Deadline Recap: Against The Ubaldo Jimenez Trade

I love trades, transactions, and rumors. Love ‘em. While the actual game of baseball is pretty cool too — you know, I’ll watch it on occasion — there’s something endlessly fascinating about discussing roster moves. The flurry of action around the trade deadline makes it one of my favorite times of the season, and it’s one of the few things fans of rebuilding teams have to look forward to each year.

There’s just something so addicting about the deadline. Following the trade deadline on Twitter is like watching the climax of a giant, twisting, real-life soap opera unfold 140 characters at a time. Rumors are buzzing everywhere, emotions are running high, analysts are making over-the-top assessments, and debates are flying nearly as fast as the rumors. It’s an adrenaline rush that doesn’t require an HDTV or special effects, just a knowledge of the narratives surrounding this year’s season. It’s the ultimate story — a real-time novel with 30 authors and millions of attentive readers.

But one of the key reasons I love this time of the year is because it stimulates so much good analysis and debate. Each trade can be debated on the merits of the return for both sides — something saberists love to do — but there are also underlying philosophical debates about proper team building and strategy. How close is close enough to justify making a run at the playoffs?  Should this team be looking to sell or buy? What should be this organization’s long-term plan? Are they working toward it? Sometimes the answer to these questions are easy; other times they can be the cause of all sorts of debate.

The Ubaldo Jimenez trade is a great example. I have conflicting emotions on this trade: while I like the total package the Rockies got back in return, I really dislike the trade from a philosophical point of view.

Even though everyone reading this article probably knows these facts by heart already, let’s first go over the facts of trade. This weekend, Ubaldo Jimenez was traded by the Rockies to the Cleveland Indians for a package that included four prospects. Two of these prospects were considered some of the best prospects in the Indians’ organization and ranked within Baseball America‘s Top 100 prospects for 2011. Meanwhile, Jimenez is under contract for two more seasons after this one at a total cost of just over $10 million.*

*He does have a player option for 2014 at $8 million, but it seems rather likely that he’ll opt for free agency instead.

I can understand the Rockies wanting to add more minor league depth and rebuild slightly. Coming into this weekend, their major league team wasn’t good enough to compete at the moment, and they didn’t have any minor league depth to turn to in order to fill holes. While the Rockies have a solid core to build around in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, they were going to need to fill out their team with expensive free agents if they wanted to compete without restocking first.

But here’s what I can’t get around: why would you trade your ace starter for three pitching prospects? While I tend to think the age-old axiom of “There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect” is overstated, the truth of the matter is pitching prospects flame out a lot more often than they make it. Pitchers get injured, follow odd developmental paths, and sometimes just simply don’t reach the peak everyone forecast for them. In an ideal world, you hope one of these pitchers will develop into a front-of-the-rotation, 4-6 WAR starter that you can have under team control cheaply for multiple seasons….which is what Jimenez already is.

As Eric Seidman pointed out in his article on the trade this weekend, the Rockies probably felt motivated to make this trade as a result of the poor development of their pitching prospects. And yet, if the Rockies hadn’t made this trade, their 2012 rotation could have still looked quite good and young. Jhoulys Chacin (3.81 SIERA) and Juan Nicasio (3.44 SIERA) have performed well this season and are both 24-years-old or younger, and even if they took some time to develop, Jimenez’s deal remained exceptionally cheap through 2014. With Jorge de la Rosa coming back from Tommy John surgery next season, I’m somewhat perplexed why the Rockies felt the need to sell Ubaldo so soon.

If I was the Rockies, I wouldn’t have made this trade without ensuring Cleveland included at least one of their top positional prospects. The Rockies have Tulo and CarGo, but outside of those two, their offense has some holes going forward. Todd Helton is getting old (although he’s still hitting fine), and the Rockies’ next best position players are Chris Ianetta, Seth Smith, and Dexter Fowler. They have few position prospects on the way up, so the addition of a player like Jason Kipnis would have been a huge boost of youth to their squad.

