Aug 17, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Multiple exposure photo of Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez (30) pitching the ball against the Oakland Athletics during the sixth inning at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Name: Ubaldo Jimenez
Position: Starting Pitcher
29-year-old right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez is a perfect example of what difference a year can make. Heading into the 2013 campaign, the one-time ace of the Colorado Rockies was on his way to being labeled a lost cause after back-to-back of years of struggling with control and reduced strike-out rates. All that lead to a league-leading 17 losses and a sky-high 5.40 ERA and 4.85 SIERA in 2012. Needless to say, Indians fans were grumbling about what they’d lost when the team traded Joe Gardner, Alex White, Matt McBride, and Drew Pomeranz to the Rockies to acquire Jimenez in 2011.
Things got off to a rocky (no pun intended) start again in 2013, when Jimenez was lit up to the tune of a 7.13 ERA in April, surrendering 19 hits and 19 runs in 24 innings pitched. However, his last start of the month, 7 innings of shut-out baseball against the Kansas City Royals, gave Jimenez a glimmer of hope, and he ran with it.
From April 29th through the end of the season, Jimenez pitched out of his mind. During that 28 start run, he posted a 13-7 record, a 2.61 ERA, a 9.75 K/9 ratio, and seven game scores of 70 or higher. When the year wrapped, Ubaldo Jimenez had authored a nice bounce-back season, registering a 13-9 record with a 3.30 ERA, a 9.6 K/9 ratio, and a vastly improved and career high 2.43 K/BB ratio. What’s more important is that his performance does not appear to be a fluke, as his SIERA (3.74), tERA (3.59), and his xFIP (3.62) are all jsut a small bump higher than his ERA figure.
Unfortunately for the Indians, the trade from Colorado came with one caveat. By being traded, Jimenez’s final option year could be voided by the pitcher should he want to test the market. Given the fact that he is the youngest significant available starter on a weak market and coming off of a bounce-back season, it was only a matter of procedure when Jimenez voided that option on Friday November 1st. The Indians kindly responded by extending a qualifying offer to Jimenez on Monday, putting a draft pick price tag on his head should another team choose to sign him.
The deal signed by Tim Lincecum (2 years, $35 million) likely creates a larger market for Jimenez than one would normally assume, but that won’t stop would be suitors from lining up. The Blue Jays are likely to be one of them, and with two protected first round picks, the loss of a second round pick won’t likely scare them away.
That said, the price tag for Jimenez is likely to be significant, even with the rough patch prior to last season. MLB Trade Rumors, in their most recent Free Agent Rankings, used Edwin Jackson‘s 4-year, $52 million deal as a starting point. That’s probably a fair assessment, although Jimenez obviously has a leg up on Jackson in terms of career performance.
One interesting thing to take into consideration in regards to his viability in Toronto is Park Factor. Jimenez will be leaving a park in Cleveland that ranked 22nd in ESPN’s Park Factor in terms of runs scored last season, compared to Rogers Centre which ranked 4th. That may be mitigated in negotiations by the fact that Jimenez pitched the first several seasons of his career in Coors Field, where pitcher go to die, and had decent success. One thing that will surely help his case is a career 1.32 Ground-out to Air-Out ratio.
That all said, Jimenez may be the fourth most targeted pitcher on the market, behind Masahiro Tanaka, Ervin Santana, and Matt Garza. Still, he may be the most feasible, and most likely, to come to Toronto via free agency. His resilience alone will make him appealing to an injury plagued Blue Jays staff, as Jimenez has made 30 or more starts each of the last 6 seasons, something only two Jays starters managed to do a season ago.
In the end, I see Jimenez likely scoring a deal worth about $15 million per season over the course of four years. Going past four season, even for a 30-year-old pitcher without durability issues, would be a reach in today’s pitching market. Given that the Blue Jays will not extend Josh Johnson a qualifying offer this winter, that might not be as rich as it sounds for Toronto to take on.
Still, it remains to be seen whether or not the Blue Jays will be major players in the free agent market, something they have refrained from under Alex Anthopoulos. If they are, Jimenez will likely be a name they are attached to throughout the winter.