After months of buildup, starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez has landed in Baltimore. The 30-year-old right-hander has inked a four-year deal believed to be worth around $48 million and is a welcome addition to an Oriole starting rotation that ranked fourth last in baseball during the 2013 season with a 4.57 ERA. He will join a cast of starters currently projected to feature Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Bud Norris, and Wei-Yin Chen.
Originally signed by the Colorado Rockies as an amateur free agent in 2001, Jimenez soon developed into a star. The lanky Dominican Republic native broke out in a big way in 2010, making the All-Star team and finishing third in the Cy Young award vote at the end of the season. He would go on to win 19 games that season, posting a 2.88 ERA and striking out 214 hitters.
Just 27 at the time, it appeared that Jimenez was set to enter his prime seasons and get even better, but instead he took a step back in 2011. The rate in which he surrendered home runs doubled, his velocity dropped noticeably, and hitters were teeing off on him like never before. Before the season came to a close, he found himself wearing a new uniform, the product of a trade between the Rockies and Cleveland Indians.
While there have been many pitchers who struggled in Colorado, Jimenez’s subsequent performance after joining the Indians proved his abrupt decline was not merely the product of a poor pitching environment. In fact, he proved even more volatile in Cleveland, yielding more home runs and hits per nine innings pitched than he had with the Rockies earlier in the season. He finished the disappointing year with a 4.46 ERA.
Eager to bounce back the following season and justify his supporters who pointed to bad luck and his still encouraging peripheral statistics, Jimenez instead struggled even more in 2012. By the time the season was over, he had racked up a league-leading 17 losses, compiled an unsightly 5.40 ERA, and witnessed his always spotty control take a noteworthy turn for the worse–in 182 innings of work, he walked 80 batters and unleashed 16 wild pitches.
By now, it might have been tempting to write Jimenez off as a talented but wild pitcher who was not going to reach the level many thought he would after 2010. So of course it only made sense when he once again defied expectations in 2013 and put together a huge comeback season, winning 13 games with a 3.30 ERA just in time to hit the free agent market. Now that Ubaldo Jimenez has landed in Baltimore, the question everyone should be asking is which version are the Orioles getting here?
While Baltimore made it no secret they wanted to invest money in improving a suspect starting rotation, adding Jimenez comes at a cost–and not just the $48 million, either. Signing Jimenez will result in the Orioles forfeiting their first round draft pick in this year’s amateur draft, which in this case was the 17th overall selection. That pick will now belong to the Indians, who were never comfortable with the idea of committing financially to a player with such an inconsistent background.
For better or worse, Ubaldo Jimenez has landed in Baltimore, and the Orioles are on the hook financially for the next four seasons. If they are obtaining the player who finally realizes his ace-level potential projected for him years ago, the contract is a bargain. If he turns back into the pitcher he was in 2011-12, however, it is instead a massive overpay, and very little help to a rotation that sorely needs it.
By Spencer Hendricks