The Cleveland Indians pulled off the biggest trade of the summer this weekend when they acquired Ubaldo Jimenez from the Colorado Rockies. It was quite a feat, considering that the last three times the Indians made a deal involving a stud pitcher, the ace was on his way out of town.
But, exciting though it is to have Jimenez in the rotation, it came at a great cost. The Indians gave up an impressive package of four prospects in the deal, including high-ceiling potential studs Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, as well as Joe Gardner and Matt McBride.
It’s no surprise, then, that many Indians fans see the trade as a huge win, others view it as a terrible mistake, and a good number—myself admittedly included—haven’t yet decided what to think.
So rather than offer an argument full of equivocations and lacking a coherent thesis, I decided instead to play a devil’s advocate for both sides. What follows is an extremely optimistic view of the Jimenez deal. Tomorrow I’ll play the skeptic.
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The Indians needed to make a big splash at the trade deadline. They needed it to upgrade a roster that, on paper, looked inferior to the Detroit Tigers’. They needed it to reverse the negative momentum that has been carrying the team in the wrong direction for two months. And they needed it to show the fans that Cleveland is in it to win it.
In the first respect, it would have been hard to do much better than Jimenez. The 27-year-old right-hander went 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA and 6.3 wins above replacement last season and finished third in the NL Cy Young voting while playing half his games at Coors Field. His numbers aren’t quite as good this year (6-9, 4.46 ERA, 2.4 fWAR), but that’s largely bad luck—he has a solid 3.55 FIP while xFIP and SIERA both peg him at 3.56.
But Jimenez isn’t just a two-month rent-a-player. Cleveland has him under team control for the rest of 2011, and 2012 and 2013. It’s been noted that the Indians gave up more for him than they got for either CC Sabathia or Cliff Lee. Well, we’re getting him for more than the combined time Sabathia and Lee had on their contracts when they left town.
As big of a statement as it makes on the field, it pales in comparison to the message GM Chris Antonetti sent to Cleveland fans. After years of rebuilding, of trading expensive studs and waiting ’til next year, ownership and the front office are committed to fielding a serious contender now and for at least two more years.
Yes, the price was high. But it was worth it. Pomeranz looks like a no-doubt future ace, but pitching prospects are notoriously unreliable. Remember can’t-miss prospects Brian Matusz and Joba Chamberlain? Mark Prior and Brien Taylor?
The Indians, in particular, have had a number of notable recent busts. Jaret Wright, Adam Miller, and Jeremy Sowers spring to mind quickly. Chuck Lofgren, Willie Martinez, and Danys Báez fell far short of expectations. Heck, even with position players we’ve struck out with guys like Andy Marte, Alex Escobar, and Matt LaPorta.
White is another big loss, but he’s even riskier than Pomeranz because he already has health problems. A finger injury has kept him out of action since May, and while that’s not as scary as a problem with his elbow or shoulder would be, the only thing riskier than a pitching prospect is a pitching prospect with a preexisting condition.
Meanwhile, Gardner had a 4.99 ERA and a K/BB ratio under 1.3 at Double-A—an inability to get strikeouts in the mid-minors isn’t a fatal flaw for a 23-year-old, but it’s certainly not an encouraging sign. And McBride isn’t anything more than organizational depth.
As FanGraphs’ Carson Cistulli calculated, the expected value of the prospects the Indians sent over is roughly equal to that which they’ll get from Jimenez in the next 2.5 years, so in a vacuum, the trade would be fair. But this isn’t a vacuum, and a extra win right now is much more valuable to the Indians than it is to the Rockies.
Adding Jimenez could very well mean the difference between making the playoffs and not for the Indians. If there is October baseball in Cleveland, he’ll team with Justin Masterson to make an impressive 1-2 punch in the rotation. And if there isn’t, he’ll be an extremely valuable part of the team next year, and the year after that.
Yes, the price for Jimenez was steep, and if Pomeranz and White grow into perennial Cy Young candidates the Indians will surely regret trading them. But it’s not all about the future anymore, and Ubaldo is the kind of player who could help this team play deep into October.