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Ubaldo Jimenez won’t leave the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario

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Of course, Jimenez may be a part of Cleveland’s past in a few days, so perhaps I ended up where I wanted to go to begin with.

Now I’m not fan of Ubaldo, and I don’t think that I ever will be. He was dominant in August and September, but I still found it hard to watch him pitch, preferring to listen to Hamilton instead. It’s a repercussion from the previous 18 months in an Indians uniform that did it, and I am nothing if not stubborn. I’m a firm believer in “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

So he’s gone, and I should be good with that…but…

…the Indians and how they spend their money always intrigues me, and this offseason has been no exception. Last season saw a new direction for the Indians, as they laid out two relatively major deals to two former all-stars to take their talents to Cleveland. Many thought it was a sign of things to come.

The loyal Indians’ followers that really paid attention realized that this wasn’t really the case.

The Indians were dealing with a money window of sorts, taking advantage of some quirks in a new system that would affect teams’ abilities to sign players thanks to money allotments in the rookie draft. The front office also realized that a new TV deal would send salaries through the roof in 2014, and needed to jump before they couldn’t afford to.

Where the rubber meets the road though is when a team legitimately thinks they can contend for a World Series. How far will they go to do it?There’s that phenomenal 1997 model that the Florida Marlins took when they spent ludicrous amounts of money to sign Bobby BonillaAlex FernandezJim Eisenreich and Moises Alou. At the Trade deadline, they dealt for Darren Daulton and Craig Counsell. The previous year, they signed Al LeiterKevin Brown and Livan Hernandez.

They build a World Series contender in two seasons, then sold them off one-by-one. I’m not going to tell a lie. If it brought the Indians a title, I’d jump on board that train wreck in a heart beat, and not care about the next five or six seasons.

The Indians are trying to walk that fine line of profitability and building that responsible small-market teams take, and the 2013-2014 offseason has proven that. They’ve lost key pieces to the 2013 playoff team, and not really been able to replace them with suitable pieces outside of the organization.

Instead, they’ve looked for relative bargains to restock, as well as looking internally. They’ve been fairly succesful in that process. But you can make a legitimate case that what they’ve done this year is exactly what they’ve done in the past, albeit with a better nucleus than in recent years.

Is this team a better nucleus of talent than the 2007 team? What about that 2005 team?

I would say no.

Do they have a better manager?

I would say yes.

So I turn to Ubaldo Jimenez, wondering if signing him can truly make a difference…wondering if he’s more important than Justin Masterson…and wondering if the Indians should pull the trigger to sign him. It’s a complicated ride, that involves the aforementioned Masterson, Jake WestbrookA.J. Burnett, the Toronto Blue Jays, Ervin Santana, a big smile, and some hope for 2014.

Alright, it’s not all those things, but it’s worth a weavy walkthrough anyways, even if it’s below zero out here.

The Saga of Ubaldo Jimenez gets more and more interesting by the day. Jon Heyman from CBSSports.com is reporting that a couple of “rival” GMs are suggesting that Ubaldo Jimenez is willing to consider a three-year, $39 million deal. It’s believed that Jimenez’s initial asking price was five-years and $75 million, but considering the ups and downs he’s taken over the past three seasons, it’s hard to believe he was expecting that much in the long run.

As early as October 9, I predicted that Jimenez would see a ceiling of three-years and $39 million, and as low as a floor of three-years and $33 million. I will admit that I didn’t think a one-year “pillow” contract would be possible at the time, but I’m now starting to think that he would consider it if he feels that his turnaround last season was a long-term development. It’s clear that salary-wise, GM’s aren’t quite so sure.

What’s interesting about that three-year, $39 million dollar contract possibility is that it’s in the ballpark in many ways to what Scott Kazmir signed with the Oakland A’s way back on December 4th. Kazmir’s deal was for two-years and $22 million, so obviously the years were shorter, and the money as well, but it’s distinctly possible that Ubaldo’s number will come down a bit more over the next week or two, especially with the emergence of A.J. Burnett back into the market.

