Was 2013 the baseball world’s first glimpse of the new Ubaldo Jimenez?
That’s a question that a number of his suitors, including the Toronto Blue Jays, will be asking themselves in the offseason free agency period as they scramble to find help in their starting rotations. Few teams in the bigs, however, need as much help in that department as the bluebirds do, which means that they’re likely going to have to take on more risks to find the arm that they’re looking for.
And is the 29-year old the right balance of upside and question marks?
Though it might be a little bit of a cop-out, the answer ultimately comes down to the cost. Here’s what GM Alex Anthopoulos likely already knows: Jimenez isn’t going to be a rotation leader/stalwart, but the Blue Jays are going to have to overpay to get him to be a no. 2-3 pitcher anyway.
For a team like the Washington Nationals, that’s not an expenditure that they necessarily need to make; but for a team like Toronto that’s looking to compete without a true ace … well, it’s a different story.
Yes, Jimenez could very well earn an eight-figure annual salary in a contract spanning three years or more (an option, perhaps?) heading into his age-30 season, and considering all of his issues with velocity, form and perhaps some sort of physical ailment, a reasonable look at his contract-year bounce-back might suggest that there’s a bad deal waiting to be made here, especially from a suitor from the AL East like Toronto.
Still, they have some pretty convincing reasons to believe that the right-hander’s transition to the AL Beast might not be as rough as anticipated.
The Cleveland Indians might be inclined to disagree after getting little to nothing out of Jimenez until this season (they want him back too, by the way), but credit should be given to where credit is due here. Since his days with the Colorado Rockies, he has pitched in some pretty tough environments on a regular basis, and that is past experience that the Blue Jays could use in the home-prone confines of the Rogers Center.
As well, despite the fact that he no longer has the near-unhittable tailing fastball coming at hitters in the high 90s, the right-hander still has a decent ability to draw ground balls. It was perhaps a part of his skill set that was slightly overlooked given the high heat that he possessed, but Jimenez has yet to post a single-season ground ball rate that was lower than his fly ball rate, and his career 1.43 GB/FB ratio (1.23 in 2013) is something that should both be translatable and of major value to Toronto.
There are caveats to that, of course, most notably his below-average control (even when he was good). But, a steady ability to strike out batters (8.27 K/9 over career) and not being homer-prone (0.73 HR/9 over career, 0.79 in 2013) has helped him mitigate that — it should be no surprise that his worst season in 2012 also came with a career-worst 1.27 HR/9, though given the much larger sample of his ground ball ability, it’s perhaps reasonable to look at that as an outlier.
Or at least, it’s something that he has been able to adjust to by throwing more sliders than ever before (22.8 percent in 2013), and as time goes on, it should be expected that his fastball usage will only continue to drop.
Where it’s perfectly understandable to see that as a continued decline in physical ability and a health issue waiting to happen (which the Blue Jays will definitely want to avoid), you could also see it as a veteran showing the maturity to continually adjust to the game, learning how to be effective going into the next stage of his career.
Toronto thought they had that with Josh Johnson‘s development of a curveball, but in Jimenez’s case, there are actual results from his changes. That should at least make him a strong target of interest to the Blue Jays, even if they have to overpay a bit for him. Then again, it would probably surprise no one if he signed a three-year deal with Toronto and then missed most of 2014 with a shoulder injury either.
In short, there’s a fit to be made here, but only if another team doesn’t pay him like the Jimenez of old.