(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.