But again, this is the great part about transactions: everyone is entitled to their opinion. I’m more of a conservative guy than the Rockies’ front office, apparently, but that might simply be the result of too many years following the Rays. I place a high value on ace pitchers that are signed to team-friendly deals like Ubaldo Jimenez; even if he gets hurt or slumps to only a 2.0 WAR pitcher, he would still be a bargain. I may be overvaluing his contract, though, and underrating the possibility he gets hurt.

However this deal works out in the end, I have to applaud the Rockies’ front office for having the guts to pull it off. This was a wild, risky move that they made, but hey, sometimes it pays to take on risk. And it certainly made the trade deadline a heck of a lot of fun for the rest of us to follow.




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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.


34 Responses to “Deadline Recap: Against The Ubaldo Jimenez Trade”

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  1. fantasystud1305 says:

    Couldn’t agree more w/ this analysis. Giving up an ace for three guys who one day might be as good as the ace you just traded? Not something that I would do, even given the Rockies current circumstances.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      3 guys who COMBINED might be as good as your ace … that you currently have … under a team-friendly contract.

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    • chuckb says:

      The only thing that makes sense is that the Rockies are really fearful of his velocity drop and are concerned about his likelihood of injury. They know his medical records and history better than anyone. Maybe that explains it. Otherwise, there’s no reason to think that the Rockies couldn’t win in each of the next 3 years that he was under contract.

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    • Garrett says:

      Windows.

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  2. Mr. wOBAto says:

    When I learned there was no position player of consequence in this trade, I thought it was a decent deal for the Rockies but for the life of me I have no idea why they did it.

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  3. CircleChange11 says:

    But here’s what I can’t get around: why would you trade your ace starter for three pitching prospects?

    A: They think there’s something wrong with Ubaldo.

    After having 4, 5, 6 WAR seasons … he’s fallen to ~3 WAR during his 4th consecutive season of ~200+ IP seasons. Pitchers are increasingly rare in their ability to put up 200 IP season after 200 IP season.

    I’m not convinced he’s hurt or due to be hurt or off or whatever. The difference in his season comes down to HR/9, HR/FB, and LOB%. At his career norms, he’d likely be performing at the 5 WAR rate, which is outstanding. In his current contract, that’s awesomely awesome.

    ——————————

    One thing that you’ve done, and I appreciate it, is showing where the prospects are in the Top 100 list. It’s one thing to say “Organization traded away its top two prospects for Player Y”. Well that could be anything from a steal for team A to a steal for Team B.

    EVERY organization has a top prospect, that doesn’t mean however that they’re all top prospects. Zack Duke was PIT’s #1 pitcher for some years, but he wasn’t a “#1 pitcher”, ifyaknowwhatimean?

    White is #47, Pomeranz is #61. That’s pretty far from both being in the top 10 or top 20.

    ————————————-

    From the article you linked to …

    but had he stayed in Colorado for much longer, it’s likely that he would have gotten hurt.

    The history of the Rockies is proof. Since the team started play in 1993, no Rockies pitcher has thrown three 200-plus inning seasons in a row. Jimenez came the closest, but just missed by throwing 198 frames in 2008.

    I like the “No Rockies pitcher has thrown more than three 200 IP seasons in a row”, followed by Jimenez’s 198, 218, 221. I think we can give it to him.

    It is interesting about high altitude affecting recovery.

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    • kirakillers says:

      They were (White and Pomeranz) #47 and #61 BEFORE the season started. Now things are a little different: Pomeranz is #14 according BA midseason list and White would probably be in the top 50 if he were eligible. Anyway, I like the trade for Cleveland even though Colorado also received a nice package.

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    • IvanGrushenko says:

      “Pitchers are increasingly rare in their ability to put up 200 IP season after 200 IP season.”

      Is this really true? Was it easier to put up 5 straight 200+IP seasons, 10, 20 or 60 year ago? Does a pitcher having pitched 3 straight 200+ IP seasons make him less likely to continue doing so?

