Editor’s note: As promised, we will have plenty to talk about today regarding all things Ubaldo. Consider this piece the first of a two-part series discussing the pros and cons of the deal. Kirk, as you may have seen on Twitter, will be taking the cons. Enjoy.
With Saturday night’s deal for Ubaldo Jimenez, Tribe general manager Chris Antonetti has hitched his job security to the former Colorado starter. Come October 2013, if the Indians have not gone deep into the playoffs with Ubaldo Jimenez leading the charge as an ace, Chris Antonetti stands a good chance of being out of a job. Sure, that’s a long way away, and maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but if Drew Pomeranz and Alex White become top of the rotation options for the Rockies and Ubaldo battles the drop in velocity on his fastball and pitches inconsistently, it could go down as the trade that unnecessarily shrunk the Indians’ window of opportunity.
I’m going to come right out and say it: I’m against this trade for many reasons. It’s primarily about who we gave up, not what we got in return. I truly believe Drew Pomeranz is going to be a left-handed ace for years to come, the type of guy the Indians will regret not holding onto. With Alex White, I can at least understand dealing him while his stock is high and before his finger injury becomes more of an issue. White will not be an ace in my estimation, and if things don’t work out, he may indeed have to move to the bullpen. White was expendable, permissable to be packaged with other positions of depth within the Tribe farm system. Pomeranz was not; left-handed power-throwing ace-potential pitchers do not grow on trees. You don’t acquire them via trade, you don’t sign them as free agents – not in our small market, anyway. You draft them, you develop them, and you hold onto them for as long as you can.
Antonetti said yesterday that Jimenez was the only trade they considered including Pomeranz and White. That surprises me a bit. That’s a lot of confidence in Ubaldo. Me? I would have felt a lot better about trading Pomeranz and White for a right-handed bat under team control for two or three years. Yes, I guess that means Hunter Pence, although I didn’t have tunnel vision on him. Again, I would’ve held onto Pomeranz and White. Instead of addressing an organizational weakness from top to bottom, we traded from a position of strength and got that strength back. People seem to be wowed by the rotation of Jimenez, Masterson, Tomlin, Carrasco, and Carmona for the next two and a half years. It’s certainly impressive. I do, however, think the rotation of Masterson, Tomlin, Carrasco, White, and Pomeranz would’ve been just as good, if not better, given time.
Let’s talk about Ubaldo for a moment. The 27-year-old right-hander has won 12, 15, and 19 games in his past three seasons (six this year). Before this season’s ERA of 4.46, his earned run average had decreased the past four seasons (4.28 to 3.99 to 3.47 to 2.88). This season, he has struggled with walks and maintaining velocity on his fastball, which sits at 93-94 now instead of the 96-97 it used to. He’s also dealt with a series of minor injuries this season. All of it has played a role in his struggles and Colorado’s poor play. The Indians are hoping that taking him out of Coors Field for half of his games is going to boost his statistics and help him return to last season’s form. Overall, I see no reason he can’t. I also realize his contract is a bargain financially the next two seasons (just under $10 million total), and that cannot be overstated.
The hardest thing to swallow for me is the idea that the Indians have shifted their organizational philosophy in a few short months, undoubtedly influenced by the team’s hot start this season. I had believed all along that 2012 was the first year the Indians would be a legitimate division and pennant contender. I still do, have you *seen* the offense lately? Now, putting a bookend on that window at 2013, that’s two legitimate shots at going for it. After that, Asdrubal Cabrera, Travis Hafner, Shin-Soo Choo, Rafael Perez, Joe Smith, and now Ubaldo Jimenez will be free agents. The next year, Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, and Chris Perez are free agents. Without Pomeranz and White, the next wave seems suddenly much thinner. Sure, we have Tomlin, Carrasco, Chisenhall, Kipnis, Brantley, LaPorta, and Santana long term, but that core seems a lot more potent with the two dealt pitchers. There’s some finality in it. Two (maybe three) shots at it, then another rebuild. That’s what’s got me down at the moment.
I can’t shake the feeling that this feels like going to the MLB Coinstar machine, taking your mountain of change, and getting back 90 cents on the dollar. All because you were impatient and didn’t want to put in the effort to roll the change and take it to the bank yourself.
Teams do this all the time, trading prospects for proven commodities. Normally, it’s large market teams though, who grow prospects for this purpose and this purpose alone. The Clevelands, Minnesotas, Kansas Citys, Tampa Bays, and Pittsburghs cannot afford to operate like this long term, or they’ll be irrelevant. They must spend more money on signing draft picks, paying scouts, exploring international avenues, all in the hope that they can cultivate talent and duct tape enough of it together at the same time to compete in a 2-3 year window, maybe 4-5 if lucky. That’s the reality in this broken system that is Major League Baseball; it’s a race against time for small and mid-market teams. Teams like the Indians fatten up their prize hogs as best they can, hoping they can win blue ribbons and best in shows for a few years, but they know the end result. The end result is the New Yorks, the Bostons, the Chicagos, and the Los Angeleses slaughtering their calf and feasting thanks to the toil of the small market.
Another valid point from those who cannot believe I’m so upset by this deal is that those who constantly rip the Indians for not being buyers have no leg to stand on here. While true that it’s quite unheard of and welcomed in one respect for the Tribe to be willing to acquire major-league talent, it cannot stop here. No, they should have went out and acquired a right-handed bat to supplement this deal (they still may, after all). Wait for Sizemore and Choo to return, and it’ll likely be too late for this season. This upcoming roadtrip may seal the team’s fate. If you’re going all in until 2013, give 2011 a legitimate shot. Don’t test the water with a toe, cannonball right into the deep end!
The success of the next two and a half seasons will not only rest on Antonetti’s shoulders, but with the Dolans’ pocketbook. Making a trade like this signals competing and expanding the payroll, something the Dolans promised us fans they would do when this team is ready. We’ll never go out and grab the biggest name on the market, but we need to be active in free agency this offseason. Because let’s face it, there’s almost nobody now in the Tribe’s minor league system that is going to be a part of this current push through 2013. What you see is what you get. I like what we have, but it HAS to get better… now.
Okay, with all that negativity, I want to end on a positive note. I like being optimistic. I feel going through life being cynical is no way to live. I like to buy into the philosophy of the teams that I follow. I think there’s a lot to be said for fan overreaction and Monday morning quarterbacking. I’m guilty of both, perhaps in this article alone. But, overall, I conclude with this. Ubaldo Jimenez is here as a Cleveland Indian for two and a half seasons. He’s flashed brilliance and the ability to beat any arm in either league. He’s got good stuff, he’s a durable innings-eater, and he seems to have a great personality. I’m going to get behind him and pull for him to do what I think is a stretch, to lead the Indians into the postseason this year. If he can and something special happens, Ubaldo’s a hero, Antonetti’s a God, and I deserve to be in the weekend editor poorhouse. I like being wrong when I take the negative side of something. I hope I am here.
(Photo: Chuck Crow / The Plain Dealer)