Orbiting Cleveland: Resigning Jimenez should be top priority
In a critical offseason, a Jimenez deal is of utmost importance to the Tribe
October 11, 2013
It's October, and the Indians are now out of the playoffs.
That means Tribe fans are only thinking about one thing — free agency.
Yet before a team goes out about signing Major League free agents, it needs to first look at its own possible free agents.
That's an especially interesting topic for the Tribe this season because for the first time in years, the Indians find themselves with a handful of intriguing free agents.
Last year, players like Roberto Hernandez, Travis Hafner, Jack Hannahan and Casey Kotchman highlighted the list of possible Indians free agents. It was pretty hard to make an argument about retaining any of those players, eh?
Yet, compare last year's class to this year's. Those names are now replaced with players such as Scott Kazmir, Joe Smith andUbaldo Jimenez. All of the aforementioned players will be in line for hefty raises this offseason, and that also speaks to the success that the Indians were able to have in 2013.
In fact, according to FanGraphs, those three players alone accounted for 6.1 wins (Jimenez 3.2, Kazmir 2.5, 0.4). Take six wins away from 92-70 Indians and what do you have? You certainly don't have a playoff team.
Moving forward, there is no doubt that all of the three pitchers mentioned do have value to the Indians, and a case can be made that they should be retained if the price is right.
Of course, retaining two high-upside starting pitchers as well as a proven setup man is a task easier said than done. We all know the budget parameters that the Indians must stick within, so it's hard to believe that they will be able to sign all three.
Last year, the team had an Opening Day payroll of $82,517,300. Even with a 20 percent increase in ticket revenue, it's hard to believe that the Indians will deviate too much from that number.
So with limited resources and a limited budget, what should the Indians do?
It's a hot topic at the moment.
The IBI's Jim Pete eloquently presented his case in Wednesday's edition of the Corner of Carnegie and Ontariowhen he suggested that the Indians sign both Kazmir and Jimenez this offseason. He suggests Kazmir signs a two-year, $18 million deal while he hopes Jimenez signs team-friendly, three-year, $33 million deal with a fourth-year vesting option that kicks in when he meets an innings threshold.
Pete's not the only one thinking ahead to the Tribe's possible free agents. In an excellent edition of his weekly Trend Spotting piece, the IBI's Michael Hattery suggests the Indians attempt to lockdown Kazmir with a deal that could be worth a total of $37 million across three years if Kazmir reaches incentives and a vesting option.
It seems to be a fair price point, especially for a left-handed pitcher who was electric in the second half as Kazmir posted a 3.38 ERA and struck out 10.25 batters per nine innings in 72 innings following the All-Star Break.
Ideally, the Indians would be able to sign all three of Kazmir, Jimenez and Smith. However, as realists we know that this is the Indians we're talking about, and the chances of that happening are slim to none.
So with that being said, who is the key guy for the Indians to keep if the team is able to retain just one of three?
While popular opinion will likely disagree, a strong case can be made for Jimenez.
By this point, everyone knows what Jimenez did in the second half of the season. But just to recap, let's go over it one more time.
In 13 starts after the All-Star Break, Jimenez posted a 1.82 ERA in 84 innings of work. It can be argued that not one single player played a more important role in the Indians clinching a postseason berth.
Not Justin Masterson.
Not Scott Kazmir.
Not Jason Kipnis.
Not Carlos Santana.
Not Nick Swisher.
Not Yan Gomes.
Jimenez' second-half performance down the stretch legitimately ranks among the team's best pitching performances in history. Yes, he was that good.
Yet, as hard as it may be to believe, there was another stretch in Jimenez's career where he displayed such dominance. You might remember a time when Jimenez was a young flame-throwing hurler for the Colorado Rockies.
Well, in the 2010 season, the right-hander got off to just a torrid start. Jimenez was selected to start for National League after going 15-1 in the first half while posting these numbers:
The FIP and xFIP do seem to indicate that the ERA may be a tad generous, but it's hard to argue with the performance. Jimenez was a legit ace, and it was numbers like these that led Tribe General Manager Chris Antonetti to deal away Drew Pomeranz and Alex White to acquire the right-hander in July 2011.
Of course, we all know what happened in the season and a half that followed the trade. Jimenez struggled with his mechanics, control, drop in velocity and just his general consistency. He went from being an effective Major League starter to someone that many questioned whether he even belonged in the Major Leagues.
But then the 2012 offseason happened. And more importantly, Mickey Calloway happened.
After being hired as pitching coach for the Indians, Calloway made two trips to the Dominican Republic to work with Jimenez. Instead of insisting that Jimenez tweak his mechanics, Calloway encouraged Jimenez to just work on repeating his delivery over and over again. In other words, he was attempting to help a "thrower"become more of a "pitcher."
Results were almost immediate. Even in spring training, Jimenez showed improved control and posted a 4.80 ERA in 30 innings while walking just seven batters.
