What If…the Indians were in 2nd place at the end of July in 2011, 1 ½ games out?
What If…the Indians were the most aggressive team in MLB, moving two of their highly prized prospects (arms, no less) to make a move for today AND tomorrow?
What If…the Indians were the team taking the chance that a proven MLB commodity was worth more than minor-league prospects?
What If…Ubaldo Jimenez just became a Cleveland Indian?
That’s right, friends of the feather, your Cleveland Indians have just acted boldly and decisively in an attempt to improve their chances at the AL Central (and beyond) for 2011…and for 2012…and for 2013. While everyone attempts to wrap their heads around the haul of prospects that the Indians just gave up for 2+ seasons of Ubaldo Jimenez, it is easy to forget that very fact – the acquisition of Jimenez has been made with an eye not at the final 2 months of 2011, but at the organization’s chances of contending for the next few years as a healthy (and that’s a caveat here) Ubaldo Jimenez slots into the top of the Indians’ rotation for the next few years. But in making that addition, the Indians paid a steep price…one that you would expect to add a 27-year-old RH pitcher with a career 3.62 ERA and under club control for the next two years PAST this year for a total cost of less than $10M over the next two seasons combined.
Just to recap the deal, most reports have the Indians sending Drew Pomeranz (who cannot be named as part of the deal until mid-August because he was a 2010 draftee), Alex White, Joe Gardner, and Matt McBride to the Rox for the services of Ubaldo Jimenez through 2013. While Gardner and McBride are generally throw-ins on the deal, the big names that everyone will recognize are those of Pomz and Al White, unquestionably the Indians’ top two pitching prospects and the Tribe’s last two 1st Round Picks, who had been identified by the team (and most everyone else) as the future of the Indians’ rotation for 2011 and beyond.
That “future” of the Tribe rotation has a new name today as Ubaldo Jimenez arrives on the North Coast in exchange for the Indians’ duo of young arms. In case you’re catching up here, Jimenez burst onto the national scene last year with his ridiculously successful start and most recently has found himself searching to re-capture that success since last year, as he has struggled with injuries in the early going in 2011 as his overall 2011 numbers underwhelm as he currently sits on a 4.20 ERA, 107 ERA+, and a 1.33 WHIP, all serious downturns from his “break-out” 2010 season.
However, since Jimenez has been rehabbing from a Spring Training thumb injury and working his way back into shape, he has posted a 3.03 ERA in his last 11 starts with 71 K and 11 BB (read that again) in his last 71 1/3 IP (read those K and BB totals again) for Colorado, not including his inexplicable start last night for the Rockies. While concerns about Jimenez’s health and velocity persist (his fastball is down about 3 MPH from last year), it is worth noting that Jimenez has played for the Rockies and…in case you don’t remember, Coors Field tends to have an impact on pitchers’ effectiveness.
With that in mind, peep these home/away splits for Jimenez this year:
2011 Home – 5.55 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, 2.04 K/BB, .885 OPS against in 61 2/3 IP
2011 Away – 2.83 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 2.95 K/BB, .534 OPS against in 60 1/3 IP
Don’t take that to mean that Jimenez is going to go all Pete Martinez, circa 2000 if he’s moved away from the thin air of Denver, and Tom Verducci from SI.com has an interesting piece that asserts that Jimenez is on the precipice of a major downturn, based on the fact that he HAS pitched in Colorado during his career, with Verducci stating his case thusly:
The workhorse starter in Colorado Rockies history does not exist. No one ever has thrown 200 innings three straight seasons for the Rockies, though Jimenez is attempting to be the first. In the first half of last season, Jimenez’s career odometer went past 600 innings, as he moved into sixth place on the franchise's all-time innings list. He looked every bit the franchise ace. Since then, he has been just another middle-of-the-rotation pitcher: 10-16 with a 4.03 ERA. Is that a slump or a warning sign?
There have been 10 pitchers who have thrown 500 innings for the Rockies. What kind of toll did the previous nine pay for pitching in Colorado? Almost all of them broke down, none of them had sustained success through his 30s and even getting out of Denver proved not to be restorative for them. Only one of the nine pitchers ever threw 200 innings after leaving the Rockies: John Thomson did it once, for the 2003 Rangers.
Verducci even has a little chart in the piece to support his assertion and while I’m not sure about the whole “Mile High Effect” on a pitcher’s longevity, Verducci does raise some interesting and compelling counter-points to the idea that the Indians would be getting a bona-fide ace, under club control through 2013.
