Before we really can come to a conclusion about Will Ohman and the two-year, $4 million contract the White Sox have agreed to, we need to figure out how it affects Chris Sale.
Without Ohman, I was operating with the assumption that Sale would start the year in the bullpen, teaming up with Matt Thornton to form a terrifying two-headed Lefty Monster. Sure, the Sox said they planned to groom Sale for a starter spot, but that would seem to conflict with the "We're All In" strategy.
The Ohman addition expands the spectrum of possibilities, and it creates far more confusion in the process.
Count Don Cooper as somebody who is a little concerned about Sale's immediate future.
In fact, Cooper delivered his strongest words on the subject Saturday, not long after it was reported that the White Sox had signed left-handed reliever Will Ohman. That move appeared to give the White Sox the flexibility of moving the left-handed Sale to the rotation for at least a short stretch if necessary.
"I'm not favor of that," Cooper said, when asked if Sale would be used as a starter until an injured Jake Peavy returned. "It's unfair and too much to ask of a young guy until he has a chance to get himself situated.
"If he starts, he starts and starts all year. To start for a month, I don't like the sound or the feel of that. But I'm speaking for myself only. I haven't talked to [manager] Ozzie [Guillen] or [general manager] Kenny [Williams] on any of this."
Alas, that seems like the most likely outcome, but let's try to work through the scenarios.
The first-month starter
As far as we know, optimistic projections have Jake Peavy ready to pitch in late April to mid-May. Instead of going with Tony Pena or Central Casting Freddy Garcia, the Sox will give Sale a shot, with the intent to demote him to the bullpen when Peavy comes back.
Would this happen? It doesn't seem like a bad idea on paper, but if Don Cooper's not down with it, that makes me skeptical. He knows Sale and, in general, pitchers just a little bit better than I do. There are a shortage of comparable pitchers when it comes to Sale in every sense of the phrase, so you can't take a guys like Gavin Floyd or Jon Garland, who bounced between the rotation and bullpen, and assume it would be OK.
What we do know is that Sale had little problem going from starting to relieving last year, although the former involved collegiate hitters. Not quite the same. But I would start preparing for it, because it seems to favor the current M.O while maintaining a little bit of forward thinking.
The long-term starter
This picture involves Charlotte, whether or not the Sox pick up a store-brand Freddy. Either Sale starts the year in Triple-A, or he ends up there after Peavy returns, where he works on polishing his changeup in order to have three working pitches. Or, as Scott Merkin suggests, the Sox could trade a starter to free up cash and a permanent spot for Sale.
Would this happen? Even though this could involve Sale facing major-league hitters, it conflicts with the idea of the pennant push. However, this isn't terribly different from what the Sox did with Daniel Hudson last season. He probably could have started the season in the rotation, but the Sox had five starters, so he waited patiently and dominated International League hitters.
That said, the stakes are elevated this year. And who knows - if Hudson showed the ability to wipe out right-handed hitters during his September call-up in 2009, maybe he would have been in the bullpen. He didn't quite capture the imagination the way Sale did, though, so keeping him on the same path was an easier option.
This one would be the most cost-effective use of Ohman, though.
Three lefties in the bullpen
Three lefties in the pen
Each one seeking innings pitched
Ozzie struggles when he has two
So which one will start to bitch?
Which leads us to the least effective reason for having Ohman around.This prospect is why signing Ohman made me say...
... wait for it ...
If the White Sox re-sign Garcia or Garcia's equivalent and relegate Sale to full-time relief work, that will certainly be the all-inningest strategy yet. In fact, it might be "in too deep."
Ohman is the exact kind of pitcher that Guillen has struggled with in the past. He can retire lefties, but he's not aces against them. Moreover, Ohman has a Clayton Richard-type arm slot - not sidewinding -- so his delivery doesn't scream, "RIGHT-HANDED HITTERS WILL CRUSH ME!"
Guillen has a lengthy track record of wanting a LOOGY, except he doesn't have the patience to use a Lefty for One Out, and that's more than half the acronym. From Boone Logan to Horacio Ramirez to Jimmy Gobble to Randy Williams, Guillen has helped many a fringe lefty dig their own graves.
I thought having Thornton and Sale would eliminate that craving for a vanity lefty. Guillen had a hard enough time getting Williams any work, so it's hard to see when exactly Ohman would be desperately needed. Plus, three lefties guarantees a seven-man pen, which is another exercise in inefficiency, considering the rotation is supposed to go deep into games four of every five starts.
This is why I can't really endorse the Ohman signing. It only makes true sense if Sale is a starter for a whole season, and if Cooper's fears are warranted, that's not a direction the Sox want to go.
Did you know? (updated)
By pairing Ohman with Edwin Jackson, the White Sox will have as many German-born players on their 2010 team as they did in the first 107 years of their existence? Jack Katoll and Tom McCarthy are the others.