Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The great Ubaldo Jimenez debate

Let’s talk Ubaldo Jimenez:

1. Traded for FOUR prospects including the Indians’ top 2 pitching prospects who were top 50 prospects in all of baseball.  Check.
2. Major disappointment since his trade to the Indians.  Check.
3. Degradation in his performance predicted by scouts based on his drop in velocity.  Check
4. Two options.  $5.75 million club option in 2013 with a $1 million buyout.  $8 million player option in 2014.  No buyout. Check.

The controversy is raging and will continue to rage into the off-season about whether we pick up his 2013 option.  It is a legitimate question as picking up his option for 2013 allows him to exercise his 2014, $8 million option if he isn’t released or traded before the end of 2013.

So, do you pick up his 2013 option? YES, and here is why.

People want to look at him as a #1 or a #2 starter.  Don’t.   You will be disappointed.  Look at him as a #4/5 starter with the potential to be A LOT better if he can learn, like many guys have, to pitch with lower velocity.    Why?  Because his 2013 salary ($4.75 million, the difference between his 2013 salary and his buyout) and his stats (see below) make him look like a good #4 or #5 starter. 

His 2013 stats look like this:

·         13 out of 25 starts where he gave up 3 runs or less.   In these games Jimenez was 8-1 with 4 no-decisions. 
·         He gave up 4 runs 4 times and was 0-3  with a no-decision in those starts
·         He gave up 5-8 runs 8 times and was 0-8 in those starts.
·         His numbers could be MUCH better than they are if he had pitched more at home.  He is a much better pitcher at Progressive Field than on the road, although, as the team’s #2 pitcher, he started more on the road (10 starts at home and 15 on the road).  Unless I am wrong a good manager will start his weaker starters at home and his better starters on the road, if he can, as his better starters need the home field advantage less than his weaker starters.   

OK, why do I say he could be a lot better?  Because research shows me that throwers with a history of success learn to be pitchers later in their career.  They know how to win.  While they lose velocity they learn to substitute command and control.  They learn to PITCH.  I think Jimenez is just realizing his velocity is not going to come back and he has to learn to pitch.  I think he stands a better than 50/50 chance of having a much improved 2013 just based on him getting more savvy of how to pitch with his current repertoire.  

So, where does that put us for 2013, assuming we get our guys back from injury and we don’t lose any others TO injury.  Assuming we exercise the Jimenez option, our starting pitching for 2013 looks like this:

 #1: Justin Masterson
#2:  Need
#3:  Carrasco
#4: Jimenez
#5: McAllister, Gomez or Kluber

Possibly ready by mid-season: Giovanni Soto, T.J. House, T.J. McFarland

Free agents:

Category 1: What we might stretch ($6-8 million per year for 3 years): Shaun Marcum, Brandon McCarthy, Anibal Sanchez, James Shields,

Category 2: What we can afford (under $5 million a year for 1-3 years)(alphabetical order): Erik Bedard,  Freddy Garcia, Jeremy Guthrie, Roberto Hernandez,  Colby Lewis,  Paul Maholm, Shaun Marcum, Jason Marquis,   Roy Oswalt, Carl Pavano, Jonathon Sanchez,  Joe Saunders, Randy Wolf

Category 3: We could get on a minor league contracts (NOTE: some of these guys may retire or have already retired): Aaron Cook, Doug Davis, Zach Duke, Jeff Francis,  Rich Harden,  Livan Hernandez,  Rodrigo Lopez,  Kevin Millwood, Ramon Ortiz, Joel Piniero, Brad Penny, Kip Wells, Chris Young, Chien-Ming Wang

I don’t see any category 2 guys I like more than Jimenez @ $4.75 million (difference between salary and buyout).  I also don’t see any category 2 guys with as much or more potential to improve than Jimenez, something I look at as much as current performance. 

I could see us signing and hope we sign a category 1 guy but he would slot in above Jimenez. 

So, in the best case scenario here is what our rotation could look like at the beginning of next year:

Shields ($7.5 million a year for 3 years)
Roberto Hernandez or another category 2 guy ($5 million or less per year for 1-2 years)

I think that would be fine.  I think this would give us a 50/50 chance of getting a quality start any time we roll out a starting pitcher as you would be talking about 5 guys who, at one point in their career, had #1 starter potential or were #1 starters.  If you look at what we did this year, even with our weak hitting, getting quality starts with our bullpen almost guaranteed us a good chance to win.

So, we would have veterans.  We would have depth, youth and veterans on minor league deals and we would have the potential to be great (Jimenez, Carrasco and Hernandez could be MUCH better than expected).  For a small market team with a weak farm system, especially at the upper levels, it doesn’t get any better than that.

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