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Well, 50 years ago, 200 IP would have been 2/3′s of a season for a starting pitcher.

        It is an interesting question though, and I’ve never examined the scenario over decades … just observed the stats and recent trends.

        What makes it difficult is we’re talking about 200 IP seasons in 2010 and two decades ago they were throwing 260 IP seasons, and two decades before that it was 300 IP seasons.

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      • Basil Ganglia says:

        Context is also important. Many pitchers from two or three generations back have indicated that there were usually two or three batters in any given lineup where they didn’t need to exert themselves as much.

        Also pitchers today apparently throw harder and with more movement on the ball, which likely translates to greater levels of stress buildup.

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    • Paul says:

      “I think we can give it to him.” I just love this, and it’s a great point.

      I agree that they either think he is hurt, or will be hurt. I don’t like the trade for the Rockies either. They could have at least taken Cord Phelps given their less than stellar options at 3B/2B in the high minors. Plus, just given the team friendly contract I don’t think the two big arms are much of a return.

      I surmised that the Rockies think Ubaldo’s increased use of the splitter would hurt him, but I understand from a commenter in another thread that White’s out pitch is a split. Interesting. Maybe they are taking the 198 inning analysis seriously and that’s the extent of it. Or they are just looking at the velo being down a bit.

      However, it they’re wrong, and the down velo is something like what Lincecum went through last year as he was reworking his arsenal, and he comes out next year as a more complete pitcher going into his age 28 year, this will be a real disaster. Pomeranz/White would need to really exceed expectations in that case.

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  4. Chris says:

    The Indians weren’t going to deal either Chisenhall or Kipnis and have no impact fielding prospects other than those two to deal. Weglarz has been awful this year, and people seem to be low on Phelps which left Washington as the lone top 10 prospect left, and he’s been hurt, is in low A and not performing well so far on the season.

    Really, outside of pitching, the Indians didn’t have much to give. Pomeranz could be the next Lester, White is recovering from injury but is MLB ready and has been solid at every level he’s pitched at. Gardner has been less than stellar this year, but has also been horrifically unlucky, and McBride gives them depth at a position where they need it.

    This deal wasn’t all that bad.

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    • Paul says:

      The next Lester is really over the top. Have not heard anything close to that strong of a comp even from the scouts that really like him. Could be they both prove the doubters wrong, but both of those guys have the scouting community really split. There was a strong sentiment that White is a bullpen guy even after his strong year last year. I don’t thin that’s the case any longer, but I don’t get the impression that the consensus has either guy at more than a number 3. Lester is not a number 3.

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  5. Ja4ed says:

    “the Rockies’ next best position players are Chris Ianetta, Seth Smith, and Dexter Fowler. They have few position prospects on the way up”

    An awful slap in the face to Charlie Blackmon. Cistulli is probably, at this moment, on his way to beat you up.

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  6. cpebbles says:

    There hasn’t been enough attention paid to the drop in Jimenez’s swinging strike percentage. His K rate hasn’t dropped with his velocity, but it probably should have. I think the Rockies were smart to go running as soon as he put up a strong stretch of pitching, though I’m not a huge fan of the players they got back.

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  7. jim says:

    ubaldo’s plate discipline and batted ball profiles suggest far more trouble than a simple ‘velocity drop’ does

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  8. PiratesBreak500 says:

    I’m going to go against the grain and say that I like this trade for the Rockies. They’re not in it this year, and what’s to say that enough will change for them to be in it next year? Even if Jiminez was beastly and had a 7 WAR season next year, they’d still be behind the Giants and DBacks.
    Ownership said when they signed the CarGo extention that they had a core, but they would have to produce out of their system to be a contender. They’d essentially decided to lock in their two immense talents, and in exchange bank on producing a supporting cast. Sure, Ubaldo is a fantastic pitcher, and really cost effective fore 2 more years. But if they thought they couldn’t compete next year…why not maximize on his current trade value, and grab some more prospects? If Pomeranz is 3/4 as good as Ubaldo, they have 3 major league minimum years of him, don’t they come out ahead? These guys don’t have to be as good as Ubaldo, and even if 1 is, and the others flame out, they’re still coming out ahead in the cost controlled talent section.

