Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Now…and Later

Now that the dust has settled a little bit from a wild weekend (and I’m not talking about The DiaBride and I moving into a new house), the time has arrived to weigh back in on the Ubaldo deal (since Al already nailed The OC deal as Thomas Neal becomes my new inexplicable prospect crush) now that opinions on the deal have come from all angles and with a number of wildly variant conclusions. While the deal has been hashed, re-hashed, and hashed once more all over these Interwebs, the thing that I’m not getting in some of the analyses of the Ubaldo deal is this idea that the Indians made this deal with only 2011 in mind.

Have the Indians gone “all in” with Ubaldo?
Of course, I wrote as much this weekend…but in acquiring him, they’re not simply going “all in” for the last two months of 2011. Rather, they’re attempting to take advantage of the window that has surprisingly opened in front of them, thanks to their blistering start this year and after a surveying a weak AL Central around them, as they attempt parlay the success that they’ve had through the first few months of this season by adding an arm to the top of the rotation to form a formidable 1-2 punch with Justin Masterson. Since I’ll dismiss the “can Ubaldo play RF talk” as tongue-in-cheek, perhaps people are ignoring the forest (Ubaldo’s contract) for the trees (a young, injury-riddled, offensively challenged team) in terms of the effect for 2011, not paying attention to the idea that Ubaldo’s inclusion in the rotation makes the team (regardless of offensive prowess) better through this year…but also for the next two seasons.

Perhaps because that “under club control through 2013” has been bandied about so much, there are some that are gripping that Ubaldo is “only” under club control through 2013 (and I’ll get to that) but that date is important here as, though I alluded to this over the weekend, these are some pretty big names:
Ubaldo – under club control through 2013
Cabrera – under club control through 2013
Choo – under club control through 2013
Hafner – club option in 2013
Chris Perez – under club control through 2014
Masterson – under club control through 2014

Certainly, the Indians could approach those guys about long-term deals (and, if I’m the Indians, I’m approaching both Cabrera and Masterson about deals yesterday) and they may in the off-season as the only guaranteed money on the Indians’ books (excluding arbitration eligibles and team options) past this year is Hafner’s contract and the final guaranteed year of Ubaldo’s contract in 2012. Read that again…the ONLY money that’s guaranteed to anyone on the Indians’ roster past this year are the two guaranteed salaries in 2012 owed to Hafner ($13M) and Ubaldo ($4.2M), the last guaranteed years on both of those contracts.

Beyond those two guaranteed numbers for 2012, the Indians will be dealing with club options going forward in 2012 and beyond and obviously, the bevy of guys that are still in arbitration years whose salaries will begin to ramp up. That said, the flexibility going forward is one the beautiful aspects of Jimenez’s contract as it doesn’t really affect the Indians from a financial standpoint, while adding a proven MLB arm to the top of their rotation. What the Indians decide to do with that financial flexibility going forward is anyone’s guess as they could look to extend Ubaldo (something he wanted to do in Colorado) or they could buy out some FA years from Cabrera, Masterson, C. Perez, or even (Boras-willing) Choo as the Indians could once again be pro-active in locking up these young players at set costs as they did (say it with me) in the early 90s and the early 00s.

Despite the reality of that financial flexibility, there have been some that have seen Ubaldo’s contract running only through 2013 (along with others) and bemoaned the idea that the Indians’ window of contention will only go through the end of the 2013 season, or even the middle of the 2013 season because…you know…the Indians will probably have a fire sale at that point and won’t make ANY other moves between now and then. This “concern” seems odd to me on a very base level because even if we’re ONLY going to look to compete from this year through 2013 (attempting to ignore how silly the idea is that the roster and contract status will remain static from now to then), this is the “bad news” that I’m supposed to join in the chorus of “harrumphs”?

Wait, what’s the “window of contention” that most people would prefer over putting the best organizational foot forward for the rest of this year and the next two years?
Were we supposed to say that “this is the proper timeframe to rebuild and we aren’t there yet” and wait and hope that White and Pomeranz will arrive in Cleveland and thrive in 2012 and 2013 at a level that Ubaldo has already attained?

Frankly, if anyone remembers how long it took Colon, Sabathia, and Lee (all Cy Young winners) to establish themselves as bona-fide “aces”, to assert that the Indians are better off with a Pomeranz and White in the rotation over Ubaldo in the coming years is akin to just saying that we’re content to wait for something that may or may not ever happen.
With that in mind, haven’t we waited long enough?

