To say that the Cleveland Indians are disappointed in the production they’ve received from Ubaldo Jimenez since he was acquired on July 30th of 2011 is an understatement. The Indians had hoped Jimenez would lead them down the stretch in 2011, but he failed to deliver and his collapse mirrored that of the rest of the club as he went 4-4 posting a 5.10 ERA in 11 starts. The hope a year ago was that over the winter that he’d return to the Dominican Republic work on his conditioning and mechanics and report to spring training with a clear mind and be the pitcher they had traded for.
It didn’t quite work out the way that the Indians had hoped. Jimenez started 2012 with a horrible spring training where he showed a lack of control and a lack of velocity. (He also proved that his mind was far from clear as he intentionally hit former teammate Troy Tulowitzki resulting in a five-game suspension.) The lack of control and velocity continued to hound Jimenez through the 2012 season. Whether we dissect his numbers from the traditional sense or from a sabermetric angle they are dismal: He led all of baseball with 17 losses, and had the third-highest ERA (5.40), the fourth-highest FIP (5.06), the third-highest walk rate (11.9 percent), sixth-lowest left on base (68.6%), and the second-highest WHIP (1.61) in the league.
The Indians hold a $5.25 million club option for Ubaldo for 2013, which includes a $1 million buyout. It would cost the Indians $1 million to buy out Jimenez’s 2013 option, but that maneuver would also eliminate his $8 million 2014 option, including another $1 million club buyout option. Since Jimenez has not shown any improvements over the past year-and-a-half it would take quite a turnaround for the Indians to pick up his 2014 option, so that buyout is a wash in determining how to move forward.
It is important to note that if the Indians decide to decline his 2013 option, Jimenez would not be a free agent. Jimenez has only five years and 100 days of MLB service time, so Cleveland could still offer him arbitration. By the rules of arbitration, the Indians would have to submit an offer of at least 80 percent of his 2012 salary, or $3.36M. Based on his poor 2012 performance Jimenez’ agent would probably ask for around $5.25 million, and given the Indians’ history of salary arbitration they’d probably meet somewhere in the middle—around $4.5 million. Add in the $1 million buyout, and Jimenez would probably make more through arbitration than he would from his option.
The Indians could also buy out Jimenez’ 2013 option, decline to offer him arbitration, and grant him free agency which would free up $5.25 million to spend elsewhere on the roster. Since the Jimenez trade is the signature deal of Chris Antonetti’s tenure as GM it is highly unlikely that he’d move on so quickly. Nor would I want him to. Although watching Jimenez has been a frustrating endeavor over the past year and a half I’d like to see the Indians bring him back in 2013, but not at $5.25 million.
Luckily, there is another way: The Indians could also buy out the 2013 option and re-sign him under a restructured contract that lowers his base salary in 2013 but provides incentives that, if reached, could increase the salary to above the planned $5.25 million and/or add a vesting option for 2014.
I would like the front office to get creative on a contract that lowers his 2013 base salary and includes incentives that could vest into a 2014 contract. Such a deal would allow the front office to save face, give Jimenez some job security, and let the Indians roll the dice on Ubaldo once again without it being too big of a financial risk.