His also seemed to get better as he progressed through the regular season. After posting a 7.13 ERA in April, Jimenez posted a 4.23 ERA in May followed by a 3.09 ERA in June.
Then in the second half of the season, Jimenez was flat out dominant. Take a look at the numbers below:
Without question, this was the best stretch of Jimenez's career since the first half of the 2010 season. Yet, there are also some telling things to point out:
- Jimenez's K/9 rate of 10.71 in the second half was second in the American League during that span, trailing only Yu Darvish, who posted an 11.96.
- While his ERA of 1.82 was very impressive, his FIP of 2.17 suggests that Jimenez was pitching that good. There was not nearly as much luck involved as one might think.
- His ERA of 1.82 in this 13-game stretch was better than the 2.20 ERA he posted in 18 games during the 2010 season. Additionally, his BABIP over the second half of 2013 was .298 compared to .250 in the first half of 2010.
- All the numbers seem to suggest that Jimenez's 2013 second half was actually better than his first half in 2010.
The reality is that Jimenez's 2013 second half was so dominant that describing it as ace-like just may not do it justice. There's also another thing to consider when comparing it to his strong 2010 stretch.
The two graphs below indicate Jimenez' velocity and pitch usage during the first half of the 2010 season:
In 2010, Jimenez averaged nearly 98 miles per hour on his fastball and sinker, so it's easy to see why he threw those pitches so much. In fact, in May of 2010, Jimenez actually threw his sinker, which averaged 97.18 miles per hour that month, 52.69 percent of the time.
Jimenez was essentially a pitcher who was letting hitters know he'd be throwing a fastball and just challenging them to hit it. In essence, he was the definition of a pure thrower.
Yet, now take a look at Jimenez's velocity and usage during the second half of 2013:
Clearly, Jimenez's velocity is not what it once was. The most his fourseam fastball and sinker averaged during the second half of the season was 93.58 and 93.33 miles per hour, respectively.
Yet, look at the usage of his slider during this stretch compared to the first half of 2010. Jimenez threw his slider nearly 25 percent of the time following this year's All-Star Break, which is markedly different from his usage of the pitch during the first half of 2010.
The bottom line is that Jimenez has shown rapid improvements from his time in Colorado. He now has a much better feel for all of his pitches, and he seems to be much more at ease when he takes the mound.
The ironic thing is that when Jimenez was first acquired, Antonetti was hoping to get something that resembled the Jimenez of 2010. It may have taken some time, but when it was all said and done, Antonetti and the Indians got something better.
So this then brings us back to the point of resigning Jimenez. Plain and simple, this needs to be the top priority of the team this offseason.
Many naysayers argue that Jimenez's second half is not a large enough sample size to warrant a big, multi-year deal. They argue that Jimenez is far too inconsistent for the Indians to commit so many resources to.
For them, Jimenez imploding and reverting back to his 2012 is already a foregone conclusion.
But what if it's not?
What if Jimenez has really turned the corner and changed for the better? What if Jimenez's second half is just a precursor of things to come?
For years, the Indians have been overmatched by not having a pitcher who can go toe to toe with the likes of Justin Verlander, but Jimenez could now be the guy who can do just that.
Of course, what happens will ultimately be a financial decision. The Indians probably want to keep him, but there is the question as to whether they can afford him.
MLB Trade Rumors suggests that Jimenez could be looking at a three-year, $39 million contract with the chance of it being worth four years and $52 million. In his Sunday Tribe Happenings piece, the IBI's Tony Lastoria suggested that an Anibal Sanchez type deal (five years, $80 million) is probably the floor for what Jimenez could garner this offseason.
Either way, it's imperative that the team resign him. One can also always hold onto the hope that Jimenez may be willing to offer the Indians some sort of hometown discount. Remember this is a guy who was quoted as saying "This is like being in heaven for me," in regard to pitching for the Indians.
If that is indeed true, then perhaps Jimenez would be willing to sacrifice some dollars to stay in his divine place.
The final argument that seems to surface against resigning Jimenez is that the Indians need to save that money to be able to resign Justin Masterson. That itself seems to also be a point that could be up for debate.
Make no mistake about it, Masterson is a great pitcher.
He's an absolute horse on the mound.
He eats up innings like crazy.
He also generates a ton of ground balls and gets his fair share of strikeouts.
Yet, for every yin there is a yang, and for Masterson it's the fact that he is essentially a two-pitch pitcher. He's an excellent starter right now, but if resigning him is going to be in the $80 million to $100 million range, that seems asinine.
What happens when he starts to lose some velocity and sink on that fastball? He may very well be able to adjust, but what if he can't? An $80 million or $100 million commitment to Masterson seems to be just as big of a risk. Remember this is a guy who is just a season removed from a year where he posted a 4.93 ERA in 206 1/3 innings of work.
Of course, the good thing is that we're not the ones who have to make these decisions. The Indians will have to decide whether they're willing to commit top dollars to Jimenez at some point this offseason.
