By most indications, starting pitching isn’t really what you’d call a problem for the Washington Nationals. Armed with arguably the best (and only?) trio of legitimate aces in the game in Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez, this team has enough talent to out-pitch just about any other squad in a given series.
Still, do they have enough pitching depth to fill out the final spots to really contend with the rest of the MLB elite?
If you were going by the adage of ‘you can never have enough starting pitching’, then the answer is pretty simple. Sure, Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan have been pretty good in their auditions, but they’ve logged 82.2 big league innings between them in 2013, a sample size that’s too small for one pitcher, let alone two of them on a team that fully expects to contend.
In fact, a mostly injured Ross Detwiler almost pitched just as much than the two youngsters (71.1 innings), but given the health issues he ended the season with, his form in 2014 is hardly a sure thing.
To put it simply, despite having an incredible trio of starters at the front end of the rotation, just exactly what they’re going to get out of the back is still yet to be determined. So the question is, do they need to go out and get another established starter once more, even though the Dan Haren experiment was largely a bust?
Well, this is where recent free agent Ubaldo Jimenez might come in. The right-hander is of particular interest to teams in need for pitching but do not want to spend big (relatively) on it because unlike arms such as Matt Garza or Ervin Santana, his skills put him on a level where it’s just below the top available FAs, but with some potential upside to get there.
Though him opting out of a one-year, $8 million deal should give you some indication of how much money he’s looking for (eight-figure salary per season), he likely won’t be able to command a five-year deal like the top guys would, and could even be had for three in an ideal-world situation for the team. For the Nats, whose window of opportunity is wide open (at least until they have to deal with all of those in-house extensions), three years plus an option would seem to be a decent match, at least term-wise.
But what’s to say that Jimenez will play up to a multi-year contract?
Looking at his numbers, you’ll find a mixed bag of information here. While his 3.2 fWAR, 3.30/1.33 ERA/WHIP, 9.56 K/9 and .235 BAA over 182.2 IP definitely represent a bounce-back season, the under the hood numbers about his repertoire of weapons does bring up some concern. That he’s no longer the fireball he used to be is well known, but his velocity only continued to drop while in 2013, going from a 92.7 mph average on his two-seamer to 91.6.
Much of Jimenez’s success this season can be attributed to his ability to adjust to this decline in physical ability, as he’s significantly upped the usage of his slider, throwing it a career-high 22.8 percent of the time compared to 14.2. Should that usage increase going forward however, combined with his diminishing fastball, it puts a red flag on the 29-year-old’s ability to stay healthy through the next few years.
This is also keeping in mind that despite any kind of lengthy stay on the DL, there were inklings that he might have been pitching with arm/shoulder issues for parts of the last three seasons (instead of his velo troubles being all due to form).
So in the end, for a team like the Nationals that’s looking for anything but surprises, the fact is that Jimenez’s risks do not outweigh the benefits. Especially if he were to be hurt in a multi-year situation, it might even hold the team back from finding an adequate solution to patch any potential holes.
The Nats could still benefit from finding pitching and Jimenez could be a useful piece for sure, but that the floor is a Haren situation over years is not a road they’ll want to go down.