The Qualifier: Can the Indians steal back Ubaldo Jimenez?

Ubaldo Jimenez

Ubaldo JimenezThe waiting……I cant take much more of it. No, I am not talking about the ridiculous and seemingly clueless Browns Head Coaching search. Just get me to Tribe opening day already.

(Let me get it out of the way. If the Browns are indeed waiting on Denver Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase, then fine. I guess. But what happens when the 35-year old decides he doesn’t want the job? Then what?)

OK no more Browns talk. Let me get to the one team in town that actually has a chance to not only get the playoffs, but actually make a run. Yeah. I said it. Why not? Did any of you see 92 wins coming last year? Nope. I know I didn’t. But with Terry Francona at the helm, anything is possible.

Most people think the Indians are all set with their roster. There will be plenty of opportunities on this team to become members of both “The Goon Squad” and the bullpen. The starting rotation seems to be set with the top four guys with three in-house options along with a veteran lottery ticket attempting to be the final piece to the puzzle.

But is there a possibility that the Indians can pull off another late winter surprise?

It wasn’t until late February that GM Chris Antonetti shocked the Baseball world and snagged prime center field free agent Michael Bourn on a four-year deal. Bourn was another Scott Boras client hanging around on the open market because he was tied to draft pick compensation. Unless you are a casual baseball fan or living under a rock, you know that the collectively bargained qualifying offer/draft pick compensation situation has been in play for the past two offseasons. It has become a serious problem. You can bet when this current agreement expires on December 1, 2016, the loss of a first round draft pick for all teams not picking in the top 10 when signing a “qualifying offer” free agent will be gone one way or another.

This brings me to my former whipping boy turned hero Ubaldo Jimenez.

It seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Tribe’s best starter in 2013 would walk  in free agency. Ubaldo did everything the Indians asked in a second half run to the playoffs, leading the American League in ERA and transforming himself from a fifth starter at best to the top of the rotation starter Antonetti traded for in 2011. He worked closely with pitching coach Mickey Calloway and regained his top form. All of it was wonderful and great, but we also knew that Jimenez was pitching himself into a big pay day.

In a no-brainer move, the Indians tendered Ubaldo the $14.1 million qualifying offer, knowing he wouldn’t take it and he would be tied to a first round draft pick, which the Tribe would pick up after the end of the first round. Last winter it was Kyle Lohse who sat around waiting for a job into Spring Training. This year, it is not just Ubaldo, but Ervin Santana as well.

There is also the Masahiro Tanaka effect to consider. Most of the pitching hungry teams are holding their money for the Japanese star who is expected to have a Yu Darvish type immediate effect. Once his bidding is open, the big boys will line up, to take numbers, just to throw money his way. But only one team can get Tanaka. The losers will most likely head towards the consolation prize of Matt Garza, who because of his mid-season trade to Texas, is not tied to a draft pick. That still leaves Jimenez and Santana twisting in the wind, looking for a big deal.

The good news for the Indians – the longer this process drags out, the better their chances are to possibly bring back Ubaldo on a shorter deal than he had hoped to get. I still don’t think it is going to happen, but the potential to return has gone from slim to none to an outside chance. Jimenez is looking for at least $14 million per, but the four years he is seeking may not be there. Even with Justin Masterson a free agent after the 2014 and extension talks on the docket, would the Tribe give the Big U three years and $42 million?

I started looking into the payroll to see if this was workable. Then of course, my main man Jacob Rosen, aka Jakey Stats, provided me the following estimates:

1. I had 25 men (already sans Drew Stubbs $3.1 million and Joe Smith and his $3.5 million).

2. New people likely fully guaranteed of MLB jobs: David Murphy ($6 mil), John Axford ($4.5 mil) and Josh Outman ($1.4 mil).

3. Some estimated changes to make room: Take out Nick Hagadone, Jose Ramirez and Trevor Bauer.

With those additions and changes, my estimate at this moment in time is $82.8 million. That assumes MLB Trade Rumors’s arbitration estimates and no further changes to that exact 25-man roster. That includes the big jumps in the contracts of both Bourn and Nick Swisher, along with Asdrubal Cabrera’s $10 million.

