“We view this as a rare and unique opportunity, you know, especially in our market the opportunity to acquire a top of the rotation major league starter is few and far between.”

“We feel like he’s a pitcher with well above-average stuff that has a chance to dominate games and we’re confident over what we’ve seen over the last few months he still has the ability to do that.”

– Cleveland Indians General Manager Chris Antonetti, July 31, 2011

 

It was a trade that was supposed to push the Indians over the top of the club’s latest rebuilding efforts, the one geared toward 2012 playoff contention. And, of course, as the best laid plans often do they went awry. Ubaldo Jimenez has hardly resembled the pitcher he was between 2009 and 2010 when he posted a 3.17 ERA over a 66-game span. Instead, he’s sporting a 4.91 ERA in one fewer start with the Indians.

Sure, he’s had moments of pitching clarity. He’s had three 10-strikeout performances and eight more with at least eight punchouts during his two-and-a-half years. He’s also had three other games where he’s pitched eight complete innings. But, by and large, Jimenez has been maddeningly inconsistent. 

So much so, in fact, that with the biggest series of the season the club bumped Jimenez’s turn in the rotation, opting to go with fire-balling rookie right-hander Danny Salazar, who owned all of one big league start to his resume.

There’s one issue that hasn’t really made its way into the mainstream just yet: What do the Indians do with Jimenez’s 2014 team option?

The going rate for backend starting pitchers is a bit, well, inflated. Consider the one year deals Scott Baker ($5.5M), Scott Feldman ($6M), Dan Haren ($13M), Brett Myers ($7M), Mike Pelfrey ($4M) and Andy Pettitte ($12M) received this past offseason and ones handed out last season to Erik Bedard ($4.5M), Freddy Garcia ($4M) and Joe Saunders ($6M); and Jimenez’s $8 million option for next year is pretty team friendly. Or it’s at least in line with current market standards.

The problem, at least for Jimenez, is how he fits with next year’s club given the younger pitchers available and the escalating cost of the ballclub’s roster.

There are – seemingly – four spots in the rotation locked up for next year: Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, and Danny Salazar. Plus, the team has Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer under control. So the rotation is already kind of crowded with cheaper pitchers with similar performance expectancies.

And after dropping more than $110 million last season, money could be an issue as well.

Scott Kazmir will likely be looking for a multiple-year deal following his reemergence, and has pitched better than Jimenez. Masterson, Chris Perez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana, and Michael Bourn are all due raises next year too. (Though, I firmly believe Perez and maybe even Cabrera won’t be with the team next year.)

Jimenez has clearly fallen out of favor with the front office, regardless of what they say. How else can his non-start against the Tigers be looked at? So it will be interesting to see how the front office handles his option. He could be slotted in as next year’s fifth starter just as easily as he could be pitching for another team.

My gut tells me the Indians will look to re-sign Kazmir to a two-year $12 million first, and if that fails pick up Jimenez’s 2014 option. 

For more analysis check out Joe’s site: www.ProspectDigest.com

6 Comments

  • DaveR says:

    Jimenez is certainly better this year than last but not enough to supplant the young arms of the future. He obviously can’t be relied on against above avg teams and stunk vs Detroit(which is how I took his push-back not that the front office hates him). Masterson, Salazar, McAllister, Kluber then a Carrasco/Bauer should hopefully be the SPs next season. Another option is Kazmir or a Kazmir-like revival project.

    I’d like the Indians to spend the Ubaldo dollars on the offensive front either resigning or replacing the guys due for raises.

  • Mike says:

    I could see them picking up his option only to trade him. Like you said, his deal is rather team friendly. Could fetch us some low level prospects.

    • Joseph Werner says:

      Yeah. I actually removed a paragraph or two from the original post. In it I talked about potential trade candidates: Pittsburgh (if they wisely let the aging A.J. Burnett walk), San Diego (who’s gambled on Edinson Volquez and Jason Marquis in the past), the Angels, and Phillies immediately come to mind.

      • Joseph Werner says:

        And if the Indians were willing to kick in, say, $4M I’d bet they could get a B-minus type prospect.

  • Gvl Steve says:

    Excellent points all the way around. I think if Kazmir stays (and 2 yrs. with an option sounds about right), the team will decline the option on Jimenez. The biggest thing with Ubaldo right now is not that he’s pitching poorly, but that even when he’s on he usually goes only 5 innings. That’s a problem. And skipping him against Detroit was definitely a vote of no confidence. Eight million is reasonable for a veteran starting pitcher, but there are other places where that money could go, such as extensions for Masterson or Kipnis or Brantley, or finding a replacement for Reynolds who can hit better, or, like you said, paying the arbitration/contract raises other players like Cabrera and Santana are due to get. With lots of young pre-arbitration pitching on the staff (don’t forget Tomlin), Ubaldo could be the odd man out for a team with only so many dollars to throw around. Picking up the option to trade him for a prospect sounds great, but it takes two to tango. You’d better be sure there’s a taker.

  • Sean Porter says:

    I’m not saying the Indians should pick up his option, mind you, but its pretty amazing that as of today an argument could be made for the Tribe to DO it…

    I think the Indians will let him walk, though. I would guess that the organization would be confident that his spot can be filled in-house, either by resigning Kazmir, or plugging in Tomlin, etc… (Then again, perhaps not. Tomlin is just now coming back from TJ surgery, and Carrasco and Bauer are, well, Carrasco and Bauer.)