Everyone in this town is so conditioned to expect the worst and while some of that may be justified, how about envisioning Jimenez and Masterson starting Games 1 and 2 of playoff series with this move instead of bemoaning the loss of White and Pomz and what they COULD BE in a 2013 rotation, when the Indians should still be enjoying Ubaldo and Masterson at the top of a rotation in front of a young, lockdown bullpen and supported by an offense full of Choo, Cabrera, Santana, Kipnis, Chisenhall, Brantley, and others?

Could Pomeranz have arrived and taken off at a Strasburgian clip, augmenting the rotation brilliantly from Day 1 at some point next year, with the Indians controlling him past 2013?
Maybe…though it is awfully unlikely (and ignores the fact that Pomz probably wasn’t breaking Spring Training with the club in 2012), but that seems to lead to one of the most confusing part of the criticisms of the trade for me – this idea that our “depth” has been historically compromised by subtracting Pomeranz and White while discounting the fact that Ubaldo is still under control through 2013. Truthfully, the “depth” was affected when Jimenez arrived, pushing everyone down a slot…meaning that instead of the top-of-the-rotation starter sitting in Akron, we have one sitting in Cleveland, through the 2013 season. If the Indians have faith that Tomlin, Carrasco, Carmona, McAllister, Gomez, Huff and others can fill out the bottom portion of the rotation for the next couple of years, what “depth” was really compromised, other than taking Pomeranz’s potential and turning it into Ubaldo’s production?

Despite this, the question has come flying from the rooftops, “well, then what happens after 2013, when everyone can walk away from this team and we’re left wandering in the desert”?

Really…that’s what we’re concerned about right now, an off-season more than 2 years from now?
Lest you forget, do you know who wasn’t in this organization a little more than 2 years ago, at the beginning of the 2009 season?

How about Alex White, drafted June 2009 and Drew Pomeranz, drafted June 2010?
Seriously…hell, even Joe Gardner (drafted June 2009) wasn’t in the organization and now, the Indians have 2 ½ years to re-stock the cupboard for the horrifying day in the Fall of 2013 when the Indians will be “allegedly” at the bottom of the contention cycle once again, assuming (of course) that they make no other moves in that time and the other arms in the organization predictably flame out.

Perhaps given the Indians’ inability to develop arms before White and Pomeranz cause some pause in terms of the idea that they can simply replace those guys in the pipeline, but the speed in which both arms climbed up the ladder and their standings among the scouterazzi should give some confidence that the Indians (with their “new” drafting philosophy bearing fruit left and right) might actually replenish what they gave up in Pomeranz and White.

Furthermore, the Indians have essentially gone from selling everything that wasn’t nailed down in July of 2009 to going for it and sniffing the AL Central title just two years later. Ask folks in Baltimore or Washington or Kansas City, teams that are perpetually rebuilding based ONLY on draft picks and bad FA deals how they feel about this accelerated tear down/rebuild that the Indians have now done twice…with the most recent one happening at light speed with the current pieces in place for the next couple of years, at least.

Yet, THAT’s what people are worried about…the next tear down that could be coming after the 2013 season?

How about enjoying the fact that the Indians added Jimenez without affecting their financial picture for the next 2+ years, with the ability to put him at the top of their rotation with Masterson, who is now tied for 4th in the AL in ERA and 5th in FIP, for the next few years?

While the concerns about Jimenez’s health and effectiveness will linger until he actually goes out in a Tribe uniform and performs, please go back and read Sunday’s piece on Ubaldo’s peripherals, what he’s done in his last 11 starts, and how he is far from the flash-in-the-pan that some are making him out to be. If you’re still concerned about his health, realize that Ken Rosenthal reported that, “According to a major-league source, ‘more than a handful’ of teams contacted the Indians to gauge the club’s willingness to flip Jimenez less than 24 hours after acquiring him.”

What does that mean?
Well, it means that once Ubaldo passed his physical with the Indians, “more than a handful” of MLB teams were trying to pry a physically sound Jimenez from the Tribe in the final hours before the Trade Deadline. Still think he’s damaged goods?

Obviously, this will all come out in the next couple of years on Ubaldo’s health and effectiveness, as the seriousness of White’s finger injury will reveal itself as well as Pomeranz’s ability to translate his other-worldly success in the low minors to the high minors and to MLB. From an Indians’ perspective, it shows that they’re attempting to “win now”, but because of Ubaldo’s contract that “now” doesn’t necessarily mean the final two months of this season or even HAVING to contend in 2012 to make this move worthwhile.