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    • Felonius_Monk says:

      They could definitely compete next year. The Giants continue to mortgage the future for rentals and are just one Lincecum or MadBum blown elbow away from being a potential also-ran in that division. The D’backs have over-achieved this year and although they’ve got a nice core, I can’t see them being much more than a true talent .500-.550 team next year, even if everything breaks right. They don’t have a ton of talent to come up, and unless they expand their payroll a bit they’re awfully reliant on Hudson and Kennedy continuing to pitch like aces.

      The Padres are a year or two from being competitive, and who knows what sort of team the Dodgers can field when all the salary machinations have shaken down. Basically the NLW is looking simultaneously the weakest and most wide-open division in baseball in 2012.

      The Rocks have one genuine top-10 player in all of baseball in Tulo, and a pretty good second wheel in CarGo. I believe Ianetta, Helton, Fowler and Smith are all back next year and all project in the 2-3 WAR bracket. You only need to add a couple of shrewd free-agency signings to turn that position corps into an above-average group of players; even if there’s very little money to spend a couple of buy-low, bounceback candidate-type acquisitons in the infield could make that a decent lineup.

      In the rotation, Cook might be gone but they’ve otherwise basically got as good a rotation as they had on their flukey run to the world series. DeLa Rosa, Nicasia and Chacin all project as slightly above-average guys next year, and Jason Hammel is fine as a 5th starter. With Ubaldo at the front of that rotation they don’t look too far behind the Giants as the 2nd best pitching staff in the NLW (although it’s true that they lose a couple of good relief arms next year). All in all, a strange year to sell a cost-controlled #1/2 starter for prospects. I’d say, if anything, their best window is in the next two years – not 3 or 4 years from now.

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  9. PiratesBreak500 says:

    Of course, I have no choice but to believe this after seeing so many Pirates shipped out in successive years. But I seriously do think the Rockies made the right decision, even if they didn’t think Jiminez was going to get hurt.

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  10. Hurtlocker says:

    One year ago this guy was the next Sandy Koufax, a pitcher that made it look easy. It is hard to remember when a pitcher had a better first half, even though he dropped off markedly at the end. (still 3rd in the Cy Young vote)
    Then the team deals the guy, with a friendly contract no less, for prospects???
    Smells fishy to me, can you say Tommy John three times fast??

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  11. Josh says:

    Pet Peeve: Trading is “addictive” rather than “addicting”

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  12. Luke says:

    This trade is a lot of fun to debate, and as a Rockies fan I believe that they got the better end of the deal. Ubaldo is billed here as a “mental midget”, and despite having incredible stuff when he was at his best last year, he never even resembled the competitive fire you see out of true aces i.e. Verlander, King Felix, Nolan Ryan, even a Jon Lester et al.

    Additionally, Rockies management tends to play the “small/mid-market” card as an excuse to why they can’t chase big name free agents. The talk is always about “Todd & the kids”, or “Generation ‘R’” with the guys coming through their farm system, and that being the way they will compete with the big boys. However, besides Tulo, Holliday and Ubaldo, their youth movement has been a spectacular failure. The Rockies have been through a littany of catchers, and get to add names like Stewart, Ianetta, Fowler, Greg Reynolds (fmr #1 pick), Barmes, Ey Jr. and Franklin Morales to the list of prospect flameouts.

    The real story here is that they claim not to have money, but tell fans that their talent development is critical to their success as well as superior to other teams. They preach patience, patience, patience. . . yet, when the time comes, the vast majority of their prospects are no good. Somehow through all of this though, GM Dan O’Dowd keeps his job. THAT is what I don’t understand.

