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The 2013-2014 MLB free agent list had some star power on the hitting side of things but not much for starters. Among the bigger names, there is A.J. Burnett – who it seems may retire – Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, and of course, Masahiro Tanaka, the prized 25-year-old starter from Japan.
One name that has yet to sign and could perhaps be useful to quite a few ball clubs is Ubaldo Jimenez.
Ubaldo’s famed 2010 season came off the heels of a pretty good 2009 season, but his third-place Cy Young season was a little bit of an illusion. For the season, Ubaldo’s Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) was 3.60 in 2010 and 3.59 in 2009. That was on the back of an improved strikeouts per nine innings but a higher walks allowed per nine innings as well. What Ubaldo was able to do in 2010 was keep the ball in the park – 2010 produced just 0.41 HR/9 for Ubaldo, the lowest of his career – but even that was a bit of an illusion as well.
The 2010 season for Ubaldo Jimenez was outstanding, but particularly the first third of that season. Through May 1, Jimenez averaged 5.2 H/9 against and had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 70/16 (4.38 K/BB) in 80.1 IP. Over those innings, he only gave up one home run. There was a reason his ERA was under 1.00 going into June and it’s that he was producing results that no pitcher could possibly maintain. Predictably, over the final 141.1 innings of that 2010 season, Ubaldo had an H/9 of 7.5, a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 144/66 (2.18 K/BB) and he gave up nine home runs, or 0.57 home runs per nine innings.
That second set of numbers, the ones over the final 141.1 innings of that 2010 season, are much more in line with what we can expect out of Ubaldo Jimenez. Those home runs will fluctuate depending on where he ends up, but we can expect out of Ubaldo what the Rockies got out of him over the final third of that season. Don’t let that 2012 season where he got shelled skew how Jimenez is viewed, if anything it should be seen as the yang to his 2010 season’s yin.
Jimenez is a solid pitcher who can be most teams’ number three starter without much of an issue. If all goes as his career has shown, and Ubaldo can keep his free passes in check, there’s no reason to think this isn’t a pitcher who can put up a 1.30 WHIP and 3.60 ERA. His delivery has changed and the velocity is down, but both are intentional adjustments that should help Jimenez be the pitcher described above.
Now that we know what teams are getting, the question becomes what teams could use a pitcher like Jimenez and at what price?
Considering that Ubaldo turned down a one-year $14.1M qualifying offer from the Indians in favor of a multi-year contract, Ubaldo is probably looking for something in the neighborhood of what Anibal Sanchez got from the Detroit Tigers last year, which is to say five years at $15-million per season, at least. He likely won’t get that, but four years at that price or five years at a discount to $10-million or so should be around where he ends up. There are more than a few teams who are interested in a number three starter, but it’s whether they’ll be willing to give him the terms he’s looking for.
The Pittsburgh Pirates would seem to make sense, in light of the news that Burnett may be retiring. I don’t think that is indeed the case because it would be a patch-work starting rotation with Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Wandy Rodriguez, Charlie Morton and Edinson Volquez already there. Although now that I see the rotation laid out in words, maybe they will need Jimenez.
Of course, the New York Yankees would seem like a fit, although their focus may still be on Tanaka. With David Phelps still slotted in the rotation and Michael Pineda coming back from injury, there are many holes in that rotation and Jimenez would be a good signing for them. Assuming they all stay healthy, a 1-2-3 of CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Jimenez would at least stabilize a Yankees rotation that seemingly lacks exactly that right now.
The same could be said for the Toronto Blue Jays, who used 13 different starting pitchers last year. It was a mix of injury and gross under-performance, but the Jays’ 2013 rotation featured names like Ramon Ortiz and Chien-Ming Wang for a good chunk of the teams’ starts. When that situation comes to bear, you have to look at your organization and whether you truly have the pitching depth to contend for a playoff spot. Again, this is a starter who can eat 180 innings for them – the Jays had two pitchers crack 140 innings last year – and could keep them in ball games – Jimenez only had two outings last year of more than four earned runs, and none after June 1.
The last team that could really use another solid starter, and is expected to contend, is the Texas Rangers. Sure, they’ve already acquired Prince Fielder and signed Shin-Soo Choo, but that rotation is relying on Martin Perez, Alexi Ogando and a converted Nick Tepesch to fill out around 70 starts. This is while Perez has never thrown more than 170 innings in a professional season, Ogando hasn’t done the same and can’t stay healthy, and Tepesch, again, is possibly being converted to a starter from a reliever. This is on top of Matt Harrison who managed a whole 10.2 innings at the MLB level last year due to a back surgery to correct a herniated disc.
I do think Ubaldo stays in the American League, which is worrisome because the three teams named all play in very hitter-friendly ballparks. Jimenez’s problem in the past has been keeping runners off base and keeping the ball in the park. If he has half his starts in Yankee Stadium or Rangers Ballpark, the team who signed him could be pulling their hair out by July. Or they could have a solid third starter.
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