Yesterday, George King reported that the Yankees have expressed interest in starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez. The organization remains connected to just about every free agent this winter, and I believe they’re publicly expressing interest to help delay any major signings until they’re prepared to spend money. Unfortunately, they won’t have significant money to spend until they know the extent of Alex Rodriguez‘ suspension, likely sometime in mid-December.
Anyway, this isn’t the first time the Yankees have been linked to Ubaldo Jimenez. Back in 2011, Brian Cashman was heavily involved with the Rockies in talks about bringing the right-hander to New York. Jimenez was fresh off a season where he finished 3rd in the Cy Young competition, and had accumulated a 3.52 ERA in 728.0 innings in MLB’s toughest park to pitch in. But in the months leading up to the 2011 trade deadline, major warning signs emerged. Jimenez held only a 4.46 ERA with the Rockies in the first half of 2011, and most notably, his fastball velocity dipped by nearly 3 mph. The initial asking price for Jimenez was Jesus Montero, Ivan Nova, Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances. Obviously the Yankees would have negotiated a lower price, but supposedly the Rockies refused to allow Jimenez undergo a physical before the trade. Considering the diminished velocity and recent ineffectiveness, the Yankees dropped out of the bidding with concerns over his health, and Jimenez ended up going to Cleveland.
Before 2013, the Jimenez trade looked like a bust for the Indians. Although none of the pieces that the Indians sent to Colorado have amounted to much, the value of what they traded was a massive loss that could have been used for a more successful trade. Between 2011 and 2012 with the Indians, Jimenez pitched to just a 5.32 ERA.
But Jimenez picked it up in 2013. Although he didn’t regain his high-90’s fastball, he rediscovered some of the command he lost in 2012. His BB/9 dropped from a horrid 4.8 to a mediocre 3.9. His K/9 reached the highest point of his career, 9.6, yet his fastball velocity reached it’s lowest at 91.7 mph. He finished the season with a 3.30 ERA and a 3.43 FIP.
At 30 years old in 2014, Jimenez now has 5 good seasons and 2 horrible seasons under his belt. His velocity decline is a major concern for any team, and the health of his shoulder needs to be meticulously evaluated before any contracts are finalized. Still, 2013 looked like a season where Jimenez learned how to pitch with this lower velocity. In 2012, you can attribute a chunk of his failure to the 4.8 BB/9 and 9.7 H/9. In both instances, it looks like Jimenez was overthrowing his pitches, trying to generate velocity, but at the expense of command. In 2013, Jimenez settled for the diminished velocity and significantly improved his command.
Even with all of these promising numbers, there’s a lot to worry about with Jimenez on the mound. When he’s at his best, he tends to walk a good number of hitters. On top of that, there’s no telling how much more his velocity will decline. While he improved throughout 2013, his line drive rates increased, and it’s hard to tell if he’s still the ground ball pitcher that made him successful in Coors Field.
Looking at the free agent market for pitchers, Jimenez represents the top tier. He’s younger than Hiroki Kuroda and A.J. Burnett, and he’ll likely command a lesser contract than Matt Garza and a smaller investment than Masahiro Tanaka. There’s a lot of upside in Jimenez, and with all the holes in their rotation, the Yankees’ interest in him is likely authentic.