Maybe Verducci is on to something here, but most of the concerns that I’ve seen about Jimenez have to do with his downturn in effectiveness from last year to this year and looking at the most cited numbers, it’s hard not to wonder why there’s some trepidation on Ubaldo:
2010 – 2.88 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 162 ERA+
2011 – 4.03 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 107 ERA+
Quite the regression, right?
If I may channel my sports talk radio font…FAUSTO V2.0!?!
Well, actually if you start to compare what Jimenez has done in terms of K and BB, his numbers actually fall right in line with where they were last year, decreased velocity and all:
2010 – 8.7 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 2.33 K/BB
2011 – 8.6 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 2.47 K/BB
In fact, if you look at what Jimenez’s numbers look like for the past two years in terms of Fielding Independent Pitching, the expectation for Jimenez’s performance look to be moderately in line with what he put forth in his breakout 2010 season:
2010 – 3.10 FIP, 3.60 xFIP
2011 – 3.48 FIP, 3.49 xFIP
So, what’s been the big difference with Jimenez?
Has it simply been luck, with his .271 BABIP in 2010 and his .309 BABIP this year?
That’s a question that has hopefully been answered by the Indians’ scouts and medical staff as the Indians are essentially going all in that Jimenez is going to be the pitcher that he’s been for the past few years as he arrives on the shores of Lake Erie. Interestingly, though so much attention has been paid to Jimenez’s 2010 and 2011, it is worth noting that heading into 2010, Ubaldo had a career 3.80 ERA, a 1.31 WHIP and had a steadily rising K rate. So while 2010 may have been Jimenez’s career year, the downside of Ubaldo (assuming health) is still an arm that can slot into the top of a rotation…any rotation.
That much is obvious, but the question becomes why the Indians were willing to give up so much (and they gave up A TON) for Ubaldo, the answer comes in these numbers:
2012 - $4M
2013 - $5.75M Club Option ($1M Buyout)
Now, there’s a 2014 option that may be voided now that Jimenez has been traded (and it is up to Ubaldo…who may not void it) but just to put those numbers in perspective, Carmona’s club options are worth $7M in 2012, $9M in 2013, and $12M in 2014 if picked up. Perhaps invoking the name of Carmona is frightening in terms of a pitcher regressing, regardless of how friendly his contract seems to be, but Ubaldo is a 27-year-old top-of-the-rotation starter with a career ERA+ of 127 who strikes out nearly a hitter an inning.
To question how Ubaldo fits into the Tribe’s rotation (or any rotation) is akin to insanity, but it doesn’t dismiss the idea that there are very real reasons to be wary of Jimenez – from Colorado’s still-unknown reasons for making a 27-year-old “ace” available, to reports that the Yankees backed away from the Ubaldo sweepstakes when they were allegedly stonewalled in their attempts to obtain medical reports.
That said, the Indians’ Front Office – oft-maligned for their inactivity, their proclivity to sell “tomorrow” instead of “today”, and crucified for “unmet” promises – weighed the risks in acquiring Ubaldo (and there are many) and parted with their two prized arms, with one having already contributed to the parent club and with the other one following the same fast track. In giving up Pomeranz and White, the Indians are gambling that the performance of Jimenez over the next 2+ years is enough to balance out the club control that they held over Pomz and White, and the potential that each arm contained.
Is it a bold move?
Of course, as the Indians find themselves suddenly trying this shoe on the other foot – attempting to convince themselves that immediate gratification is preferable to the delayed gratification that we’ve become so accustomed to wrapping our heads around since July of 2008.
To obtain 2+ years of Jimenez, the Indians gave up Pomeranz and White and while that cost seems obscene to some, it is worth noting that what Jimenez (when healthy) brings to the mound is essentially what the Indians could have only hoped Pomz and White to mature into over the next few years. Whether Pomeranz and White attain the level of effectiveness and dominance that some have predicted for them will reveal itself over the next few years, but Indians’ fans have come to know that the road between Akron (where Pomz was just promoted to) and Cleveland is much longer than a northbound trip on I-77.
