GOODYEAR, Ariz.: The reaction to the Baltimore Orioles’ signing former Indians pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $50 million contract Monday (pending the outcome of a physical) still made plenty of waves a day later.
Many in the national media weighed in on the largest contract ever awarded to a pitcher in Orioles franchise history.
The New York Post’s Joel Sherman reported that one MLB executive he spoke to under the condition of anonymity called the Jimenez deal the “ultimate crapshoot.”
Indians fans probably felt the same way after witnessing Jimenez’s up and mostly down two and a half seasons with the Indians. After joining the club in a 2011 blockbuster deal at the trading deadline (in which the Tribe shipped four minor league players, including the club’s top two pitching prospects to the Colorado Rockies), a roller-coaster ride promptly ensued.
In his first year and a half, Jimenez struggled to a 13-21 record and 5.30 ERA. Even an offseason to step back and clear his head after the trade didn’t help much. In 2012, Jimenez led the American League in losses (17) and wild pitches (16) and finished second in walks (95).
Jimenez continued to battle himself at the start of last season, before finally righting the ship with the help of new Tribe pitching coach Mickey Callaway. After being bad for so long, Jimenez was suddenly very good, arguably the league’s best pitcher from June on last season.
“We’re all [happy for Jimenez],” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “The only time we won’t pull for him is when we’re playing against him. But he’s a great kid. And the way he persevered and got on a run at the end last year really helped us try to get to where we wanted to go.”
ESPN analyst and former big-league general manager Jim Bowden didn’t hold back his feelings in this tweet Tuesday: “Orioles’ decision to NOT take a medical risk on Grant Balfour is as absurd as TAKING a risk on Ubaldo Jimemez [sic] mechanics and track record.”
It was difficult to find many in the national media who believed the deal to be a smart one. But MLB.com contributing columnist Richard Justice at least leaned that way.
“Can one player change the look of an entire division race?” Justice wrote. “Could that one player be Ubaldo Jimenez? Could he really mean that much to the Baltimore Orioles? In a word, yes.”
However, his narrative was rife with phrases that began with the word “if,” as in: “If the Orioles are getting the Jimenez they think they’re getting…” and “If that’s the case, the Orioles may be back in the game in the American League East.”
It was similar “ifs” that kept the Indians standing pat after offering an original $14.1 million qualifying offer to Jimenez before he opted to test the free-agent waters. But now that Jimenez has signed elsewhere, there’s a silver lining for the Indians.
With baseball’s new CBA draft compensation rules, the Indians jump up a notch from No. 22 to 21 in the first round of the June draft, as well as pick up another selection in the compensation round between the first and second rounds, giving them four overall picks in the first two rounds this summer. However, exactly where the Tribe will pick in the “sandwich” round will depend on what happens with the few remaining big-name free agents still looking for homes this season.
Now that Yan Gomes will take over everyday catching duties, Francona wants the young Brazilian to understand two things from the start: First, he will be rested as Francona sees fit as to not get overtaxed in his first full season behind the plate and second, defense is his main priority, not the offense he’s known for.
“He’s never been the [No. 1 catcher] before, so we’ll try to use some common sense and keep an eye on him,” Francona said. “He’s a good hitter and he’s going to help us offensively. But the goal for Gomer is if we’re shaking hands and the game’s over, whatever he did was good enough.”
In the recent one-on-one meetings, Francona said he made it clear that he expects Gomes’ offense to slip some.
“If you take ownership of a [pitching] staff, you’re going to lose at-bats,” Francona said. “I don’t care how good of a hitter you are, whether good or in between, you’ll lose at-bats if you’re a good catcher.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.