It will also be interesting to see if the idea of resigning Masterson is an issue in all of this.
However, there's one final thing to consider.
Through it all, the prevailing theme with Jimenez is affordability. Can the Indians afford to keep Jimenez?
Yet, perhaps it should be looked at in a different light.
If Calloway has indeed fixed Jimenez and he has legitimately established himself as a front-of-the-rotation ace, then how can the Indians afford to be without him?
Steve can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Real glad to see you have come around on offering UJ a qualifying contract. There is a real chance that enough teams will value the talent potential to relegate the indians to their usual position of also ran. Masterson is a nice pitcher but does not have anywhere near UJs upside. Quite honestly, he does not appear that much more consistent either. You now me, I am a talent guy. Does not always hold up but in the long rung I think it amkes better teams.
Ubaldo and Masterson are both coming off of horrible years in 2012. There is no consistent track record with either. Signing either one long term is a risk. I would rather take my chances with masterson though. Ubaldo's mechanics and high pitch counts are worrisome.
Would really like to keep smith.
I still don't know that it's a foregone conclusion that Ubaldo won't take the QO. If his agent thinks 3/33 is the best he can do, then he should take the QO, then if he sustains what he showed the last 2 months of '13 in '14, he would likely get a bigger contract the following year because he'd have a lot more believers. He'd be making a lot more per year in any case.
At this point, over his last 3 years he's TOTALED 2.8 bWAR, and he's turning 30. He looks a little better by fWAR, but fWAR also totally overrates his 2011 season. His ERA was a lot more "real" than his FIP that year. That's why I don't see anyone giving him close to what Anibal Sanchez got (though GMs have done crazier things), and why even 3/33 would be a questionable thing for Cleveland to do. Sanchez wasn't ever quite as flashy as Ubaldo at his best, but he was durable, consistently above average and a year younger.
For me it is all about consistency. For my money, give me Masterson anyday over Jimenez. For as great as Ubaldo was in the second half, Masterson was still the most important pitcher on the indians staff this year because of that consistency all year. Not just one great half.
It is that second half surge which gives me pause. Did he turn things around? It appears so. But I question the motive. Was it that things finally clicked? Or, maybe, he was just more focused because he realized he was pitching for a contract. We see it time and time again where guys have big free agent years, get the big contract and then morph back into the inconsistent player they were. This is what scares me about jimenez.....especially since he was so lazy and had such a no care attitude for the first year and a half he was with the Indians and the Rockies couldn't wait to get rid of him.
I think the important thing is to assess everything. Not just the second half which was sensational, but look at the whole picture when deciding if you are going to throw out a 4-5 year contract for him. There's absolutely no way I do that. If for some reason he signs for 3/39 as has been suggested, I'm all for that.....but I just don't see it.
I give him the qualifying offer, continue to negotiate....and if someone is crazy enough to give him 4 or more years for anything above $14-15M per, have at him.
Look at his numbers after he was bumped from the rotation. That really appears to be the last cog in his resurgence. Since he was bumped, he went 5-3, with a 1.76 ERA. He struck out 84 and walked 18 in 66 1/3 innings. Just dominant.
If his option would have come up prior to that August spot, Cleveland would have turned it down.
Like I said, I'd absolutely take the risk at ten or eleven million a year. I'd have no problem signing Ubaldo to a three-year, 33 million contract with a vesting option there. I'll admit...the length makes me nervous...but a lot of what they do with Jimenez ties directly with their plan with the other spots in the rotation.
We'll see...will be interesting.
You know me Steve...I love what he did this year, and love the ace potential...but that "could" makes me damn nervous.
I don't really know though. I do know that the FO is going to be faced with some very difficult decisions in the next 18 months. We had a successful offseason last year, but it was because of Francona that a lot of the signings happened. Antonetti is going to be given an opportunity to prove his worth the next couple winters.
It all comes down to price. Any free agent, for the right price, is worth signing (e.g. Michael Bourn). The thing with Ubaldo, is that up until the last 2 months of THIS season, he was pitching like a #5 starter. In August, he was bumped from a crucial division series for a rookie. Last year, he wouldn't have even been on a major league roster had he had options. You want to bet even $39 million that he's not that guy anymore? When you could sign someone like Scott Feldman, or Kazmir, for much less?
Gambling that Ubaldo has permanently resurrected himself is not something they can afford, especially when a pitching staff of Masterson, Kluber, Kazmir, Salazar, McAllister would look just fine. If he's willing to sign a 2-year contract with a vesting option for a 3rd year, sure, do it. If he takes the QO, fine. Otherwise, not worth the risk, as you might not only be wasting money, but trotting out a pitcher for the next 3 years who gives you little chance to win and kills your bullpen every 5 days, i.e. the guy who existed for about 2 full seasons in Cleveland. An untradable toxin who you can't afford to release.
We need another red October -- so hopefully whatever the decision is gets us there.