The Orioles' lefty reliever dilemma (Ohman to White Sox)
Former Orioles reliever Will Ohman has agreed to terms with the Chicago White Sox on a two-year, $4 million deal, according to multiple reports, including one from SI.com’s Jon Heyman.
We told you yesterday that the White Sox were the favorites and that the Orioles originally had some mild interest in re-signing Ohman, but they were not willing, at this point, to guarantee him a major league spot.
Ohman, 33, did a nice job for the Orioles -- he held opponents scoreless in his first 25 appearances of 2010 -- before the club dealt him to the Florida Marlins in July for Rick VandenHurk.
Ohman’s a hard worker, and definitely a character, and it is nice to see him rewarded with such a lucrative deal a year after coming into Orioles’ camp on a minor league contract.
So it’s great for him -- but not so great for the Orioles. Because Ohman is another in a growing list of lefty relievers signing multiple year deals (Scott Downs, Pedro Feliciano and Randy Choate) and that does not bode well for the club.
The Orioles want -- and need -- another lefty to go with Michael Gonzalez in the bullpen. The only other lefty relievers on their 40-man roster are Troy Patton, who has mainly been a starter in his career and certainly isn’t a lefty specialist type at this point, and Pedro Viola, who doesn’t appear ready to be a major leaguer.
The Orioles would prefer to do what they did last year -- strike gold with an Ohman-type on a minor league deal. The club would consider giving a one-year, big league contract to a lefty reliever, but almost certainly not two or more years.
And the list of what’s available is not super inspiring. The best of the bunch is Brian Fuentes, who saved 24 games for the Los Angeles Angels last year and likely will be paid like a pseudo-closer. He has multiple-year deal written all over him.
The best of the rest includes Joe Beimel, Ron Mahay, Randy Flores, Denys Reyes and a trio of former Orioles: Tim Byrdak, Mark Hendrickson and Bruce Chen.
Beimel is also likely in line for a multiple-year deal. Mahay, who has pitched for Buck Showalter in the past, also could be depending on how this market plays out.
So here is what I think are the three most likely scenarios for the Orioles in filling their left-handed relief hole:
1. They’ll scour the waiver wire and pick up a lefty reliever like they did with Viola last April.
2. They’ll make a small trade for a lefty reliever, ideally someone with minor league options remaining in case he doesn't stick in spring training.
3. Re-sign the 36-year-old Hendrickson. They did it last February and probably will do it again if he hasn’t found a job late into the offseason and they still have a need. The Orioles love his professionalism and versatility and his quiet, confident nature makes him a favorite among teammates. The problem is that Hendrickson is coming off a sub-par year and has never been particularly effective against left-handed hitters -- they have batted .267 against him in his career, including a .317 mark in 2010. If Hendrickson is the club’s only other southpaw reliever and the oft-injured Gonzalez gets hurt in 2011, the Orioles will be exceptionally vulnerable to left-handed hitters.
An out-of-the-box thought it is to put top prospect Zach Britton into the big league bullpen to begin the season the way teams used to ease their young pitchers into the majors. But I can’t see that happening. Too much risk; too high of an investment these days. Although it’s possible they’ll do that with Patton if they feel he can contribute in the majors in 2011.
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