If what Jacob estimates is indeed true, could they actually swoop in late again and pull off another coup with Jimenez?

The real question is, would you want him back? If I knew I could sign up for last year’s second half version of Ubaldo, then I would certainly be on board. The comfort he has with the organization and the Francona/Calloway duo has to account for something, doesn’t it? Then again, my concern with Jimenez is always that he is one bad start or mechanical issue away from becoming a mess again.

With Jimenez, the rotation would look familiar and strong: Masterson and Jimenez leading the way with star in the making Danny Salazar right behind them. Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister rounding things out would be NICE. You would not have to worry about Carlos Carrasco and/or Trevor Bauer figuring themselves out or Josh Tomlin and/or Shawn Marcum turning into this year’s version of Scott Kazmir. You can never have enough starting pitching options. There is no doubt that bringing back Ubaldo would make the Indians better than they are right now.

Let us just continue to be patient. As I said before, the longer this thing draws out, the more the Indians can become a serious player for Jimenez.

  • Steve

    Actually a few ticks above average for a starter. Since relievers see the benefit of pitching in short bursts they bring down the average ERA. For a starter, 95 ERA+ is average. And the fact that he can eat a ton of innings is a plus that goes beyond just his run prevention.

  • Ed Carroll

    Valid points. But previous performance doesn’t always indicate future value.

  • Steve

    Right, but it seems like as good a place as any to start.

  • Ed Carroll

    Not sure about that. I’m open to being wrong. But I don’t see any way a 4-5 year extension for Masterson ends well for Tribe. He’s not going to get much better (if at all better), and is likely to get worse (or possibly hurt).

  • Kildawg

    Indians still win regardless. Draft pick compensation, especially hurting a team like New York or “Texas” (lost their 1st due to signing Choo) that’s desperate for pitching.

  • Steve

    I’m not sure where we’re disagreeing. We both think Masterson is above average, and I’m also skeptical of a long term deal for him. I think he’s closer to a #2 than a #3 right now, but I’m not sure any pitcher nearing age 30 is a good bet for 5 (or more) years.

  • Ed Carroll

    Haha I don’t think we are either. I just like to argue. :) The #2/#3 distinction doesn’t matter too much to me but yes, we seem to agree lol.

  • Kildawg

    The most plausible way I can see the Indians upgrading SP is trading for it. Bourn, Chisenhall, and Cabrera are the three guys I would move first. Would have to hedge bets that some of the ST invitees pan out (Kazmir, Giambi, Raburn did last year), but that has been the norm for the 21st century Indians anyway.

  • markn95

    Agree. I think the 2014 Mariners are going to look a lot like the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays. Although the latter went “all in” with guys like Josh Johnson who had minimal years left on their contracts, not the albatross (in terms of years and $$$) soon to be known as Robinson Cano.

  • mgbode

    Cano will almost undoubtedly become an albatross to the M`s at some point. I think it’ll take a few years though.

    M`s still have a long way to go to fix their team though. they need SP, Bullpen, and hitters. Not to mention they play in the AL West w/ Oakland, Texas, and Anaheim.

  • markn95

    If we’re going to throw 3 years of money at a pitcher, I’d actually rather give it to Ervin Santana than Ubaldo. Santana has been a far more consistent pitcher over his career. His one terrible year (2012?) was not, as far as I know, related to having a lot of “moving parts” in his delivery. Plus, he always seems to shut the Tribe down no matter who he’s pitching for.

  • @TheDeePagel

    Well….some of us DID predict 90+ wins….like me.

    But….to be fair I say it every year, and I’m more wrong then right…

    Kind of like my Browns 10+ wins in 2014….go ahead and slam.

  • nj0

    Point taken. Would point out that about 9% of his IPs have come as a reliever. Not sure how much that would change his career ERA+, though it does make it that much closer to average.

  • Steve

    Moves it to 98. I’d still say the durability makes him closer to a 2 than a 3. Tough to pin down though as he’s been a bit volatile with his ERA numbers.

  • nj0

    Durability has been impressive, but I’m not sure how much past durability projects to future durability. Guess it’s better than not being durable though.

