Once upon a time, Ubaldo Jimenez was one of the top young pitchers in baseball. He made at least 33 starts in three straight seasons (2008-2010) for the Colorado Rockies, culminating in his breakout 2010 season (19-8, 2.88 ERA and a career-high 221.2 innings) that included the first no-hitter in Rockies’ history. But things went south in 2011, when he went 6-9 with a 4.46 ERA over 21 starts with Colorado, and they traded him to the Cleveland Indians in July of that year.
Things did not improve in Cleveland over the rest of 2011, as Jimenez posted a 5.10 ERA in 11 starts for the Indians (65.1 innings), and 2012 was not any better (9-17, 5.40 ERA in 31 starts-176.2 innings). That loss total was the highest in both leagues last year, and Jimenez also posted the worst K/9 (7.3) and BB/9 (4.8) rates of his career.
A new manager (Terry Francona) and pitching coach (Mickey Callaway) has revived Jimenez this season, and he is 12-9 with a 3.49 ERA, 9.1 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9 in 29 starts (162.2 innings) heading into his next scheduled start Thursday night against the Houston Astros. Jimenez has been particularly good down the stretch, with a 2.07 ERA over 12 starts since July 9 and just one earned run allowed in 21.1 innings (0.42 ERA) over three September starts, along with 22 strikeouts and just three walks so far this month.
Jimenez signed a contract with the Rockies in 2009 that included an $8 million team option for next season, but he had the ability to void that option when he was traded to the Indians. So if he hits free agency at age 29 (30 on January 22), and that is a big “if” given his reported comfort level in Cleveland, multiple teams could have interest in Jimenez.
The Minnesota Twins have again struggled to put together a competent starting rotation this season, and an influx of talent is needed if the team has any chance of returning to playoff contention in 2014. Owner Jim Pohlad has said the decision to reduce the Twins’ payroll from the peak of around $100 million in recent years was a front office decision, and with only around $57 million on the books for next year it’s safe to say general manager Terry Ryan can spend as he sees fit this winter.
I don’t think Jimenez is No. 1 starter material at this point in his career, and his asking price relative to his market value will dictate a lot in terms of what teams show any interest in him. But the Twins need to have more than passing interest in any pitcher that can fill a spot in the top part of the starting rotation, and if Jimenez becomes available he fits that bill. As an added bonus for the Twins, signing Jimenez should not prevent them from adding another starting pitcher or two during the offseason.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.