Coming to Terms with the Ubaldo Jimenez Trade

Editor’s note: By now, you’ve seen Kirk’s thoughts on the trade. As promised, here’s Part II from Jon Steiner

The trade deadline has come and gone, and the Indians find themselves in an odd position.  After ten years of trading current talent for future hopes, the front office did an about-face, and traded away four minor leaguers, two of whom have significant potential, for Ubaldo Jimenez, a front-end starting pitcher to slot at the top of the rotation for the next two and half years.

Make no mistake: this trade is about making the current team better, which has come as such a shock to the system that no one quite knows what to make of it just yet.  We aren’t used to these types of moves in Cleveland, and I’ve seen fan emotions run the gamut from elation to downright despair.  I should be upfront: when the trade was first announced, I was closer to despair than elation for many of the reasons I’ll discuss below.

But like my front office counter-parts, I think I may have done a bit of a 180 over the last two days as I’ve had some time to digest this trade.  Let me explain.

The basics of the swap seem almost beyond argument: the Indians are better this year, and for the next two years, because of the move.  Further, the Indians gave up two pitching prospects that would have made us better three and four years down the road (and beyond) than we’ll be without them.  This arithmetic has led to a somewhat facile conclusion: the Indians are “all in” for the next three years.

And the more I think about that concept, the more I disagree with it.  First, let’s talk about money.  Ubaldo Jimenez will cost us next year ($4.2 million) about what we paid for David Delucci in 2008 ($3.8 million).  He’ll cost us significantly less in 2012 and 2013 combined ($9.95 million) than it costs to employ Travis Hafner for one season ($13 million).  We are getting an ace for what amounts to almost no money.  I don’t bring this up because I care about the financial well-being of the Dolan family.  I bring it up because it will not affect the team’s ability to add pieces and parts over the next several seasons: in no way does the addition of Ubaldo Jimenez hamstring the club financially, and established front-end starters almost always do, to some degree or another.  So in a strictly financial sense, we are not “all-in”.

More than the finances though, I get the feeling from those who hate this trade (and some of those people write for this site, I should say), that the loss of Pomeranz and White effectively closes our contention window to the extent of Ubaldo Jimenez’s Cleveland tenure.  In other words, what we gave up will be so cataclysmic to our minor league system that the cupboards will be dry once Ubaldo leaves, and we’ll be left once again with no major league talent and no prospects to dream on.  The worst situation for any baseball fan: just ask Houston.

This was my first reaction to the trade also.  We have to invest in our minor league system, since we are so unlikely to sign free agents to their market value.  The loss of 12 years of cheap pitching from Alex White and Drew Pomeranz could amount to the loss of a hundred million dollars’ worth of wins.  We can’t give that up for free, and the thought of it really bothered me for a few days.

But if Adam Miller and David Huff and Kyle Drabek and Jason Knapp and Zach Britton and Rick Porcello have taught us anything, it’s that “can’t miss” prospects miss all the time.  Sometimes it’s due to injury.  Sometimes it’s due to coaching.  Sometimes the scouts just flat out get it wrong.  Whatever the cause, baseball is littered with can’t miss prospects, and every one of them used to be untouchable.  There’s a silly acronym that comes up anytime someone speaks too highly of a young pitching prospect.  TINSTAAPP: there is no such thing as a pitching prospect.  Or as Sam Beckett would say: it all goes away.  There are a million things that could derail Pomeranz and White between now and the Hall of Fame, and to dream on them like we have been is to disregard every single one of them.

Even more, there is some sentiment that Drew Pomeranz and Alex White are once-in-a-lifetime pitchers.  That their upside is without bound, and they are destined to win multiple Cy Young awards and World Series MVPs.  This reaction is both understandable, and little insane.  It’s understandable because we’ve just spent the last three years listening to the front office tell us that these guys are top-of-the-rotation talents.  It’s insane, because, well, there’s no objective reason to feel that way.  If there’s anything that I’ve learned, it’s that everyone always overvalues their own prospects.  It’s sort of the opposite of the-grass-is-always-greener syndrome.  But let’s think about this slightly rationally.

Alex White is, more or less, a Jake Westbrook type pitcher (and this is not 20-20 hindsight; I’ve used this comparison several times over the last two years), who if he figures out his off-speed pitches, will slot into the middle of big league rotation.  If he can’t, he’ll a bullpen guy.  Drew Pomeranz, if you trust the national writers, has the upside to be a #2 pitcher, only if he can develop a changeup.  He’s got a low to mid-90s fastball and a nice curveball.  He struck out Bryce Harper on three pitches.  But we should be clear: neither one of them has been deemed an ace by anyone who doesn’t write about the Cleveland Indians.

This obviously isn’t meant to demean these guys.  In a way, I still hope they become good players, if only because I’ve spent so much time rooting for them to succeed that to do start doing otherwise would make me feel like a crummy person.

But the best we could have ever hoped for from Drew Pomeranz is that he could be Ubaldo Jimenez.  A thousand things could have gotten in the way of that progression, but if you choose to believe only the most optimistic assessments, Pomeranz has the potential to develop into a front-line starter who’d strike out a guy an inning.