    The more I think on it and the more I look at the numbers, I would go with three more years of Ubaldo over Justin, ceteris paribus. Ubaldo seems more volatile but with a higher ceiling. Justin scares me too much. And he has that platoon split issue.

  • UBALDO

    In hindsight, Lohse was a much better signing than Bourn. I think we should trade Bourn and his gross contract. We should also trade Masterson and resign Ubaldo.

    It’s important that we trade Masterson before the season starts, if we are unable to sign him to a long term deal. The other team won’t get draft pick compensation unless he’s been on that team for a full year I believe. His value decreases a lot once the season begins, so we should trade him for a very good haul while we can.

    Bourn can be easily replaced in center by Brantley, move Raburn/Murphy to left, Swish to Right, and Santana to first. Bourn is really not worth what his contract pays him and small market teams cannot pay 3 years $41 million for a leadoff man with below average OBP and no power…

    Resigning Jimenez would solidify our rotation for the next 4 years at least. The only core player not signed long term would be Cabrera, who can be replaced by Lindor. We would be set for the future with our core under contract for a long time and a strong farm system from the Masterson deal. Maybe we could get a Corner outfielder with power to replace Raburn/Murphy for the future.

  • Steve

    This assumes that they’ll definitely be able to re-sign Ubaldo. I dont have anywhere near the same confidence that they can outbid bigger markets, even with Bourn and Masterson’s contracts moved. I think Bourn can bounce back a bit, though mostly on defense and the basepaths. I’m fine seeing him at the bottom of the order though. I just dont think any bids we can actually win this offseason will be any better than Bourn’s current deal.

  • UBALDO

    I just don’t understand how one can justify paying over $13 million a year for a guy who’s game is stealing bases and playing defense (neither of which he did well last year). Nyjer Morgan offers a very similar skillset at 1/13th the cost! If I’m going to spend $13 million on a free agent, I’d much rather spend it on a guy who has the potential to dominate.

    Money wise, Masterson is $10 million, Bourn is $41 million, possibly $53 million. I think People are underestimating how much Ubaldo is going to get paid because of the wait. But once Tanaka signs, Ubaldo will get a healthy contract. I think we could resign him for 4 years $65 million, which wouldn’t really be much more than Bourn and Masterson. Plus it will be much less salary this season.

  • Steve

    I’m a fan of the Morgan pickup. I’m not sure where he plays without an injury, but I think he’s the type of bounceback candidate that this team should be picking up as minor league FAs. That said, he’s no Bourn, not even close. When last in the majors, he was putting up a .302 OBP in one of the best hitters parks in the NL. And even when he could swipe a lot of bags, he was always caught stealing at a high rate, he was never really a plus on the bases like Bourn was. He can play CF, but I wouldn’t put him at any better than average there.

    Bourn, for all his flaws this year, still put up a 2.4 WAR, which is what you should expect when you spend $12M a year on the FA market. That’s average player money these days.

    And you can’t just add Masterson and Bourn’s salary and dedicate that money to Ubaldo. You have to win the bidding against teams that have a lot more money to throw around. I agree that we’ll have the money to give Ubaldo 4/$65 if we move Masterson and Bourn. I just don’t think a bigger market will let us win with that bid.

    That said, I don’t think I like the idea of giving up one year of Masterson and three of Bourn for four of Ubaldo. Masterson/Bourn combined for 3 WAR more than just Ubaldo last year. If we’re planning on contending next year, we’ll need every last one of those wins. And I don’t think Ubaldo is any better a bet long term than the other two.

  • Ed Carroll

    This disucssion has been great. Love the intellengent discourse. Thanks.

  • nj0

    Moving Masterson also means losing a compensatory draft pick.

  • mgbode

    that is where I was heading into 2013. after 2013, I don’t know where I sit on it anymore. I guess I’d side with Masterson just because I realize that Ubaldo is gone.

