Bringing back Ubaldo
The theory went something like this: injuries took a toll on Ubaldo’s body in 2011, and 2012 was going to be an up-and-down roller coaster as the pitcher got used to being healthy again, with his velocity returning gradually over the course of the summer. Come 2013, Ubaldo would be more than a year removed from all the stress (mental and physical) of his turbulent 2011 season split between Colorado and Cleveland, with his mechanics smoothed out once again.
Ubaldo would no longer be Big Ugly.
He’d be Big U once again.
We will most likely get a chance to see if this player was on to something with his theory, or whether his prediction was nothing more than false hopes and dreams spewed in the middle of a terrible season. By Wednesday, we will hear — barring an unexpected change in thinking — that Cleveland has exercised Jimenez’s $5.75 million club option for 2013.
The Indians have three club options to sort through: Travis Hafner ($13 million), Roberto Hernandez ($6 million) and Jimenez. Given his history of injury and performance, Hafner is surely going to receive a $2.75 million buyout. Given his legal woes and small sample size from this year, Hernandez is unlikely to be retained at a $6 million salary.
As for Jimenez, expect him to be back in the rotation as things currently stand.
I know, I know. There are plenty of you out there saying Cleveland should dump the Big U — admit the trade was a bust, kick him to the curb and move on already. It’s not that simple, though, folks. If the Tribe declined Ubaldo’s option, he’d earn a $1 million buyout and then be eligible for arbitration.
Sure, the Indians could non-tender Jimenez — making him a free agent — but this is about eliminating risk. If Hernandez is gone (shoot, even if he’s back on a reduced deal and as unpredictable as ever), there is simply too much uncertainty in the rotation.
Justin Masterson is coming off a bad season. Josh Tomlin is out for 2013 due to an injury. Carlos Carrasco is coming back from injury and will surely be on a limited load deep into the summer. Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber showed promise in spurts, but looked overwhelmed and pitched like rookies in other spots. Kevin Slowey’s salary is high enough to make him a non-tender candidate and, even if he were brought back, he’s no sure bet to be a work horse in 2013, either. The free-agent crop? Given the cost of pitching these days, the urgency within Cleveland’s rotation, there’s simply too many holes and not enough dough.
Like it or not, picking up Jimenez’ option is the best option under the circumstances.
OK, you say, but what about declining the option and going to an arbitration hearing? That’s $1 million for the buyout, plus whatever he’d earn through that salary-defining process. Could Cleveland offer less than his 2012 salary ($4.2M)? Only 20-percent less (roughly $3.36M), which would be slightly above his ’12 rate when the buyout is factored in.
There is simply no way Jimenez’s camp would agree to that, though. They’d counter with a salary higher than $5.75 million (the value of his club option), and a panel would then decide between the two salaries (unless the sides reached an agreement before it reached a hearing). Believe it or not, Jimenez’s party would have a case for a larger salary, too.
Consider this, over the course of his career, Jimenez has notched 69 wins, 1,093 IP, 978 strikeouts and a 4.03 ERA in 180 games. If you filter out active players with at least 60 wins, 900 IP, 900 strikeouts, and a 3.75+ ERA over 175+ games, you get a list of comparables that includes:
Erik Bedard, 33: 63 W, 3.85 ERA, 1,077 IP, 1,044 K, 192 G
Chris Capuano, 34: 69 W, 4.28 ERA, 1,162 IP, 969 K, 214 G
Edwin Jackson, 29: 70 W, 4.40 ERA, 1,268.2 IP, 969 K, 234 G
Bruce Chen, 35: 71 W, 4.60 ERA, 1,356.1 IP, 1,022 K, 351 G
Ricky Nolasco, 29: 76 W, 4.49 ERA, 1,113.1 IP, 911 K, 195 G
Joe Blanton, 31: 83 W, 4.37 ERA, 1,434.2 IP, 978 K, 237 G
Wandy Rodriguez, 33: 85 W, 4.03 ERA, 1,381.2 IP, 1,143 K, 240 G
The average 2012 salary for that group is $7.6 million. The average salary of the two 29-year-old pitchers (Jimenez is 28) was $10 million for 2012.
We all know it’s not really fair to look at the career numbers, though. So let’s glance at the last three seasons, when Jimenez went 38-38 with a 4.22 ERA, 537 strikeouts and 586.2 IP over 96 games. Over that span, only one other pitcher hit plateaus of at least 35 wins, 4.00 ERA, 550 IP, 500 K and 80 games.
Ryan Dempster, 35: 37-34, 4.04 ERA, 590.2 IP, 552 K, 96 games.
Dempster is significantly older, but the fact remains that he earned $14 million in 2012 with a similar three-year split as Jimenez. Ubaldo was actually better than Dempster over that span in home runs and hits allowed. And, like Jimenez, Dempster’s three-year split included an off year (10-14 with a 4.80 ERA in 2011).
Once again, however, we all know that it’s not really fair to include Jimenez’s stellar 2010 (19-8, 2.88 ERA) showing given the extent of his struggles in 2011-12. Well, let’s take a look at his past two seasons worth of performances: 19-30, 5.03 ERA, 365 IP, 323 K, 173 BB, 63 G.
There are nine other pitchers who, over the past two years, have had at least 19 wins, 300 IP, 300 K and 50 G with a winning percentage below .500: Trevor Cahill, Ricky Romero, Chris Capuano, Tim Lincecum, Justin Masterson, Wandy Rodriguez, Josh Beckett, Ervin Santana and Anibal Sanchez.
Jimenez’s camp could make quite a salary case based on some of those names, even if you narrow the field a bit more. Of that group, there are four other pitchers with an ERA of 4.00+ over the past two seasons:
Romero, 27: 24-25, 4.19 ERA, 406 IP, 302 K, 185 BB, 64 G
Masterson, 27: 23-25, 4.05 ERA, 422.1 IP, 317 K, 153 BB, 68 G
Capuano, 34: 23-24, 4.12 ERA, 384.1 IP, 330 K, 107 BB, 66 G
Santana, 29: 20-25, 4.16 ERA, 406.2 IP, 311 K, 133 BB, 63 G
The average 2012 salary for those four pitchers was $6.5 million.
All of a sudden, that $5.75 million club option seems reasonable, and absent of the kind of risk found in an arbitration process. Even with Jimenez’s 2012 showing being as abysmal as it was, it makes the most sense to pick up his option for ’13. The only way the Tribe should part ways with Jimenez is if the team knows there are a couple of experienced starters — capable of providing 180-200 innings — who are willing and ready to sign.