What’s interesting to me with regards to comparing the Kazmir deal to a potential Ubaldo deal is the weight that teams put into both pitchers and what they project into the future. Remember, Kazmir didn’t play major league baseball for two seasons, and hadn’t really been all that good since his 2008 season. He was serviceable in 2009, but was one of the worst pitchers in baseball in 2010.

Steamer and Oliver projections share the unknown with Kazmir, as Oliver only has him making 17 starts over 88 innings and Steamer has him making 27 starts over 163 innings of work. Both expect those innings to be fairly solid, but there lies the problem with Kazmir. He has an arm that hasn’t thrown 158 innings or anything close to it since 2010 at the major league level, and while I think he’s primed to have a good year, there are several questions regarding longevity that are legitimate.

It’s a different story for Jimenez. While he was not really good for a two-year stretch with the Indians, the one thing you can absolutely point to is his durability, and both projection systems have him making 30+ starts over 180+ innings, but his ERA and FIP are extremely similar to Kazmir’s.

Of course these are projections, and I don’t put much weight into them, but it does give a bit of an insight into how teams are likely going to be looking at Jimenez going forward. The A’s saw Kazmir as a pitcher whose potential performance was equivalent to the top four or five free agent starters available, and made a pre-emptive strike. They “overpaid” for a player who some may have not valued because of his recent body of work, but perhaps “underpaid” based on his 2013 performance and potential 2014 and beyond performance if he continues to improve.

Jimenez at a deal anywhere close to Kazmir’s is a relative no-brainer for many clubs if it turns out to be true, and should be a consideration for the Indians, depending on what happens going forward with Justin Masterson. There are a lot of things to consider though.

  • Is Justin Masterson going to price himself out of the Indians’ market this offseason to the point that the Indians realize they aren’t going to be able to sign him?
  • Is A.J. Burnett’s emergence into the market going to drive down Ubaldo’s salary demands even more, that is, if you are to believe Heyman’s two “rival GMs.”
  • Is signing Ubaldo Jimenez (and ultimately trading or signing Justin Masterson) worth the draft pick compensation they would receive?
  • Will the Indians sign a pitcher to a long term deal?

Let’s take this one bullet at a time.

I’m not going to quibble over the years at the contract that Justin Masterson is worth and will ultimately sign. There’s been a lot of talk all over the land of the internet about that, and there are good cases for big salaries in the Anibal Sanchez range, and good cases for salaries below that. None of that really is pertinent right now, as there are legit questions regarding what he’ll be worth post 2014 when his contract is actually up.

Here’s what we know Masterson will do. We know he’ll make over 29 starts, as he’s done every year since 2010. We know that he’ll pitch over 180 innings, as he’s done in every season since 2010. We know that his ERA and FIP will be solid, as will his xFIP. Now, he had that 2012 season, so there is questions there, but his two best seasons right now slightly outweigh his struggle. We know he will strike out between 7-9 batters a game, although he had a two-K-per-game spike last year. We know he’ll walk three or so hitters a game. I’m not a big believer in WAR for pitchers, but I’ll just throw out that he’ll be at least two wins above replacement, if not more, just for the sake of discussion.

Health isn’t an issue.

What Masterson will sell is that his 2013 season was his first foray into his prime, and that it’s only going to get better. What the Indians will sell is that he’s gone forward and backwards over the previous four seasons. What’s the likely outcome of that? The Indians have curtailed talks as of now with Masterson for a long-term extension, and are now focusing on a one year deal. Just looking at it in a bubble, it’s fairly normal procedure for that to happen, so not a concern. Now, it is curious at the timing of it all, since we are entering that time when these other starters are going to be signing. It may be a passive-aggressive attempt by the Tribe to throw some doubt at Masterson in negotiations for a long-term deal.

Make no bones about it. The Indians will likely sign Masterson to a one-year deal, and all things considered, will then re-open talks for a long-term deal regardless of what they do with Ubaldo or anyone else.

The question becomes whether or not Masterson will bank on 2014 to be his cash card. It’s a gamble for sure, but if the Indians don’t get close to whatever he legitimately wants, he just won’t sign a deal. It’s really that simple. We can banter around numbers all day long, but his agent and Masterson have nothing but time.

