As we know, the Washington Nationals basically have two open spots in their rotation. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann are one of the top three-headed monsters in baseball. But with Ross Detwiler’s struggles and injury, combined with a fifth rotation slot that has closed and opened before and after each season, Washington will have to two names to pencil in after Zimmermann’s.
The Nationals have tried-and failed-to fill their final rotation spot with veterans to eat up innings, while also keeping their long term options open. Of course, it has been well documented how poorly these deals, which were doled out to Edwin Jackson (one year/$11 million) and Dan Haren (one year /$13 million), worked out for Washington, as the two veterans were a combined 20-24 with an ERA north of four. It worked out nicely for Jackson and Haren, as Jackson got a four-year deal with the Chicago Cubs, and Haren has now found a home with the Los Angeles Dodgers for one year with a vesting option for a second. So, much like the past two winters, Washington sits with the ability to add pitching.
The names that have been kicked around for Washington — from Matt Garza to David Price -- will not come cheap, whether it is in dollars or prospects. After an 86-win season that saw the Nationals fall flat on their face after a 98-win season, it would be hard to believe Washington stands pat, and even harder to argue that they should. Does Washington have many glaring weaknesses? No, they do not, this is still a playoff caliber team and, with a few tweaks, could easily be back at the top of the National League East in 2014.
In the spirit of tweaks, Washington’s need to make tweaks could lead them to a very interesting choice to bolster their rotation. His name: Ubaldo Jimenez, formerly of the Cleveland Indians.
Jimenez will be 30 on Opening Day, and is best known for his years with the Colorado Rockies, where from 2007-10, Jimenez’s ERA steadily shrunk from 4.28 to 2.88. Unfortunately, after that 2010, which Jimenez finished third in Cy Young voting, Jimenez’s ERA had steadily ballooned from 2.88 to 5.40 in 2012. In 2011, Jimenez was traded to Cleveland, and that ballooning ERA could be attributed to switching leagues — if Jimenez did not have a 4.46 ERA at the time that he was traded. Jimenez has been durable, having thrown more than 175 innings in six of his eight career seasons.
Jimenez does have some funky mechanics as well, resembling something of a pendulum, having a tendency to pause slightly before he delivers a pitch. Some believe that his mechanics are exactly why his statistics are what they are, since he has so many moving parts it can be hard to corral them. Regardless, Jimenez did return to form in 2013, as did the Indians, as he finished with 13 wins and a 3.30 ERA. Sure, an ERA of 3.30 after three consecutive years with an ERA steadily about four can be misleading, but Jimenez’s 2013 was impressive because his opponent’s batting average on balls in play, or BABip, was .304. What’s more, Jimenez’s last three seasons have involved BABips of .300 or higher (.315 in 2011, .310 in 2012, .304 in 2013).
Jimenez may be more of a National League pitcher than anything else. His BABips in the National League were as follows: .261, .303, .287 and .274. Many believe BABip is based on luck and defense more than anything else. But when you look at a player’s career, it tends to show a trend. Jimenez was also thought to be an ace that could headline a rotation, which he was supposed to be in Cleveland and definitely was in Colorado. Most pitchers struggle mightily in Colorado, though Jimenez thrived, yet he struggled mightily with the Indians for the lion’s share of his career.
One year does not make a career. Jimenez’s recent years are definitely alarming, which is exactly why the Nationals could get Jimenez at not only a cheaper price, but they could be getting a major bargain for the potential numbers Jimenez could put up in the back end of Washington’s rotation. If Jimenez is a better National League pitcher, he would be a godsend for Washington’s rotation, and a three-headed monster could become a four-headed monster.