According to Jon Heyman, Ubaldo Jimenez may have lowered his asking price to 3 years $39 million. Previous reports stated that Jimenez was looking for a multi-year deal worth more than $14 million annually, but expectations have undoubtedly lowered in an oversaturated pitching market where Matt Garza received just $50 million over 4 years. Even with Garza and Masahiro Tanaka off the board, Ervin Santana, A.J. Burnett, Bronson Arroyo, Suk-Min Yoon, and Paul Maholm remain on the free agent market with only two weeks remaining until pitchers and catchers report.
Jimenez’ market has shriveled up to the Blue Jays, Orioles, and possibly the Indians, yet the Orioles and Indians stand to lose a potential draft pick on signing the starting pitcher. Reports are that both of these teams highly value their respective picks, the Orioles’ 17th overall pick and the Indians’ potential compensation pick. The Blue Jays make the most sense, as their 9th overall pick is protected, and they would only lose a second round pick when signing a free agent that carries draft pick compensation.
As Joe Pawlikowski points out in his post this morning, the Yankees are in position where they should add another starting pitcher. Pawlikowski focuses his article on A.J. Burnett, and to his credit, adds that an agreement will never happen, but he also mentions Jimenez.
Michael Pineda is probably the lead dog for the fifth rotation spot, and a rebound season would mean a lot for the future of the Yankees. Though if Pineda does struggle out of the gate, the Yankees’ next choice is one of David Phelps, Adam Warren, or Vidal Nuno. Depth certainly exists, but the strength of that depth is weak. On top of this, Hiroki Kuroda‘s age and CC Sabathia‘s velocity and recent injury problems could present problems in the 2014 season. Tanaka was signed to offset this possibility, but even he represents a gamble, as he has no prior MLB experience. Ivan Nova has also shown some extreme volatile numbers. Few pitchers are perfect, but the Yankees’ rotation could just a bit more help.
In a perfect world, Sabathia, Kuroda, Tanaka, Nova, and Pineda would round out one of the best rotations in baseball. 2013 has taught us that the Yankees hardly live in a perfect world, and we should fully expect injuries or setbacks as soon as possible. That doesn’t mean the team should stack their bench with All Star backups, but the Yankees’ find themselves in a perfect opportunity to add depth.
With Jimenez lowering his price, the starting pitcher could join the Yankees on a lucrative contract. Though he’s had his struggles in the past, Jimenez owns top of the rotation potential. Putting him in the fifth spot would allow the Yankees to keep Pineda in Triple-A, as they continue his ultra-slow recovery from his labral tear. It would also move both David Phelps and Adam Warren into an otherwise weak bullpen, as both players have good experience out of relief. If an injury or struggles occurs, Pineda moves in the rotation, keeping the bullpen intact.
It would be a high-risk signing, as Jimenez’ outstanding 2013 season comes after two years of struggle. Yet before his trade to the Indians, the right-hander was one of the few aces in baseball, and he did so in the toughest ballpark, Coors Field. A loss of velocity undoubtedly contributed to his awful performances in Cleveland, but in 2013, Jimenez looked like he learned to pitch with diminished velocity.
The starter, who used to sit in the upper 90′s with his fastball, dropped to the low 90′s in 2011. Despite the drop, he continued to throw his fastball nearly 62% of the time. In 2012, it dropped to 58% usage, and in 2013 it was down to 54%. He replaced this with a knockout slider, and the results were a spike to a 9.56 K/9, the highest of his career.
On the flip side of strikeouts, Jimenez has shown a history of trouble locating his pitches, and in 2013, he had just a 3.94 BB/9. To his credit, he did improve as the season went on, seemingly growing more comfortable throwing a slower fastball.
He’s a huge lottery ticket, though on a one-year or similar short-term deal, he would make a ton of sense for the Yankees. Despite the claims that they have no money, the team is still $20 million away from their opening 2013 payroll. The organization has little to worry about giving up draft picks at this point, and if Jimenez were to rebound, he could net the team a first round compensation pick in future drafts. With his price continuing to drop, he would be one of the few free agent bargains that the team has seen fall to them. He’d help create one of the best rotations in the MLB, while shoring up some depth issues in the bullpen. At a bargain, he could be a low-risk and high-reward pitcher to perfect the rotation in 2014.