For all of the hullabaloo surrounding Matt Garza’s four-year, $50 million deal, with a $13 million vesting option, it wasn’t horrifically under what many speculated, and it was in the ballpark of the four-year, $52 million that Edwin Jackson made, and the four-year, $58 million that Mark Buehrle made. Garza’s younger than Buerhle and better than Jackson, but there are just so many questions about his health going forward. While I thought he’d be in that Buehrle range, I see why he signed for what he did. I think the Brewers got a bargain, and I ultimately believe Masterson is worth more in terms of years (five) and $$, but it does give us an indicator as to what the Indians will offer him, if they offer him a deal.

Just for the sake of the argument, would the Indians offer Masterson a four-year extension, then tack on that arbitration year as well? The deal would officially be a four-year, $50 million, but adding that fifth year, it would turn into essentially a five-year, $60 million deal? It would be unprecedented in years for a pitcher this close to free agency, but if they are legitimately considering a starter, I think they might. More likely a scenario would have Antonetti offering a three-year extension worth three-years and $40 million, plus a $10 million deal for this year, so it would look like a four-year, $50 million deal. See how that works?

I’m just speculating, but that seems a sensible direction for talks.

What has to be considered is if the Indians will really offer that much, and on top of that, will Masterson bank on a big 2014? I’m 50-50 on this. I think the Indians will make a move for a starter this year. What happens over the next 10 days with regards to Ubaldo may ultimately tell the tale. If the Indians sign Ubaldo to that three-year deal or something else, it could be an indicator that Masterson isn’t going to sign, wants too much money, or the Indians were low-balling him.

All are possible in this case, but Ubaldo could be the lynch-pin, or, Masterson could be the lynch-pin, depending on how you look at it.

What really becomes interesting is if the Indians sign Ubaldo to a one-year “pillow-contract.” Then the long-term deal for Masterson will remain in play, and these two will literally be competing against each other. That surely would be fun.

If it comes down to who the Indians would rather sign at that point, it will likely come down to a head-to-head decision. Their body of work is so interesting in that the Ubaldo Jimenez had dominating stuff to start with, broke out at the start of 2010, then came back to earth starting that year at the all-star break. He crashed in Cleveland, then slowly-but-surely rebounded in 2013, and was a top five pitcher the last two months of the season.

Masterson was a reliever in Boston, and a starter in Cleveland. His first full year as a starter in 2010 was a project in which it was a slow build to brilliance, really. In three of Masterson’s last four “starts,” he went seven-plus in each, giving up an earned run in each outing. He made one final start afterwards in which he only went 3 1/3, but was fairly dominant as well. Then the Indians moved him to the pen to control his innings. He exploded in 2011, with a phenomenal season, was adequate at best in 2012, then rebounded with his outstanding 2013 season.

Ubaldo has a few more years of back story, but Masterson has more recent sustained success. Who has more upside? The eyes are left to the beholder. 2014 could be fun, should the Indians get that pillow deal.

The point here is that these two are wrapped together right now, and will be until one signs with the Indians or elsewhere. Then let the games begin.

The biggest factor for Ubaldo Jimenez right now outside the organization is one A.J. Burnett, who recently suggested that he’s going to play this season. Without getting into the teams that are looking for a starter, it appears as though Burnett is looking either at staying in Pittsburgh, or moving on to Baltimore, who is all over Burnett right now. It’s expected that Burnett is going to sign a one-year deal, which should make the amount interesting.

The Indians should be in on him, since they could nab him for one-year. How much is debatable. I’ve seen some speculate that it will be in the $18 million range. I chuckle at that. My guess is that since it’s for one year, you could see it be in the $14-$15 million range, but more like $12-13 million at the end of the day. If it’s a two-year deal, for sure something in the realm of $24 or $25 million.

Regardless, Burnett takes another team off the list, and likely moves Ubaldo’s money down a bit. That’s not a lock, but likely. Many expect Burnett to sign first, but I could see a situation in which someone swoops in and lowballs Ubaldo a bit to try and get him to sign first.

