The Pirates have increased their pursuit of left handed reliever Will Ohman, according to DK at the PBC Blog, by offering Ohman an offer with an option year attached. Ohman has been looking for something in the $2 M range, which is still in the budget for the Pirates this season according to the 2009 payroll projection.
About a month ago I wrote about the Pirates initial interest in Ohman, questioning if he was better than Grabow. A few weeks ago I wrote about my idea of trading John Grabow to the Rays for starting pitching prospect Jeff Niemann, and replacing Grabow with Ohman.
Nothing is set in stone right now. The Pirates have upped their interest in Ohman, but he’s no lock to be a Pittsburgh Pirate. Let’s ignore that fact and look at the implications of a Will Ohman signing. Currently the Pirates have three left handers in Spring Training vying for a spot in the bullpen. Those left handers are Grabow, Sean Burnett, and Donald Veal. The Pirates can carry three left handers with no issues. However, adding Ohman to the mix means that one of those three has to go.
Grabow is the best of the three, but is in his final arbitration year, and is free agent eligible next season. An addition of Ohman, combined with Washington’s signing of Joe Beimel last week, would increase Grabow’s trade value. The Pirates could increase that value even more and get a better prospect by eating his salary, something they could do while staying under their $54 M budget.
Burnett did well last year against left handers, holding them to a .171 batting average. However, he has struggled this Spring and is out of options. Will Ohman holds more value to the Pirates, since he has proven to be effective against right handers (.262 career BAA) and is just as good as Burnett against lefties (.197 career BAA). The Pirates have dropped Burnett from the 40-man roster once, and assigned him to the minors. This time around they would most likely lose him to free agency or waivers.
Donald Veal is the last guy in the mix, and is the Pirates’ Rule 5 selection from the Cubs. Veal was one of the Cubs top pitching prospects a few years ago before suffering control issues (5.03 BB/9 in 275.2 innings at AA between 07/08). Veal’s control has been better in Spring Training, but as we saw on Wednesday against the Rays, he struggles when he goes more than one inning. If the Pirates cut Veal, they would have to offer him back to the Cubs, or try to work out a trade to keep him in the minors, like Evan Meek last year.
If Ohman is signed (and again, it’s no guarantee), the likely scenario would be that the Pirates trade John Grabow before Opening Day, thus being able to keep Burnett and Veal. The chance of Grabow being on the roster beyond the 2009 season is slim. Burnett and Veal can still be in the long term plans for the Pirates. I don’t think the Pirates would want to risk losing Veal, who ranks 24th in the Top Prospect Consensus. I also don’t think they will end the relationship with Burnett over a few bad Spring Training innings, especially with his success in the second half last year. So if the Ohman deal does take place, I will expect the other shoe to drop shortly after: a John Grabow trade.