Say Goodbye to Ubaldo Jimenez
Let me just start off by saying that Ubaldo Jimenez is a terrific pitcher.
Without his contributions in 2013 (specifically in the second half of the season), the Indians likely would not have made the playoffs. After a fairly uninspiring first half of the season (though his 4.56 ERA at the All-Star Break was due in large part to his 7.13 ERA in 5 starts before May 1), Jimenez posted a sterling 1.82 ERA in 13 starts after the break. In addition, Jimenez saw his K/9 rating increase from 8.6 before the break to 10.7 after. He also allowed 26 fewer walks in the second half, in which he pitched only 14 2/3 innings fewer than he did before the break.
Long story short, Jimenez turned a complete 180 from where he had been prior. His strong success down the stretch helped alleviate the Tribe’s loss of starter Justin Masterson to injury and resulted in a domino effect of terrific starting pitching for the Indians at the end of the season.
But baseball is a funny game.
Bringing back Ubaldo Jimenez seems to make a lot of sense for the Indians.
That’s why I’m going to play devil’s advocate and say that Jimenez should be donning a different team’s uniform in 2014.
As you all probably know, the Indians usually can’t afford to keep up with the big boys (I’m currently giving Ned Colletti and Brian Cashman telepathic glances) when it comes to spending money. Time after time, we Indians fans have seen players skip town for greener pastures (or traded in an effort to salvage a decent return before it’s too late).
In addition, the Indians currently aren’t swimming in payroll space to accommodate Jimenez. Not counting arbitration cases and contract renewals, the Indians current payroll obligations stand at about $58.3 million, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Add in the approximately $20 million that will go towards the aforementioned arbitration cases and contract renewals, and the Indians have a little over $78 million committed to next season’s roster.
In 2013, the Indians’ Opening Day payroll sat at $80.6 million, which was the highest it had been for the team since 2009 and the third-highest since 2000. With that in mind, recent history says that we shouldn’t expect the Indians to increase payroll and spend the money it will take to re-sign Jimenez unless a subsequent trade is made, which seems unlikely unless they deal shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. I’m not as adamant about the Indians trading Cabrera as other people are (though GM Chris Antonetti could probably take advantage of a team desperate for a shortstop, like the Mets).
Nonetheless, I wouldn’t expect to see the Indians dole (that was a completely intended pun towards owner Larry Dolan) out the cash to bring Jimenez back.
Besides, Masterson will be entering his final season before free agency, and is more than deserving of an extension. His yearly salary should be in the neighborhood of what most believe Jimenez will get, and it would be uncharacteristic of the Indians to bring back both for the long-term at the salaries each will likely get. If it came down to it, I’d rather have Masterson than Jimenez (but that’s nothing against Jimenez).
Earmarking money for when players like Jason Kipnis get expensive would be beneficial to the organization as well.
In addition, it’s fair to wonder if Jimenez has completely turned the corner yet. His numbers with the Indians before this season weren’t good, but I feel as though Jimenez has turned the corner, especially since 2013 was his only season in Cleveland under the tutelage of pitching coach Mickey Callaway.
However, the numbers he posted at the end of 2013 would appear to be unsustainable. Considering what we saw from Jimenez in 2011 and 2012, I would certainly be hesitant to give him a big contract.
Teams interested in Jimenez will likely be paying for what they saw at the end of 2013 and not his prior struggles in Cleveland, which isn’t exactly the smartest thing to do. It would be wise of the Indians to avoid doing the same thing.
In addition, if Jimenez signs elsewhere, the Tribe would get a supplemental first round pick in return. The Indians shouldn’t base their decision entirely on trying to obtain the pick (because the draft can be a crapshoot), but it’s certainly a fair consolation prize. Not every good player in the majors was picked first overall.
However, the market for Jimenez has seemingly been frozen all offseason. With the recent news that Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka may not be posted, the market should begin to take shape with Jimenez and other free agent starters like Ervin Santana and Matt Garza. The fact that the starting pitching market is still ripe with options seems to be bad news for these pitchers, as it could cost them millions of dollars.
If the market for Jimenez continues to trend downward, the Indians would be foolish to not consider striking. They have more information on Jimenez than other clubs do, and they know how to take advantage of talented players with limited markets. Just ask Michael Bourn.
But if Jimenez continues to seek a lofty price tag, the Indians would be better suited to thank him for his service to the team and move on. The Indians have to make difficult decisions that some other teams don’t, and they need to be smart with their money because their margin for error is a lot smaller than teams in larger markets. If Jimenez reverted back to his 2011 and 2012 form, the Indians would be left with a bad contract that would seriously cripple their front office. He, Bourn, and Nick Swisher would combine to take up a little less than half of the Indians’ payroll moving forward, and we all know how that has gone in Cleveland (*cough* Travis Hafner *cough*).
The bottom line is this: Jimenez is certainly a tremendous starting pitcher and he would likely be of great help to the Indians, but his current price and inconsistency make bringing him back to Cleveland a risky move. He would almost certainly help the team in the short-term, but since we’re Indians fans (and rational human beings), we need to think about the big picture.
Would he help the team four or five years from now like he would next year? Jimenez is still fairly young, so that shouldn’t be too much of an issue, unless his command becomes an issue again or if he can’t stay healthy. But the Indians have other alternatives to fill out their future starting rotation (like Masterson, Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, Trevor Bauer, and Cody Anderson). Many of these pitchers will be younger and/or cheaper than Jimenez as well.
I would love to have Ubaldo Jimenez back with the Indians in 2014 just like most others in Cleveland, but I just don’t feel as though it should happen.
Not at his current price, at least.