Either way, Burnett helps the sign-ability of Ubaldo in theory, although I’m not sure that Ubaldo was in Baltimore’s plans to begin with. We shall see. It’s easy to speculate based on the stories after 24 hours, but I’m still under the belief that Ubaldo’s pay window was the same two months ago as it is today. You can spin it however you want, but it’s really hard to justify paying a guy that was literally at-or-below replacement level one season $15 million over five years.

But I’m jumping ahead.

There’s been a ton of talk about draft pick compensation, both what we gain with Ubaldo Jimenez not signing, and why the Indians wouldn’t trade Justin Masterson. Before I get to that, let me just say this.

If you want to roll through an interesting read, take a look at IBI’s Jeff Ellis’s Ultimate Draft pieces over the past month and pay particular attention to their top twenty picks over the years. What stands out is just how limited most of those picks are with regards to talent, and how miss they are as opposed to hit.

I don’t have the data sitting in front of me, but there is no legitimate proof that any first round pick that the Indians take will amount to anything, let alone equate even one season of Ubaldo or Masty. Sure, the payoff could be a ten year vet or an all-star, but what are the percentages, and would you put those percentages ahead of a 2014 season in which the Indians could contend for the World Series if they were given a chance to.

It’s ultimately painful to listen to the scuttlebutt that building a long-term winner as though it was mutually exclusive to winning now. If you are doing things the right way, you roll big-time players into big-time prospects while still winning. Are the sandwich picks that the Indians would receive more valuable than their second round pick with regards to prospects (not the money slotted)? Sure, depending on the draft, the team making the draft, and the needs of a team. While you can point to the Indians shifting their drafts over the years, I would agree that it looks promising, but are you convinced enough that the Indians will make the right pick?

Is that pick, likely three or four years away more valuable to the Indians with the 4 or 5% chance that player has to make it to the Majors with the Tribe and being average to above average?

No.

In Ubaldo’s case, you take it if he walks since it’s too late to trade him, and when they could trade him, he had no value. In Masterson’s case, if you get a prospect that’s in Triple or Double A and is a major league lock…uh…do I have to go any further? You can debate what the Indians would get for Masterson, and that’s fair, but if you get the right asset or assets, it’s identical to a draft pick.

Seriously, how many No. 1’s over the past ten years are here?

My last point of contention is that the Indians have never had it in their history to sign players to long-term deals either entering their last year of their arbitration, entering their first year of free agency or after growing out of a third-tier, minor league signing.

I’ve read several interesting pieces over the years about signing pitchers to long-term deals (over two years) as being bad for business, and recall Mark Shapiro talking about that in an interview a few years ago, although he did delineate that it was a case-by-case issue.

I don’t subscribe to that, by the way.

The Indians did sign Jake Westbrook to a three-year extension in 2007 prior to his final arbitration year. The Indians signed him to that extension just after the 2007 started. He had already agreed to a one-year, $6.1 million contract in his last arbitration season, but the Indians front-loaded some of the $33 million into that first arbitration year.

Now, Westbrook and Masterson aren’t the same pitcher, nor is he the same as Ubaldo Jimenez. But, there are interesting comparisons to Westbrook and Masterson that are worth checking into. At the time that Westbrook signed his deal in 2007, he was well respected around the league, and especially in Cleveland. With another good 2007 season, it was believed that Westbrook could enter the 2008 season ready to make a boatload of money over a long period of time.

At the time of the deal, the 29-year-old Westbrook was entering his seventh season and had won 44 games between 2004 through 2006. The only pitchers ahead of his win total were Johan SantanaKenny Rogers and Jon Garland over that same stretch. If you add Lee to that list and take off Garland, they were the only four pitchers to have won 14 games each season over that same stretch. He pitched in 210 innings or more over that stretch, had a 3.3 WAR or better, and had a FIP between 3.88 and 4.04, and an xFIP between 3.62 and 4.00. In other words, you knew EXACTLY what you were going to get.

