Lost amidst the hoopla of Derek Jeter and CC Sabathia this weekend was a report from Ken Rosenthal indicating that the Rockies have been receiving inquiries about the availability of ace right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez. They aren’t actively shopping Jimenez according to Rosenthal, but “if the Rockies get an offer that makes sense, they will give it serious consideration.” The Reds are already said to have interest, but no significant trade negotiations have taken place.
The Yankees have been looking for high-end pitching since the offseason, and Jimenez the kind of pitcher that usually doesn’t hit the trade market. He has his pluses and negatives like everyone else, so let’s recap…
- In terms of pure stuff, there are few (if any) better. Jimenez legitimately sits in the mid-90’s with two fastballs, a true four-seamer and a two-seamer that runs in on righties. He’ll throw a low-80’s slider to righties and a mid-80’s changeup to lefties, but batters on both sides will get his filthy high-80’s splitter. An upper-70’s curveball will show up every once in a while as well.
- As you’d expect with that kind of stuff, Ubaldo puts up stellar strikeout (8.19 K/9 this year, 8.39 since the start of 2009) and ground ball (46.6% this year, 49.9% since the start of 2009) rates. He doesn’t have much of a platoon split at all, holding righties to a .220/.298/.323 batting line (3.50 FIP) and lefties to .227/.309/.341 (3.08 FIP) since the start of 2009.
- Jimenez has been on the disabled list exactly once in his career, and that was this April for a cracked cuticle. Hardly a long-term concern. He’s on pace for his third consecutive 200+ IP season and his fourth consecutive 190+ IP season. Ubaldo has thrown the 15th most innings in baseball since the start of the 2008 season, and he’s that one DL trip away from being top 12. Dude eats innings.
- The Rockies signed Jimenez to a long-term contract back in 2009. He’ll earn just $2.8M this season ($468,000 a month or so) and $4.2M next season before options for 2013 ($5.75M) and 2014 ($8M) come into play ($1M buyout of each). The 2014 option is voided if he’s traded though, so forget about that. Either way, Ubaldo will be paid a fraction of what he could have earned had he gone through the arbitration process.
- As good as his present stuff is, Jimenez’s fastball velocity is down noticeably after sitting in the upper-90’s over the last few seasons. His swing and miss rate sat between 8.9% and 9.6% from 2007 through 2010, but it’s just 7.5% this year.
- The strikeouts and ground balls are great, but Ubaldo will hurt himself with ball four. His 3.19 uIBB/9 this year is down from 3.36 in 2009-2010 and 4.23 in 2007-2008, but it’s still nothing special.
- Jimenez is very much like A.J. Burnett in that he’s hit or miss. One day he’ll look like the best pitcher on the planet, the next he’ll look completely average, and the next he’ll look like he belongs in Triple-A. His average Game Score since the start of 2009 is 57.5 but the standard deviation is 15.9, which is kinda nuts. That means his Game Scores (and thus the quality of his outings) vary a great deal. Burnett is at 50.4 and 17.7 during that time, respectively.
- He’s done a fine job of staying healthy in the show, but Ubaldo did have some serious shoulder trouble in the minors (2004) and that is never fully behind you. Just ask Chien-Ming Wang. It’s also worth noting that he’s thrown his splitter way more this year (14.4%) than ever before, and that pitch supposedly takes a toll on the elbow over time.
- Ubaldo has some postseason experience but not much. He allowed seven runs in 15 IP against the Phillies in the 2009 NLDS, though he did allow just four runs in 16 IP as a rookie during Colorado’s march to the 2007 World Series. His track record against AL competition in interleague play is average at best (4.08 ERA and a ~3.50 FIP in 79.1 IP). I don’t put too much stock in that stuff, but it’s worth noting.
One trade came to mind as a comparable almost immediately: Dan Haren from the A’s to the Diamondbacks. At the time of that deal, the 27-year-old Haren had two years and an option left on his contract (total value of $16.25M), and his big league career consisted of 3.97 FIP and 14.1 WAR in 781.1 IP. Right now the 27-year-old Jimenez has a year-and-a-half plus an option left on his deal ($11.12M), and his career consists of a 3.57 FIP and 19.6 fWAR in 832.1 IP. The difference between the two pitchers is consistency, or really the perception of it.
It’s a fair comparison, and it cost Arizona six (!!!) young players to acquire Haren and minor league reliever Connor Robertson (David’s brother, seriously). One of those six was an upper level stud prospect (Carlos Gonzalez), another was a lower level stud prospect (Brett Anderson), one was a rising but flawed lower level prospect (Chris Carter), two were mid-range prospects (Greg Smith and Aaron Cunningham), and the sixth was a young big leaguer struggling to find his way in the show (Dana Eveland). That’s quite a haul.
There are plenty of reasons to like Jimenez and plenty of reasons not to like him. The talent is so immense that it’s easy dream and see him becoming the best pitcher in baseball after a little talk with the organization’s pitching gurus. The risk is also obvious, especially when you consider that the AL East is no picnic. I’m guessing at it’ll take at least four young players to acquire Ubaldo, and two of them are going to have to be absolute studs. Remember, Colorado is not rebuilding, they’re ready to contend and will want players that can help very soon, not two years from now. It’s about cost and risk, how much of the former are the Yankees willing to pay and how much of the latter are they willing to assume. They’d be foolish not to at least inquire though. No harm in that.