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Jimenez Makes Playoffs More Realistic in the Cleve

When authors for, and readers of, FanGraphs gathered at Goodyear Park in Arizona this past March for a panel that included Chris Antonetti, it was apparent that, while the Cleveland GM had legitimate optimism regarding the club’s future, his expectations for the 2010 season were more muted.

Nor would anyone begrudge him this: the team’s two most well-compensated players (Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner), each contending with lingering injuries, had combined for fewer than two wins in 2010. Hitting prodigy and 2010-callup Carlos Santana‘s season had ended abruptly with a home-plate collision and subsequent knee surgery (particularly discouraging for a catcher); and the No. 1 starter for the team, Fausto Carmona, was probably more of a No. 3 or 4 starter for a contender. Really, Shin-Soo Choo appeared to be the only thing which one might call an “impact player.”

That, less than five months later, Antonetti and Co. would be making a deadline deal with a view towards securing a postseason berth, seemed improbable.

In fact, that’s precisely what’s happended, as, last night, Cleveland acquired Colorado ace Ubaldo Jimenez from the Rockies in exchange for minor-league pitchers Joe Gardner, Drew Pomeranz, and Alex White and catcher/first base-type Matt McBride.

Eric Seidman will cover the deal from the Rockies’ perspective shortly, so for now let’s look at what the trade means for the Indians.

The Trade in a Vacuum
The trade for Jimenez is a bit peculiar so far as deadline deals go in that Jimenez is neither expensive, nor in the final year of his contract. Rather, it appears as though the Rockies have used the righty’s value to address a dearth of top-end pitching prospects within the organization.

Because the trade voids the 2014 club option that was part of the extension Jimenez signed with Colorado in January of 2009, Cleveland has two more years of contol over Jimenez: 2012 at $4.2M and 2013 (a club option) at $5.75M. Assuming that Jimenez is worth about five wins per season over that span, he’s probably worth something like $55M or $60M to the club — or, say, about $45M in surplus value. Of course, that’s not even to mention the remaining value over the $2.8M for which Jimenez is signed this year. Let’s make it an even $50M, how about.

Given their respective places on Baseball America’s preseason top-100 prospect list, Pomeranz and White are probably worth something close to $35M together in surplus value. If we say that Joseph Gardner is among the top-100 pitching prospects in the minors (I don’t know that he is), that makes him worth about $10M or $12M. Whatever McBride is worth, it’s probably neither more than $10M nor less than zero, making the values being exchanged here something close to equal.* These are, quite obviously, generic assignations, but still valuable as a reference point, I think.

*That’s using Victor Wang’s work excellent work, as digested by Sky Kalkman. Which, one aside on that: I don’t know how inflation works using that. If anyone knows, feel free to comment below. Otherwise, I’ll try to contact Sky about it.

The Trade in Light of the Playoffs
As Eno Sarris noted with regard to Hunter Pence‘s arrival in Philadelphia, a postseason berth is worth a lot to an organization — somewhere, generally, between $25-$30 million. If the Cleveland front office believes that the acquisiton of Jimenez greatly increases their likelihood of making the postseason, then the trade is worth more to the club than the generic valuation above suggests.

The Trade on the Field
As of Sunday morning, Cleveland has a 53-51 record and sits 1.5 games back of Detroit in the AL Central. Per Cool Standings, the Indians have a 26.4% chance of making the playoffs; per our bitter, bitter rivals, just a 6.8% chance.

With 58 games remaining, Jimenez is likely to make 11 or 12 starts — 11 or 12 starts that a No. 5-type (a David Huff or Mitch Talbot) won’t be making. A six-win player — which Jimenez was in 2009-10 — would be worth about two wins above replacement over that stretch. The question, of course, is whether Jimenez is a six-win player this moment. His season numbers (21 GS, 123.0 IP, 8.63 K/9, 3.73 BB/9, 47.0 GB%, 3.56 xFIP, 2.4 WAR) suggest that he’s something short of that. His recent performance (3.23 and 2.61 xFIPs in June and July, respectively) suggest that he’s very much the same pitcher.

If that’s the case, if Jimenez is Jimenez, we can probably say that the upside in terms of wins gained from this trade down the stretch is +2.0 — which is to say that there’s a good chance that the Indians, over the remainder of their schedule, will win two games that they wouldn’t have otherwise. It also means that, in the event that Cleveland does make the postseason, that they’ll have one of the most formidable one-two punches (Jimenez and Justin Masterson) among their American League foes.

The question still remains, though, as to how many games that hypothetical Indians team would have won, as the most recent iteration of Paul Swydan’s excellent Power Rankings saw them as only an 80-win team per WAR, while the Tigers were worth almost 87 wins by that same measure (projected over 162 games, obviously). Furthermore, Detroit has addressed some weaknesses of late, adding Wilson Betemit (from Kansas City), Doug Fister (from Seattle), and Carlos Guillen (from the DL). So, if Cleveland has closed some kind of gap, it’s likely the two-game “WAR” gap that likely would have existed between the teams over the remainder of the season. That leaves the “actual” gap of 1.5 games in the standings. If Cleveland is to make the postseason, some combination of chance and further work from Antonetti will have to play a role.