  • Achilles

    Good article, although I strongly disagree with your characterization of the collectively bargained qualifying offer/draft pick compensation situation as a serious problem. It’s a problem for players and their greedy agents, but it levels the playing field for cash-strapped teams, which was its intent. I think it has been the opposite of a serious problem and will continue to work well for teams like the Cleveland Indians. Without that caveat, the Tribe never lands Bourne and would have no shot at Ubaldo, so we can only hope MLB sticks to their guns and attempts to advance more similar policies to make the fiscal part of the game more of an even playing field.

  • UBALDO

    Bourn’s OBP was only .316 last year, so it’s not as though he’s much better. Morgan’s career slash .280/.341/.705 Bourn’s is .271/.335/.700. Bourn is a better baserunner and defender but that difference is not worth $12 million.

    I understand the WAR argument, but what you’re not considering is the replacement. We could play a combination of Morgan and Brantley in center with Raburn, Murphy, Cooper and Giambi probably getting extra DH at bats.

    I agree that my plan would hurt us in 2014, but what is the alternative? Keep Bourn, thus letting Masterson and Jimenez leave for 2 draft picks? Let Salazar Kluber and McAllister lead the rotation? Bourn is a luxury we can’t afford; we need to keep one of these aces.

    I think because of his track record, Ubaldo will be easier to sign, and we could get a much bigger return by trading Masterson now. Heck, Masterson struggled almost as much as Ubaldo in 2012 and he’s really only had 3 good years (none as dominant as Ubaldo’s good years). Having Bourn, Masterson and Jimenez on long term deals are all very risky IMO.

  • UBALDO

    True, however, we aren’t losing the value of that compensatory pick. Masterson’s new team would acquire that pick along with Masterson (assuming he doesn’t resign), meaning they would have to compensate us for 1 year of Masterson AND that draft pick.

  • mgbode

    you lost me at Giambi.

  • Steve

    Morgan has a comparable line because he was used in platoons more often. 81% of his PAs came against opposite handed pitching while only 72% for Bourn. Bourn just put up a 93 OPS+ last year, while Morgan was in Japan, and putting up a 63 OPS+ the year before. Bourn is clearly the better hitter at the current stage of each’s career.

    And the part of your plan that you still haven’t addressed is that there is no guarantee to signing Ubaldo. That’s a big step, and something a lot of Cleveland fans who beg Dolan to throw money around don’t get. It’s not easy to outbid bigger markets to get FAs in Cleveland.

    And agree on the risk of the big contracts. I think that of the three choices, Bourn is the smallest risk. Pitcher’s arms go kablooie all the time.

  • Steve

    And Cooper, and Morgan. Part of the reason that 2012 sucked is way too many ABs to guys like Cunningham, Damon, Lillibridge, I greatly enjoyed the tight lineup rotation in 2013 over the parade of replacement players in 2012. I believe nj0 pointed out before last year that upgrading the bench could be a huge hidden asset, and man was he spot on.

  • UBALDO

    I agree I went a bit overboard on the Giambi, Cooper bit, but Giambi’s OPS+ was 85 last year, so it’s not like he’s much worse than Bourn offensively (completely different players obviously).

    Ideally, we would try to acquire a decent DH, maybe Morales in a sign and trade with the mariners. If we acquired a Morales type bat, we would be upgrading the offense for less money.

    If not, there are power guys like Moncrief and Aguilar who will be coming up probably this year who will need at bats. Ramirez is a guy who can probably do what Bourn does offensively and on the base paths. At this point in their careers, Ramirez may be a better base stealer than Bourn. He’s also got a much better eye than Bourn, I’m really excited to see what he can do, also at league minimum salary.

    I think with Tanaka, Santana, Garza, and even Arroyo still on the market, we can get Ubaldo for a decent price. I have no idea what he’ll end up getting, but if we can get him for up to 4/70 million, I’d do that. I think you’re overestimating how deep Dolan would have to reach into his wallet, especially considering Masterson and Bourn would be gone.

    Brantley is a better offensive player and almost as good defensively in my opinion. For a supposed super elite defender, Bourn cannot throw the ball, a significant advantage for Brantley, who also has good range.

    Steve, you suggest keeping Bourn but you’re also realistic about Dolan’s spending. Do you really think that we’ll be able to resign Masterson if we still have Bourn?