On Wednesday, the Cleveland Indians announced two series of personnel moves. The first was that they had exercised Ubaldo Jimenez‘ $5.75 million option for 2013 while declining options for Travis Hafner and Roberto Hernandez. The second was that Terry Francona had finished putting together his coaching staff for the 2013 season (barring Sandy Alomar leaving to manager another team).
On their faces, the two announcements seemed unrelated. Wednesday was the deadline for teams to make decisions on their players’ 2013 options, and the organization wanted Francona to assemble his coaching staff as quickly as possible. But while the timing may be a coincidence, I suspect that some of the personnel decisions were interrelated—particularly, retaining Jimenez and hiring new pitching coach Mickey Callaway.
There’s no two ways about it, Jimenez was terrible in 2012. He went 9-17 with an ugly 5.40 ERA, and he walked 95 batters (plus eight hit by pitches) in 176.2 innings. There’s no question that Ubaldo has talent—he went 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA in 2010—but he’s no longer the pitcher he once was.
It wouldn’t have made any sense for the Indians to pick Jimenez’ option if they didn’t expect him to improve in 2013 beyond just regression to the mean. The extra $4.75 million aside (declining the option would have triggered a $1 million buyout, so that money is sunk cost), it wouldn’t be worth using a roster spot on a soon-to-be 29-year-old pitcher with a 5.00-plus ERA. There must be some reason the Tribe brass is convinced that Ubaldo can right the ship.
Which brings us to Callaway. In the words of Bastian, the Indians “went in a different direction” in hiring their new pitching coach. Callaway is only 37 years old (had he been hired before Derek Lowe was released, he would have been younger than one of his players). He has only two years of professional coaching experience, both of which were at the Single-A level. Regardless of your opinion of Callaway, he’s clearly an unconventional choice for the job; there must be a reason the Tribe picked him.
Pure speculation on my part, but I think there’s a strong inference to be made here: the Indians both hired Callaway and retained Jimenez because they thought Callaway could fix Jimenez. The former case is less clear-cut—we don’t know exactly what Francona & Co. saw in Callaway—though I have to imagine fixing Ubaldo was one of the team’s top priorities for whomever got the job. But there’s no way picking up Jimenez’ option would have been worth it if the organization wasn’t confident that he could reemerge as at least a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
The Indians may well have exercised Jimenez’ option even if they hadn’t yet had a pitching coach set, and Francona might have tapped Callaway if the team non-tendered Ubaldo. But in this case I think there’s a clear connection between who Francona picked as his new pitching coach and who he’d be expected to work with.