While there has been some criticism about the Indians not adding a bat – and an impact one at that – perhaps part of the equation with Jimenez is the belief that the young players in place around the diamond will become those “big bats” and that their improvement and maturation will occur in the proper timeframe to support a rotation led by Ubaldo and Masterson. Frankly, the Indians need one of their highly-touted offensive prospects (namely Santana, Kipnis, or Chisenhall) to emerge to become more than just complementary pieces and the Indians are betting that they will as they adjust to MLB over the next few years. If you can’t see Santana, Kipnis, Chisenhall, or even Brantley (all of whom are controlled through 2016) improving over that time from now to then, you’re going to fail to see the value in trading for Ubaldo over targeting the “big bat” that may or may not even be available.

With the “window of contention” peeking open, the Indians have attempted to throw it open in a flash, in the hopes that it will remain open for the next few years as their young players continue to mature and improve in the coming years. Certainly it would be fantastic if Ubaldo and Masterson led the way in a very winnable division down the stretch. But the effect of this trade will not be limited to the remainder of this season as the Indians attempted to take one giant step in their efforts to climb back up the mountain that they’re moving up once more…

9 comments:

Scott Blake said...

Jimenez fills one of the holes in the starting rotation. White and Pomeranz potentially filled two of those holes. Since the Indians offense is still anemic, Jimenez is liable to become another pitcher frustrated by lack of run support.

Living in the San Francisco area, I've seen a lot of Jimenez against the Giants in the past 5 years. In '08 and '09, he looked good but not great. He had great stuff but wasn't a great pitcher. Last year he had a great year. This year he is more like he was three years ago with the somewhat alarming exception of his stuff not looking impressive too often.

Halifax said...

You know, we can all speculate on if it was a good trade, is he hurt or in decline, and the like. But the fact is, the front office saw a chance to go for it and improve. And while Pomz and White were two of my favorites and I hate to see them leave, they could both flame out before reaching any kind of level that Ubaldo has already achieved. That both will not reach their potential is unlikely, but we just don't know.

The fact is, they got a guy who CAN be that stud at the front end for the next two and a half seasons. I'll go with the bird in the hand beats two in the bush rule. Taking a cue from many other successful teams' playbook, dealing unknowns for proven MLB talent is never a bad move if your system can absorb it. And with Jimenez, Masterson, Carmona, Carrasco, Tomlin and Huff all locked up through 2013 and McCallister and Gomez in AAA to provide depth, they have time to draft more pitching and get them ready for the bigs by then.

The best fact I've seen about this is that two years ago Pomz, White and Gardner weren't even in the Tribe system. So, having faith in Brad Grant (who brought you those guys, as well as Chiz and Kipnis), I think the Ubaldo deal is a plus, no matter how much it may hurt.

But in the end, we just need to wait and see how it pans out. As for now, the Indians have a better chance of winning in 2011 than they did last week this time.

Spills said...

"But in the end, we just need to wait and see how it pans out. As for now, the Indians have a better chance of winning in 2011 than they did last week this time."

In the end, the uproar comes from the fact that waiting is not what Cleveland fans do well. We've felt heartbreak too many times to assume something like this will work out.

The one and only concern in the trade for me remains why did the Rockies make this deal? Do they see a Fausto circa 2007 gearing up for his 2008 collapse in the Uboat?

I like the deal, but I'm still a paranoid Cleveland fan. Please, Ubaldo, prove me wrong.

Halifax said...

If waiting is not something the Cleveland fan does well, then this trade should suit them just fine.

I know what you mean, it makes me a bit anxious, too, but in the end it's about giving your MLB team a better chance to win, and I think management just did that through the year 2013.

Will it work out? You never know, so let's enjoy the fact that our FO did something proactive for a change, and in the spirit of that thought, it was definitely not a BAD move.

Spills said...

Completely agree that this was the correct move.

Now hopefully he goes out and pulls off a Cliff Lee type of post-trade performance.

karloso said...

The unstated, but immensely important, observation is that we are having this discussion only because the Indians draft so much better than they had previously. 5 years ago we would not have had the ability to contemplate a trade that we just made because there would be no Pom or White equivalent to use as trade bait.

Good teams like the yanks and red Sox have used their resources (their value chips in the minor leagues) because they knew they would successfully draft comparable quality players the next time around. That is something that the Indians never had the luxury to lean on and why we as fans are so skeptical about anything that is done by management.

Successful scouting and drafting IS a game changer.
karloso

Raycher33 said...

An ace in your hand is better than two in the deck.

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