Where will Ubaldo Jimenez end up this offseason? What once seemed a foregone conclusion — that the mercurial pitcher would sign a lucrative deal elsewhere — now seems less assured as the calendar creeps into 2014. Could the Indians resign Ubaldo, even in the short term, and what would such a deal look like?
In this article, I will look at the types of deals that Ubaldo can reasonably expect to end up signing come Opening Day. I’ll look at some precedents and how it measures up to the Indians/Ubaldo relationship. Next week (or so, perhaps two weeks), I’ll look at the teams with the potential to sign Jimenez in free agency (assuming, of course, he’s still a free agent). So pull up a chair, have a seat, and join me as we Wait for Ubaldo.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, it’s important to note that we would not be having this discussion two years ago. Ubaldo would have no incentive to entertain a smaller offer from Cleveland, and even if he signed for less than anticipated it would almost assuredly not be here. That all changed with draft pick compensation being tied to free agents. Any team that wants to sign a player tendered an offer sheet by their 2013 club (as Ubaldo was) will have to relinquish their 1st round draft selection (as long as it’s not in the top 15). It’s a steep price to pay, especially for a player who has some serious boom or bust potential as Ubaldo does.
The new system has already benefited the Indians once, as the team swooped in to sign Michael Bourn late in the offseason last year when no suitor emerged for his services. Could the same type of inaction benefit the Tribe again? I’ve thought so for a while now, but it seems more and more likely by the day. The idea has even gained a measure of mainstream legitimacy, as former GM Jim Bowden declared it increasingly likely the Indians retain Ubaldo (ESPN Insider only, sorry!). Keep in mind, of course, that Bowden is a former GM for a reason and his words should be taken with a huge grain of salt, but it is something.
Now, onto the types of deals we might see that would involve the Indians retaining Ubaldo:
Option #1: Long Term Deal
As IPL writer Chris Burnham wrote last week, Ubaldo is seeking $20 million a year for 4 years. Is he worth that much? Honestly? Maybe. If you could promise me 80% of the pitcher we saw from July-October last season, I’d be on board for that kind of money and length. Unfortunately, no one can promise anything regarding Ubaldo’s performance. The Indians don’t have that kind of money to throw around on maybes and they might not even have it for sure things.
Chances Ubaldo signs a pitcher-friendly long-term deal with the Indians: 0%
Option #2: Signing Offer Sheet
When Ubaldo became a free agent by declining his $8 million mutual option for 2014, the Indians then tendered him an offer sheet for approximately $14 million. If the market never materializes to his liking, Jimenez could sign that offer sheet and return to Cleveland for one more year and hit free agency again next year. I am honestly surprised this idea isn’t talked about more, because it would still give a player a lucrative contract and free them up to hit the market a season later. Ubaldo is only 30, so he isn’t big candidate for age-based regression that would torpedo his 2015 value. I think this option is somewhat conceivable, but we saw Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse (more on him in a second) eschew their offer sheets for less money, so for that reason I don’t think it’s particularly likely.
Chances Ubaldo signs his offer sheet with the Indians and returns for one year: 10%
Option #3: Kyle Lohse Deal
Everyone remember Kyle Lohse? He wallowed in free agent hell until Spring Training, when he got a 3-year $33 million deal with the Brewers. While I’ve heard some people discuss this as an option for Ubaldo and the Indians, I’d like to nix that idea right now. Lohse was tied to draft pick compensation, but St. Louis didn’t really want him back, so he had no bargaining power on the open market. Ubaldo has that power. He will either get paid long-term elsewhere or sign or short-term deal here. No middle ground.
Chances Ubaldo signs a Kyle Lohse-type offer with the Indians: 0%
Option #4: Pillow Deal
Now we’re talking. I’m borrowing Jim Bowden’s term from the linked article above, but this is the type of deal that makes the most sense for Ubaldo and the Indians. Let’s say Jimenez doesn’t find his $80 million elsewhere by teams who want to focus on 2011 and 2012 and not 2013. It’s entirely possible. What this allows the team and player to do is come together to devise a contract that has the potential to please both parties in the short term. What would this type of deal look like? It’s a little complicated, given all the incentive permutations, but we could see something like:
Ubaldo Jimenez signs a 1-year deal with the Indians for $10 million with a player option for the 2nd year (at $14 million). That $10 million would carry many incentives, involving ERA, wins, number of starts, etc, that could escalate the 2014 to $15 or $16 million.
From the Indians perspective, they reduce their initial wager on Ubaldo (from $14 million to $10 million), but could end up paying more if (and only if) he justifies that type of money. For Ubaldo, it gives him a chance to prove his worth and earn more than he would by signing an offer sheet. It also gives him the freedom to lock into a nice payday in 2015 if he stinks up the joint (a necessary risk the Indians will have to take in order to make this kind of deal work, I think).
Chances Ubaldo signs a mutually-beneficial deal to stay with the Indians for one more year: 25%
You’ll note that I still don’t think that it’s particularly likely Ubaldo remains with the Indians in 2014. 35% is still a low percentage, but it’s significantly higher than it was in October or November, so that’s something.
For now, though, we’re Waiting on Ubaldo.