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Exploring Ubaldo Jimenez and the Indians' Options in 2013

This article was originally published eight months ago, but deserved a re-post given its relevance.

The Cleveland Indians hope that in 2013 Ubaldo Jimenez will give them some kind of return on their investment. They have been in the red ever since they traded first-round draft picks Drew Pomeranz (2010 No. 5 overall pick), Alex White (2009 No. 15 overall), Joe Gardner (2009 third-rounder), and utility man Matt McBride (2006 second-rounder) to the Colorado Rockies on July 30, 2011. Since coming over from the Rockies he has been a major disappointment posting a 13-21 record with a 5.32 ERA.

Jimenez

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At the time of the trade the Indians scouts thought they saw a mechanical flaw in his delivery that they could smooth out. They were confident that once the mechanical flaw was fixed his velocity and ability to miss bats would come back. But even after working with Tim Belcher, Scott Radinsky, and Rubin Niebla the Indians and Jimenez are still looking for the fix.

Enter Mickey Callaway, whose job it is to fix the glitch that has caused Jimenez’s fastball velocity to drop from 96.1 miles per hour in 2009 and 2010 to 93.5 mph in 2011 to 92.5 in 2012. Callaway spoke with Jordan Bastian of MLB.com about Jimenez and said:

“It changes the whole dynamic of the team, For him to pitch well is a big part of our team. I think we’re going to see it this year. He’s been looking really good and he’s confident. He’s coming in with the right approach.”

Hopefully the Callaway and Jimenez relationship will reap rewards for the Indians and this dividend can be paid in one of several ways. To set the stage for the discussion of how Jimenez could bring a return to the Indians we first must look at his contract. He is due to make $5.75 million in 2013 and the Indians hold an option on him for $8 million in 2014 which includes a $1 million club buyout. As part of the contract Jimenez earned the right to void the contract if the team should pick up the 2014 option.

Here’s a look at some possibilities for the Tribe and Ubaldo in 2013.

  • The Eureka Scenario

The dream scenario for both the Indians and their fans would be Ubaldo Jimenez returning to his 2010 form and having his name tossed around in the Cy Young Award discussion all while the Indians are comfortably holding a playoff spot through the end of August. At the end of the year a flurry of moves are completed: the Indians pick up the 2014 option which Jimenez voids, he receives a qualifying offer but declines, he signs as a free agent with another team and Cleveland is rewarded with a supplemental pick at the end of the first round.

  • The Pretty Sweet Option

This scenario is a bitter pill to swallow for fans because despite Jimenez’s name being mentioned in Cy Young talk the odds of the Indians making a run at the playoffs are bleak. The good news is that there are several desperate teams who will be willing to trade a top prospect in exchange for the reborn Ubaldo. Under this scenario, the Indians could still hold on to him and go through the same process that would yield a first-round compensation pick for him, but they’d likely get a better return in a trade.

  • The Tough Decision

In this scenario Ubaldo is pitching well but not in the Cy Young discussion and the Indians are neither comfortably in a playoff position nor are they in a position to be considered non-contenders. A trade is possible, but waving the white flag in a possibly competitive season would be a PR disaster and he wouldn’t fetch a great return. If the Indians hold on to Jimenez they will most likely pick up his 2013 option (which Jimenez would decline), but a free agent qualifying offer is not made and he departs as a free agent.

  • Here We Go Again (Maybe)

In this scenario Ubaldo is slightly better than in years past and shows glimpses of the guy the organization thought he could be but there isn’t much of a trade market for him. The Indians would be faced with the decision to pick up his 2014 $8 million option or spend the $1 million on the 2014 buyout. If Cleveland picked up the option Jimenez would have a tough decision as to whether to void or accept.

  • The Tough Injury Decision

In this scenario, Jimenez pitches well for the first few months of the season before suffering a season ending injury. The Indians have to decide if the few months of productivity is worth picking up the 2014 option and Jimenez would have to decide whether or not to decline the offer or become a free agent.

  • The Ugly Ending

In this scenario Jimenez doesn’t change. He continues the pattern of low velocity, poor control, and erratic performances. Terry Francona first moves him to the bullpen for a few weeks but after a few poor outings the team pulls the plug and releases him. Under this scenario the Indians would have to eat whatever remains of his 2013 salary but they would not have to pay the $1 million option for 2014.

What is the most likely outcome for the Indians and Ubaldo Jimenez?

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