Perhaps Pomeranz fulfills his promise as a dominant front-of-the-rotation starter and maybe White moves into the Colorado rotation at the beginning of 2011 to induce groundballs and eat innings, but the recent lessons of Atom Miller’s finger serve as a constant reminder as to how well-laid plans can remain on the ground. After years of convincing ourselves that 5 to 6 years of Masterson, Carrasco, LaPorta, etc. were worth more than the remaining years left on our departing stars’ contracts, we are left to come to grips with the notion that perhaps a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush…at least, in the proper context.
If the big loss is Pomz, it is worth noting that Jimenez is what you HOPE Pomeranz would be and let’s be honest about this as Pomeranz has pitched all of 14 innings above A+. Now, he has flat-out dominated to this point in his professional, as he struck out 112 of the 370 hitters he faced in Kinston and has already struck out 17 of the 57 hitters he’s faced in Akron, meaning that he’s still striking out nearly 1/3 of the hitters that he faces, but to net something of worth generally means giving up something of worth, and Pomeranz is certainly something of worth…as is White.
Maybe Pomeranz and White anchor Colorado’s rotation for the next few years (though White only has 38 2/3 IP above AA and was coming back to the Indians as a reliever because of the finger injury…further solidifying why acronym TINSTAAPP – There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect – has gained traction because of injury and attrition rates), but the Indians just acquired an arm that has the capability to sit at the top of their rotation RIGHT NOW and I don’t think that the fact that Jimenez helps now should be ignored. By that I mean that White and Pomeranz certainly represented a bright future, in which they could be slotted around the likes of Masterson and Carrasco, but that future date of when they could contribute (and contribute at a high level) was largely an unknown.
With the Indians having promoted Chisenhall and Kipnis already, the pieces for their offense seem to be in place (with all of them under contract through the end of 2013…which is when Ubaldo is signed through) and this could signify that the Indians see this “window of contention” as opening in front of them. While that may be hard to see, in light of no-hitters and Cookie buzzing Billy Butler’s tower, if you stood in short right-center field (so as to look away from CF and RF) right now and looked around the diamond, you would think that this is how the Indians WANTED their 2011 team to look – with Santana, LaPorta, Kipnis, Cabrera, Chiz, and Brantley occupying the spots that seem to have been reserved for them. Maybe that crew is underwhelming right now as they adjust to MLB, but couldn’t that be the point in this?
If the pieces were/are already in place around the diamond and Masterson, Carrasco, and the bullpen were thought to be pieces that the team could win with for the rest of the year but (more importantly) in 2012 and/or 2013, the Indians must have felt that Ubaldo – as he arrives to Cleveland as an established pitcher – represents the best piece to fit in with the rest of the roster to win now. But that “win now” mentality that is pervasive at this time of year with rent-a-players and arguments that Ryan Ludwick upgrades an offense doesn’t really apply to Jimenez as the fact that he’s under control THROUGH 2013 (and the 2014 option is at Ubaldo’s discretion) and if the Indians have their pieces lined up on the board with everyone under control through 2013, it’s easy to see how an established stalwart like Jimenez fits into the rotation more than potential stalwarts like Pomz and White for the next couple of years.
Certainly, that line of thinking represents a sharp departure from what we’ve been used to from the corner of Carnegie and Ontario in recent years, but the Indians have put the fast-forward button on this rebuild/reload/whatever, and the acquisition of Ubaldo (and the trade of The OC for a young RH OF) only confirms that the Indians see an opportunity in front of them in 2011 and in the coming years. While the assumption when the season started was that the Indians needed to take incremental steps back toward contention, they’ve taken a flying leap forward in acquiring Jimenez to add to their rotation.
The cost to add him was unquestionably steep, but his inclusion in the rotation and on the roster seems to signal a new day on the North Coast – one in which boldness and bravado may be coming back. The acquisition of Ubaldo does not come without risk, in terms of his assumed health and the because of the arms that they gave up for him. However, the Indians showed aggressiveness in adding Jimenez and adding Ubaldo to the current mix of players, nearly all under contract through 2013, should make for an interesting couple of years.
While this day may have been hard to even imagine just 2 years ago, as CP Lee made his way to Philly and a tearful El Capitan went to New England, the Indians have added the most desirable arm on the market to their team and, while it may have taken two young, highly-thought-of 1st Round Picks to do so, the Indians have pushed all of their chips into the center of the table for the services of Jimenez of 2+ years, with an “ace” now seemingly in the hole.
Saturday, July 30, 2011
What If…the Indians were in 2nd place at the end of July in 2011, 1 ½ games out?