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How Will Ohman Could Swing the NL West

Earlier this week, one of the last established left-handed relief specialists -- former Brave Will Ohman -- finally signed a deal, agreeing to a complex one-year deal with the Dodgers with a second-year option. The deal is technically a minor league pact, though that seems like a fairly simple formality. If Ohman makes the team -- and considering the fact he was signed with less than a week of spring training remaining -- he's guaranteed $1.35 million. Essentially, the team turned a major league deal into a minor league deal so that Ohman could spend a week or two in AAA getting ready to pitch at the big league level, rather than forcing him onto the roster from day one. According to the L.A. Daily News' Tony Jackson, he can earn another $200,000 with contract incentives, and the Dodgers then hold a $2.2 million 2010 option on him, a year which they would have to buy out for $200,000 (which would bring his 2009 grand total up as high as $1.9 million if they do).

When you do all the math it's pretty clear that Ohman's agent, Page Odle, actually did get pretty stinking close to the $2 million/per and multiple years Ohman was aiming at in free agency. Perhaps more significant is the fact that he got the deal from a team considered a contender, which was one of Ohman's stated offseason goals (he also reportedly preferred to play on the West coast closer to his offseason home). To do so, Odle had to wait until the absolute blinking point in contractual chicken, passing up multi-year offers from lesser teams like the Pirates in the process.

Yet by landing Ohman, the Dodgers may have done something fairly significant in two ways: They've strengthened their own bullpen while dealing what could be a crucial blow to two major NL rivals: the Diamondbacks and Phillies.

Regardless of what they might say publicly, the Phillies definitely wanted Ohman. They extended more than one offer Odle's way, and tried desperately to get Ohman to come off his asking price to join them. Why? Because Ohman is a fairly unique case, a lefty-specialist who could fill in for the suspended J.C. Romero who then could become an any-batter reliever. Before last year, Ohman was generally used against both sides of the plate, a trait that would have made him a more versatile part of the bullpen for whoever signed him.

That ability might have been a little less important to the Diamondbacks, but there's little question Arizona could have used him. If you break down the Diamondbacks' bullpen, it has one glaring weakness: left-handed relievers. They have two who appear ticketed for the Opening Day roster, and only one of those -- Doug Slaten -- could be considered a viable option for a clutch at-bat against an opposing hitter. Slaten's 2008 numbers against left-handers were pretty strong (a .232 batting average against, with a .317 on-base percentage), but he has a grand total of three hit and miss seasons, with a total of 115 games.

So, who's the other likely lefty in the Arizona 'pen? Brace yourself Mets fans, because it's none other than Scott Schoenweis. Ask anyone who saw Schoenweis pitch for the Mets the past two seasons for the Mets knows that if he's left in even a couple pitches too long, that's probably the ball game (of the 18 hits he gave up to lefties last year, three were for home runs).

Ask anyone who saw Schoenweis pitch for the Mets and Ohman pitch for the Braves over the past couple of seasons, and they'll take Ohman just about every time. In the end, that could be a significant factor in the 19 matchups between the two NL West contenders. No fewer than four of the Dodgers anticipated starters can (and will) bat left-handed (right fielder Andre Eithier is a lefty; James Loney, Orlando Hudson and Rafael Furcal are all switch hitters). That makes high quality left-handed relief a pretty essential quality to beat the Dodgers.

So, will a single signing of a situational reliever really swing the balance of the NL West ... and potentially the NL overall in the playoffs? It's incredibly unlikely. What it could do, however, is force the Diamondbacks to overcompensate by adding a reliever at the trade deadline they wouldn't have had to otherwise.

Only time will tell if that plays out, but if it does, Ohman could well look like a steal for $1.35 million, if you can ever say that under the current economic conditions.

By Cameron Smith  |  April 3, 2009; 12:07 PM ET
Categories:  Diamondbacks , Dodgers , Phillies  
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