally bad: 16 hits and 12 walks allowed in 12.1 innings over the last two years. His minor league stats aren’t all that much better – he seems to be Greg Miller light in terms of Ks and BBs, because in 398.2 career IP he’s whiffed 370 (that’s good!) and walked 286 (that’s bad!). And yes, the frogurt is also cursed.

Threets hasn’t been as good as Mazone this spring, allowing 3 earned runs in 4.2 innings, though striking out 8 in that time is pretty nice. To be honest, while I like a guy with the stuff to miss bats, do we really want to be seeing this guy come in and walk half the league? Not what you want out of a guy who’s supposedly going to be your lefty specialist.

Shawn Estes: ugh, him again? That’s right, just a day after being told he had lost his shot at the 5th starter role and could choose between the minors or being released, he’s gone with door #3: reinvention as a lefty reliever.

Veteran starting pitcher Shawn Estes agreed to report to the Dodgers’ Minor League camp on Monday to attempt a transition to left-handed-relief specialist.

Estes, cut on Sunday with a choice of reporting to the Minor Leagues or receiving his release, said the compromise was raised in a meeting he had on Sunday with general manager Ned Colletti. The Dodgers have been unsuccessful in finding a second left-handed reliever to complement Hong-Chih Kuo.

Really? I mean, I don’t mind giving the guy a shot in minor league camp, but how many times have we been over this? He’s almost never been very good in the bigs, and he’s been downright awful this spring. He’s done. Cooked. Over. Finito. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. No matter whether or not the biggest competition are guys like Brian Mazone and Erick Threets. 

So the solution is…

willohmanbraves.jpgJust sign Will Ohman already! I was calling for this as far back as last October, when I included him as part of my 2009 plan:

Ohman’s a 31-year old lefty reliever and Pepperdine alum who’s made it into at least 56 games in each of the last four seasons with the Cubs and Braves, with ERA+ marks of 151, 112, 94, and 112. Plus, he’s absolutely murder on lefties (.571 OPS against in 2008), which makes him unlike Beimel (who’s actually harder on righties) and Kuo (who kills everyone, but isn’t really a situational kind of guy).

Joe Torre spent most of last year trying to turn Beimel into a situational lefty, which he never was, so why not just sign a guy who’s clearly good at it? Makes sense to me. Plus, the price is right, because according to ESPN’s Jayson Stark:

Last I heard, the last of the free-agent left-handers, Will Ohman, was looking for a one-year deal in the neighborhood of $1.75 million, with easily reachable incentives that could add close to another $1 million on top of that. Also hearing Ohman wants to stay on the West Coast. So with the Dodgers not interested in approaching that price, the Padres and Giants would seem to be the teams at the front of this line.

You know what? I’m usually not in favor of giving much money to relievers, but in this case it’s worth it. Not only is this a big need for the Dodgers (and not just because Mazone and Threets are the alternatives – what happens when, not if, when Kuo goes on the DL? You’ll still need those guys later.) After an off-season in which Ned Colletti clearly established he’s trying to win now, are we really going to let a measly $1 million or so stop us from getting the quality lefty reliever we so desperately need?