MLB Trade Deadline: Why Ubaldo Jimenez Deal Was a Big Mistake

By Lewie Pollis

The deadline trade in which the Cleveland Indians acquired Ubaldo Jimenez for a package of minor leaguers including top prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White this weekend wasn’t just the biggest deal of the season—it was the most polarizing.

Some Indians fans think the deal was great, while others have concerns about the more pressing need for offense, Jimenez’ declining performance, and the quality of the prospects Cleveland sent to Colorado. And that’s just looking at it from the Tribe’s perspective.

In the spirit of this polarity and the interest of helping conflicted Indians fans—myself included—assess the virtue of the deal, I decided to play devil’s advocate twice. Yesterday, I offered an argument in full-throated support of the Ubaldo trade. Today, I’m taking the other side of the debate: why the deal is a bad one.

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“Mortgaging the future.” It’s a phrase we Indians fans have heard kicked around a lot this year. It means trading young players we’ll end up missing in order to marginally improve our underdog playoff hopes. And we’ve been reassured time and time again that it wouldn’t happen.

So much for that.

Drew Pomeranz and Alex White were a big price to pay for Jimenez. They were two of the best prospects the Indians had, and Baseball America ranked Pomeranz the eighth-best pitching prospect in baseball last month—a couple Cy Youngs could be in store for at least one of them down the line. Joe Gardner and Matt McBride, the other players in the deal, might not look like huge impact players, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have been useful pieces down the road.

Acquiring Jimenez was better than, say Hiroki Kuroda or Ryan Ludwick because he’s under team control through 2013. He’s not a two-month rent-a-player—he’ll be with the Indians for at least three pennant runs. Still, that doesn’t make him the same kind of long-term solution a prospect would be; White won’t be eligible for free agency until 2017, and the others are under team control for even longer.

Yes, prospects—especially pitchers—often burn out, but not always. Prospects, as‘s Kirk Lammers said, “are what a team is built on.” After dealing three of the four best young pitchers in the organization (per Baseball America‘s preseason rankings), the Indians have completely emptied their arsenal of impact pitching prospects. Sure, they’ve got Jimenez through 2013, but who takes over in 2014?

Then, of course, there’s the other elephant in the room: Jimenez’ durability. He suffered a thumb injury earlier this season, as well as “hip flexor and groin issues” in spring training. That might not scream “injury-prone,” but the Rockies’ alleged refusal to let the New York Yankees give Jimenez a physical and specific (though quite possibly unfounded) concerns about his shoulder are definitely worrisome.

But even if he stays healthy, the same concerns that have been raised for Pomeranz and White apply to Ubaldo—you don’t have to be a prospect to suddenly flame out. Think of Javier Vazquez, Dontrelle Willis, Esteban Loaiza—pitchers are the most volatile players on the field, and it’s not uncommon for even someone as good as Jimenez’ to go from hero to zero in a hurry.

In fact, there’s reason to think Ubaldo’s decline has already begun. Jimenez is 6-9 on the year with an unremarkable 4.46 ERA. His luck-neutral numbers are more in line with his career marks (3.55 FIP, 3.56 xFIP, 3.56 SIERA), but as Beyond the Box Score’s Bill Petti noted, it’s not just bad luck. His fastball is slowing and he’s giving up more line drives and home runs while inducing fewer pop-ups.

Yes, Jimenez will probably help the Tribe this year, and for the remainder of his contract. But even if he doesn’t burn out, Cleveland could end up regretting this deal if he leaves after 2013. This deal cost the Indians a fortune, and they had to mortgage the future to do it.

For an optimistic view of the Jimenez deal, click here.

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