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    • Andrew says:

      It really is disgusting when you think about how awful this franchise is at drafting and developing talent. Go back and look at our first round picks, and there is one good player in there, and he came from a very strong draft class (Tulo). Then you see picks like:

      Casey Weathers over Heyward and Bumgarner. What idiots draft a reliever 8th overall?

      Greg Reynolds over Longoria, Kershaw, Lincecum, Stubbs, Scherzer, and Morrow. If not for Stewart, the Rockies would’ve taken Longoria, but instead chose a low K guy (never higher than 6.2 K/9 in the minors) with a low 90s fastball instead of going BPA.

      And then other first rounders that have accomplished nothing, like Chris Nelson, Ian Stewart, and all the way back to Matt Harrington in 2000. Jeff Francis was the only other first rounder that didn’t completely suck. Jury is still out on Friedrich, Matzek, Parker, and Anderson, but so far none look too promising.

      You would think an organization that has to build through the draft would do a little bit better job of scouting. It’s amazing they ever made the playoffs, really. After Tulo and Helton, the best player they ever drafted was a 7th round pick named Matt Holliday.

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      • ddriver80 says:

        I completely understand your pain as a Jays fan from the Ricchardi Era.

        Russ Adams over Kazmir, Swisher, Hamels, Cain,
        Ricky Romero over Tulo, McCutcheon, Bruce, Ellsbury (not looking as bad as it used to though)

        But at least JP dug up some talent in the late rounds

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      • aaron says:

        JP Riccardi did an excellent job in the draft every year…you can literally look at any gm who has ever been a part of a draft and make lists like this of players “they should have drafted”. It doesn’t prove anything.

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      • bc says:

        ddriver80 – If the best example you come up with for a draft bust with which to malign a GM is a top-of-the-rotation starter headed to his second straight 4 WAR season averaging 8K/9innings, then I would suggest you have a chip on your shoulder.

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      • ddriver80 says:

        JP Riccardi was awful. I would have brought up other horrible picks of his as well, David Purcey, Zach Jackson, Kevin Ahrens, James Paxton (couldn’t get signed).

        And those are just first rounders.

        Blue Jays fans know the awful at drafting that JP was.

        Aaron, you are just flat wrong. JP went with the safe pick every time, the system was completely devoid of talent while JP was around. All the Jays talent came through trade.

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  13. ddriver80 says:

    Ubaldo Jiminez got an Ace’s Ransom.

    He isn’t an ace.

    Unless you consider like Ricky Romero an ace.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I’m not going to argue whether he’s an ace or not, because there’s no clear criteria for that label.

      What I will say is that he’s put up 20 WAR in 850 IP. So, he’s basically put up ~20 WAR in 4.5 seasons … or he’s pitched at an “All-Star Level” for 4.5 seasons.

      Like the KG commercial said, “Call it what you want, but call it.”

      The guy has been a very valuable pitcher. His 20 WAR for $4M results in $76M in surplus value. He’s projected to put up another 8-10 WAR over the next 2 seasons while earning $10M … so another $22-30M in surplus value. The guy is approaching Lincecum numbers in terms of surplus value.

      For an organization that is throwing out mega-contract extension for guys currently under team control for multiple seasons, a guy providing surplus value like this is a must.

      Again, call him whatever you want, an ace, a mental midget, whatever … all that matters is his performance .. and he has pitched very, very well … and for peanuts (comparatively).

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  14. Sean says:

    In all fairness, those of you seeing Pomeranz at #61and White at #47 in the BA prospect ranking, Ubaldo was never higher than #82 on those lists so I wouldn’t jump the gun on those ranking this early.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      What was said was that I noticed the top 20 are generally safe picks to be productive MLBers … but after that it seems to be all over the place.

      My main point was that saying “the team’s top two prospects” doesn’t really tell you much. They could be outstanding prospects or just so-so prospects. Teams vary widely in the quality of their prospects.

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  15. Joey B says:

    Don’t forget that what was an asset, the 3rd year option, is now a liability. It rates as beyond suspicion that the Rox would drop a control year, the Indians pick up an option liability, and nothing is wrong.

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