I confess, Ubaldo Jimenez has turned me into a raging schizophrenic. You probably deduced that if you’ve been reading my posts. One day Ubaldo is the ace that will take us to the promised land of the playoffs; the next he should be sent to the bullpen, traded, released, or be crushed by a large boulder like in the Roadrunner cartoon. And those are just the thoughts I am willing to put on paper, so you can imagine the turmoil going on in my head.
Everything changes from day to day, inning to inning, or even pitch to pitch. The only sure thing is that the last start has no predictive value for the next start. I’m not even factoring in Sunday’s strong start against the Astros, for two reasons: one, it was the Astros, and two, even in a game where he retired fourteen in a row, he kept his pitch count down and only walked one, he still threw enough bad pitches to give up four earned runs. To Houston. Now in his next start I expect him to throw a two-hitter, but that’s just like a woman flashing some skin to keep you thinking you have a shot—in the long run it just makes it more irritating.
But over the course of the season, it seems fairly likely that Jimenez’ pitching will severely hinder the Indians’ quest for a playoff berth. Let’s face it, the margin of error is razor-thin if everything goes well; if every fifth game is likely to be unwinnable and the bullpen is severely overtaxed in the bargain, the season could go down the drain.
So let’s assume two things: first, that the next 3-4 starts give no indication that Ubaldo is going to turn things around (I will hold to my two-hitter prediction, but that just makes it more likely that in the next start he won’t make it to the third inning), and the Indians look at Columbus and see a feasible option to replace him. What are the options at that point? The impulse will be to get something out of this, at least get a Grade C prospect so that when we review Chris Antonetti’s career 20 years from now we won’t look the Jimenez trade as a total mistake.
My accounting professor would tell you that the best thing to do is to look at this as a sunk cost. That’s a situation where you spent a bunch of money, got nothing out of it, and you feel the urge to keep spending more money in hopes that something will happen that justifies the initial investment. In reality, the money (or prospects, in this case) that you have already spent is never coming back, and continuing to invest (in this case, by giving Ubaldo more starts to justify the whole debacle or drive up his trade value) is just compounding the problem. Bearing in mind that his contract expires after this season (there are options involved, but the bottom line is that it is highly unlikely he will return), whatever time is spent helping Ubaldo work out his issues is likely to pay off for another team.
With Brett Myers on the DL for an unspecified period and Scott Kazmir having just come off an injury with an awful performance, Ubaldo at this point doesn’t even rank at the top of the Indians’ rotation question marks. That probably buys him some time. If I were to make a prediction, I would say the Indians would be lucky to get thirty starts from Kazmir and Myers combined, either because of injury or performance. Face it, one of them hasn’t been in the majors since 2010 and the other spent all of last year in the bullpen. Having one guy like that in your rotation is a crapshoot that might pay off; having two is like hoping to roll snake eyes. Twice.
So let’s say we can count on Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister to be solid all year, and that either Kazmir or Myers proves to be an acceptable fourth or fifth starter. That leaves two spots to fill, unless Ubaldo gets it together. At Columbus, Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco have been solid since they were sent down, particularly in terms of pounding the strike zone. Also, Corey Kluber looked really good Saturday night in long relief and will get a shot in the major league rotation at least until Myers can return.
If one of those three guys continues to impress, he will be in the big league rotation for the remainder of the year. If two show themselves to be ready, and Ubaldo continues to struggle, the Indians will be faced with a choice. If they want to win this year, it shouldn’t be a tough choice.