Here’s what Westbrook was looking at though. Ted Lilly had signed a four year, $40 million deal. Jeff Suppan had signed a four-year, $42 million deal. Barry Zito had just signed a seven-year, $126 million deal with the Giants andGil Meche had signed a five year, $55 million deal with the Kansas City Royals. Things were looking good for Westbrook. He likely could have written a massive deal after the season somewhere between that 4 and 7 seasons, and $55 and $127 million deal, regardless. Of course, that’s speculation, but likely true.

Shapiro, at the time, was hesitant, but said that sometimes “you have to put analysis and statistics aside and ask yourself if it’s a guy you want to bet on.”

Westbrook struggled through April of 2008 before looking good late in the month, but ended up missing most of May and June. He returned and pitched well for the rest of the year though, and things looked up. You know the rest.

Masterson has been similar in that he’s been the Indians most consistent starter over the past three season. At his best, he’s better than Westbrook, but 2012 showcased that he may not be as consistent. Upside is upside though, so Masterson should project higher than Westbrook. His upside FIP and xFIP is better, and his K-Rate showcases a guy that has put down mentality that is getting better. Of course, if you try and replicate Masterson’s delivery when compared to Westbrook, you would be kidding yourself.

There were the obvious big contracts this season as well, and Masterson should be looking at a good chunk of change, regardless of the players that are available next year. There are better starters, but it’s arguable how much better, and if Masterson goes out and improves upon 2014, he will be on the same playing field for sure. Like Westbrook, Masterson is respected, so he could command a few more dollars because of it.

That’s all arguable, but not a stretch by any means.

If the Indians could sign Masterson to a three-year, $33 million deal today, it would be done. They won’t be able to, as I’ve already mentioned. Jordan Bastian took note yesterday that Masterson is the Indians Union Rep, and he likely won’t take under market value because of it. Of course, we’re talking about that hybrid market value crossing this offseason to next, to the market is fluid, but five years will be his floor right now, IMO.

Now, back to Ubaldo. The difference between Westbrook and Ubaldo are obvious. Ubaldo’s upside is insanely higher than Westbrook, but Westbrook is clearly the more consistent pitcher. Westbrook also had that arbitration year buffer, which Ubie doesn’t have.

Comparing the two seems silly in that the Indians had time to talk to Westbrook, and Ubaldo eventually will head elsewhere.

So ask yourself this. Can the Indians sign Ubaldo for a Westbrook-like three-years, and $33 to $39 million? It doesn’t look like the books work for it, but if you sign Ubaldo now, you can deal Masterson, Asdrubal, or just eat it for one season, then let them both walk. You then have Ubaldo to a similar deal, that could be a bargain if he can replicate last season. Or, you can just sign both and be done with it.

If you can sign him to a one-year deal, you do it immediately.

The Indians aren’t there yet though.

My point by bringing up Westbrook is simply to note that even the most consistent starters are often not worth a long-term deal. It’s a gamble, and with Ubaldo, bigger than most based on the past three years with Cleveland.

But, is he worth the gamble?

I turn to an interesting piece from Jeff Sullivan over at fangraphs yesterday. Sullivan notes that while Ubaldo is a prize of free agency, he was at-or-below replacement in 2012. He asserts that they “should” represent immediate upgrades to the team they sign with. He then commits 200 innings and a three WAR for Jimenez, which is probably close to a lock for his innings, and perhaps some upside with his WAR, and plugs him into the Indians lineup.

He projects to a two wins added to the Indians.

TWO WINS.

Now, these are projections of course, and you can take them with a grain of salt. But that’s what’s enticing about Ubaldo. If the planets align, and Jimenez is good for a season, then he could present the Indians with three wins or more…or…he could revert to that replacement level player. It also doesn’t account for the future years of the deal, but I would say that two more years wouldn’t be all that big of a deal.

So do you risk a draft pick that may or may not pay off, and $11 to $13 million to improve your team two games for 2014?

How big would two games have been in 2013?

You now have my answer.

Sign Ubaldo Jimenez and take that chance.

What was that saying…”Fool me once, shame on … shame on you. Fool me… You can’t get fooled again!”

Maybe you can…

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