We can debate the merits of the O’s contract agreement with pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez - a deal being reported as a four-year, $50 million contract - but I hope this puts one notion to rest forever: the notion from some that the Orioles put profits ahead of winning.
Fans can argue moves the club makes or that it should spend more, but the club’s payroll is now approaching $100 million. They don’t need you to pat them on the back for that and they are nowhere near being among baseball’s biggest spenders. But they are nowhere near the bottom, either. Those with a certain agenda about the Orioles’ spending would question, as Buck Showlater might say, their “want to,” need to let go of that concept now. Please. Let the rest of us talk baseball.
The Orioles want to win and they want to bring a World Series to the fans of Baltimore that deserve one. I’ve said many times that I don’t think many cities would have supported their team after 14 consecutive losing seasons as O’s fans did.
Now on to the Jimenez addition.
On the plus side, he has quality stuff, pitches that led him to strike out 9.6 batters per nine innings last season, his career-best mark. On the plus side, he pitched great in the second half last year during some big games as the Cleveland Indians chased the playoffs.
MLB leaders in ERA, second half of 2013 (minimun 80 IP):
1.59 - Clayton Kershaw, L.A. Dodgers
1.82 - Ubaldo Jimenez, Cleveland
1.85 - Zack Greinke, L.A. Dodgers
While Jimenez struggled last April, pitching to an ERA of 7.13, he then allowed two runs or less in 21 of his last 28 starts, going 13-7 with a 2.61 ERA. That is, for sure, on the plus side. He also allowed a batting average of just .211 when pitching with runners in scoring position and two outs and just .173 when he was ahead on the count.
On the plus side, Jimenez has made at least 31 starts and pitched at least 176 2/3 innings in each of the last six seasons, three times throwing 198 innings or more. He allows a career .689 OPS to right-handed batters and a .709 mark to lefties, so he does well against hitters from both sides of the plate.
AL leaders, strikeouts per nine innings, 2013:
11.89 - Yu Darvish, Texas
10.06 - Max Scherzer, Detroit
9.99 - Anibal Sanchez, Detroit
9.56 - Ubaldo Jimenez, Cleveland
The 4.0 career walk rate per nine innings is a concern, as is his average of 17.3 pitches per inning last year. That makes it hard for him to get deep into games and, while Chris Tillman pitched seven or more innings 13 times last season, Jimenez did that just eight times.
But his addition moves him to the top or near the top of the O’s rotation, which could now look like this: Tillman, Jimenez, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris.
I am going to guess that Showalter still gives Tillman the opening day start, but that is not the sure thing it was this time yesterday.
Maybe now Norris’ rotation spot is up for grabs. Maybe now this means pitchers like Kevin Gausman, T.J. McFarland and Steve Johnson will be forced back to Triple-A. Maybe this means Suk-min Yoon heads to the bullpen. This move made the rotation better and the pitching staff deeper.
So what is next for the Orioles and will they make another move?
As a result of this addition, the Orioles now will not have a draft pick higher than 55th overall in June. They will give up the 17th overall pick for this signing and already gave up their competitive balance pick - No. 35 overall - in the Norris deal last summer.
Would the O’s be willing to give up that 55th pick (a second-round selection) for Kendrys Morales or Nelson Cruz? Maybe.
This is total speculation on my part, but maybe now they would be open to signing one of those hitters on a one-year deal. Maybe Cruz or Morales would be open to doing that since it appears they are not being overwhelmed with offers at this point. While pitchers don’t pick the AL East to sign one-year deals they hope they can build into a long-term deal, a hitter might.
If signed to a one-year deal, the O’s would then be committing less future dollars to a one-dimensional player and they could always make them a qualifying offer next winter. It would be easier for me to see them part with the 55th pick rather than the 17th for a player on a short-term deal.
Of course, they could pursue Morales or Cruz on a long-term deal. But any dollars the club does not commit past 2014 will be dollars available to make their best run at long-term deals for players like J.J. Hardy, Chris Davis and Matt Wieters.
The O’s officially signed Yoon and agreed to a deal with Jimenez and it all happened just hours apart on Monday.
With one big move last night, a quiet O’s offseason got much louder.