And we just got one of those, more or less guaranteed, for three years.

Lastly, we must remember that if our cupboard is dry in three years, it’s not going to be because of this trade.  As Tony Lastoria pointed out yesterday, less than two months ago we drafted two “future stud arms” in Dillon Howard and Dillon Peters.  And next year we’ll draft more.  It took less than three months for Pomeranz to convince us that he surpassed sliced bread in the pantheon of value.  There will be time for more prospects and time for more projections and time for more anticipation. The next three years of drafting will determine the depth of our minor league system far more than one trade will.  And if the last three drafts are any indication of our approach, I tend to think we’re (finally!) in good hands.

What really turned me around regarding the trade was a simple realization.  For years, I told myself and anyone who would listen that we had to build through the draft, and at first, this trade seemed to contravene that notion.  We were giving up on draft picks for a hired gun—the sort of thing that I’ve been militating against for as long as I’ve been writing about baseball.

But that’s not what happened at all.  We did use our solid drafting to improve the team.  We have a cheap, young, ace pitcher to slot at the top of our rotation.  What more could you want from a draft?

  • Matt

    THIS SO MUCH

  • Lyon

    completely agree with you Jon

  • NJ

    Very much in agreement.

    If we didn’t make this trade and White & Pomeranz ended up flaming out in the minors, I doubt many people would then say we have no chance beyond 2014. Fans would be upset to add another name to the list of draft busts, but I don’t think they would ever claim that those two busts, and them alone, destroyed our farm system, left us without young talent, and our ability to compete. Heck, typing it out makes it sound that much more absurd. Not having Adam Miller didn’t hurt our ability to compete from 05′-’07.

    Another point: I trust that the front office a.) knows these players infinitely better than me and your average fan and b.) may have inside information that significantly influences the value of some of these guys.

  • dwhit110

    Passan’s article does a pretty good job of selling why this deal makes sense for the Indians. After all, you don’t need to look any further than Adam Miller to understand how a sure thing prospect turns into just another thing.

    That said, with Chisenhall and Kipnis now in the majors, there’s no more offensive help that fits our 2011-2013 window on the way… Unless you’re a big Nick Weglarz believer, which is a dicey proposition. This move MUST be coupled with an offseason move to bring in a RH bat, particularly if Sizemore’s services are not retained.

    Even if Sizemore’s option is picked up, based on the amount of off-days that both Sizemore and Hafner require at this point someone like Nick Swisher could fit the bill. The Yankees have an option on him, but he could easily walk. The guy gets on base well, can slug, and has played all 3 OF positions and 1B to varying degrees of skill (we probably don’t want him in center). He could easily get 500 ABs given our roster and would add some much needed balance to the middle of our order.

  • Mark

    I think I’ve come around to your point of view Jon. I was pretty down and confused about the deal at first. But, the more I thought about it the more I liked it.

    Risk is always a difficult thing to come to terms with. The deal struck me as very risky at first. Yet I think there is a much greater risk in White and Pomeranz flaming out. It happens way too often to deny it.

  • mgbode

    thanks Jon. completely agree. we just traded Jaret Wright for Pedro.

    be interesting to see how this one pans out.

  • NJ

    so are we sticking with the old posting system or is this just temporary until the new one gets the bugs worked out?

  • 216in614

    i completely agree.

    i’d still probably wouldn’t have made this trade if it was my decision but i really don’t think it has the downside that all the naysayers think it does and it could have huge upside (world series winning).

    LOL Nick Swisher…lets just hope he doesn’t have to hace andy marte on the mound.

  • http://www.whitecollarredneck.com Narm

    White and Pomeranz were 1st round picks and some of the few household names in terms of prospects.

    But we have a ton of depth in SP in the minors and even some guys with some upside (Barnes/Rondom/Knapp) that could end up being FOR guys as well.

  • Bob

    I thought he had a club option for 2014 at $8 million? Doesn’t that give us complete control for 3 1/2 seasons?

  • TSR3000

    We obviously won’t know who “won” this trade for years but unless BOTH White and Pomz end up being all star quality then I will never regret this trade.

    Some times you have to take calculated risks and I can’t describe how frustrated I would have been if all we did was get Fukudome when we were 2 games out of first in July.

    Now its on the players, not the front office.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    “I thought he had a club option for 2014 at $8 million?”

    I believe this went away with the trade – similar to how Grady’s option becomes a “player” option instead of a club version if he would have been moved.

  • Bob

    Just found out the club option reverted to a player option once he was traded….damn.

  • Goldenflash7903

    I love the TINSTAAPP reference!!

    The important thing to take from this is what Pomeranz and White “could be”. At best, White can be a #3, odds are he won’t reach his full potentional, few do. He is also a guy who has no breaking ball, just a fastball and splitter, perfect for a bullpen guy not a starter. Not to mention Pomeranz came out of a bad draft that most scouts think that Pomeranz would have gone in the top 15 this year. On top of the fact, he is only 20 and still has to go through his most vunerable years for injury in his development.

    This is why have a good farm system, to be able to make deals like this. It’s great to have good prospects but FLAGS FLY FOREVER!! If that means the Indians are going for it over the next 3 years, great, I’m all in.

    Jimenez’s ERA may be a bit higher this year over last, but his strikeout and walk rate are within his career averages.

    Oh, he has been for more than a year and a half, he has been a full time starter in the majors since ’08 and has been very effective most of the time.

  • TSR3000

    @12/13- Even knowing this, I assume you guys are cool with the trade?

    If we plan on competing in 2012 and 2013, in theory, our revenue will be way up and we will have an awesome team. If all goes according to plan, Jimenez will want to stay, he will still be good and we will be able to afford him.

  • The Other Tim

    Weird how my link to the yahoo article that introduced me to TINSTAAPP was not able to be posted in two separate WFNY comments sections, but then there it is in your write-up.

  • The Other Tim

    I wonder if Jimenez and Carmona have bonded over their 19-8 breakout seasons yet?

  • NJ

    Keep Carmona away from Jimenez! No talking, no touching, don’t even look at each other.

  • M D

    If(and that is a big if) we get to the playoffs we throw Jimenez against their #1 and then have Masterson at #2 & Tomlin at #3. With that we have a legit chance to take 2 out 3 with that rotation & our bull pen.

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    I like this move. A proven starter for two potential future starters. Unless they both develop into All-stars, this is a good deal for us. Its also refreshing to see the Indians do something to win NOW.

  • mgbode

    @19 – Was contemplating this with a couple of friends. Who in the AL has a better rotation going forward than the Indians?

    Indians: Jimenez, Masterson, Tomlin, Carrasco, Carmona (hopefully someone else like Gomez, Huff, etc. steps into Fausto’s role)

    Possibilities:
    Angels: Weaver, Haren, Santana, Pineiro, Chatwood
    Red Sox: Lester, Beckett, Bedard, Clay Bucholz (next year), Lackey?
    Rays: Price, Shields, Hellickson, Niemann, W.Davis
    Athletics: Cahill, Gonzalez, McCarthy, Harden, Moscosco

    my ranking would probably be: Rays, Angels, Indians, Red Sox, A’s

    only reason for Indians over Red Sox is that I hate how most of their staff is injury-prone (Beckett, Bedard, Clay) and Lackey has been terrible (or pitching injured, which puts him in the first group).

    still, the Indians should have a top flight rotation moving forward, which is a good thing.

    Consideration but not in real discussion:
    Mariners (top-end only as they traded Bedard/Fister): Felix, Pineda, Vargas
    Rangers (too many guys pitching more IP than they have before): Wilson, Lewis, Holland, Ogando, Harrison

    White Sox don’t have a top-end starter but a team full of 3rd starters.
    Detroit is terrible after Verlander (Porcello has looked better lately), but almost put them in because Verlander is just plain filthy.
    Minny isn’t that far off when you look at what Liriano, Baker, Duensing can do, but they aren’t deep enough nor consistent enough to be included yet.

    and, I can’t believe how low I would put the Yankees on this list. they have CC, which obviously counts for alot, but I’d take the Tigers rotation over theirs easily. Probably take the Yankees over Chicago and Minny, but that’s just on CC alone.

    we can argue who has the worst some other time but KC and Baltimore might have to duke it out. for all the talk of KCs hitting prospects, it seems to be forgotten that they really need pitching at the MLB level.

  • MrCleaveland

    I’ll bet there were a lot of fans in Milwaukee wringing their hands over losing LaPorta. You never know.

  • Architrance

    I think come Friday night well all be pretty happy about this deal…

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  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Kirk

    “But the best we could have ever hoped for from Drew Pomeranz is that he could be Ubaldo Jimenez.”

    Your best point in an article filled with them, Jon. I would add that Pomeranz is left-handed and we could have had him for 5 years, but in terms of pitching talent, you’re spot on.

    If the Dolans pony up the dough to make a true push at this thing, I’m more okay with this trade. We shall see.

  • http://twitter.com/dj_2 DJ

    I hope you are right Jon…but like I said in Kirk’s column comments, I’m not sold that UJ will last two years. I don’t like that he’s lost a significant amount of velocity on his fastball, and that the big market teams were scared off enough by this fact to insist on an MRI before any deal (which it seems CLE did not demand, even with a ‘physical’). If he does make it and stay strong, then fine. But in my opinion, there was a reason COL put him on the market…they were clearly not convinced he would last through the remainder of his contract without arm trouble.

  • Pat18970

    Shame on you for using Ubaldo Jimenez and David Delucci in the same sentence.

  • DK

    lol @27

  • rich smith

    Two points. The resurgence of David Huff and the breakout season of Scott Barnes, both left-handed starters at higher levels than Pomeranz, probably made the Indians brass feel more comfortable including Pomeranz in the Jimenez deal.

    Secondly, in considering the upside of Carrasco, White, Rondon, Gomez, McCallister & Knapp, White would probably be middle of the pack.

    Between Huff, Barnes, Gomez, McCallister, Carrasco, Rondon & Knapp, the Indians certainly have plenty of built in possibilities to replace the talents of White and Pomeranz to fill out their rotation.

  • gabriel