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Thoughts on the Ubaldo Jimenez trade

July 31, 2011
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Ubaldo Jimenez (Photo: AP)
Here are some quick thoughts on the Indians trade last night getting right-handed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez from the Colorado Rockies for prospects left-handed pitcher Drew Pomeranz, right-handed pitcher Alex White, right-handed pitcher Joe Gardner, and first baseman/outfielder Matt McBride.

What the Indians got

- There are a lot of people either all for the deal or completely against it, and it is usually because those for or against the trade are non-prospect fans or prospect fans. On one side you have those people who are not into prospects saying that such a high percentage of prospects flame out, so this is a deal well worth taking a gamble on for a sure thing. On the other side you have the prospect fans worried that the Indians gave up two potential front-of-the-rotation pitchers in a deal for one pitcher.

- I’m a prospect guy, but I have to say that in this case, as long as Jimenez is healthy and checks out, I am with the non-prospect fans on this one. Anytime you have a chance to pickup not only a proven front of the rotation pitcher but one who is under control for another few seasons and cost effective, you have to make the move. Sure, Pomeranz and White *could* end up as good as Jimenez down the road, but the big thing is Jimenez is doing it now, has proven it over time, and is still young, cheap, and controlled.

- You also have to consider what mode the Indians are in. Are they rebuilding, building, or contending? If they were rebuilding, then this deal would make no sense at all, but they are not rebuilding. The question is what mode are they currently in? Building or contending? They are actually doing a little bit of both right now, so a deal like this makes sense as Jimenez gives them a chance to contend and win now and he is another building block for a potential run at a World Series the next few years.

- One thing to consider is the Indians window for contention is now with the current set of players like Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Rafael Perez, and Joe Smith who are all free agents after 2012 (Sizemore) or 2013 (the rest). Also Justin Masterson and Chris Perez are free agents after the 2014 season. Jimenez will also coincidentally be eligible for free agency after the 2013 season, so the Indians are taking a shot to now and the next two years to make the playoffs and do something during this current window of contention from 2011-2013 with the older group of core players on hand.

- Their postseason chances may appear slim this year, but they just set themselves up as strong contenders the rest of this season in the AL Central and in 2012 and 2013 with this deal. Yes, they need bats, something which could be addressed this offseason, but in the end the main goal is to win, and that was the focus with this trade. That makes this Jimenez deal worth it if you ask me for two “potential” big league pitchers.

- That’s the key word: “potential”. The Indians are acquiring a piece in Jimenez not just for this year but for at least the next two years to help the big league team win now. Pomeranz and White could potentially help now an beyond, but they were still unknowns. With the significant middle finger injury White suffered it is a huge red flag for him going forward. Who knows how effective he will ever be after he returns from the injury or if other injuries result from him compensating for the finger. Injuries quite often ruin the careers of “can’t miss” prospects, and there is never a guarantee a top rated pitcher will fare well when and if he gets to the big leagues. Pomeranz has made just three appearances at the Double-A level, so there is no guarantee that he will not get injured or hit a wall as he pitches more in Double-A, gets to Triple-A, and ultimately the big leagues. There are still several levels to achieve success at before he even reaches the level Jimenez already has. That’s why getting the sure thing trumps potential.

- Aside from dealing for Jimenez, I would not have been happy with a trade for any other player said to be available where we included Pomeranz and White. This includes bats such as Carlos Beltran and Hunter Pence. This was a two pitchers for one sale, and one I can live with. Two potentials for one sure thing. Now, had the Indians substituted Jason Kipnis or Lonnie Chisenhall for one of White or Pomeranz, I would have been much less excited about the deal because we would be dealing from a position of weakness (position players) than strength (pitching).

- That’s another key. The Indians are loaded with pitching in the minors. This is why making a play for Jimenez is not such a bad thing as they have the arms to adequately replace the departed Pomeranz, White, and Gardner. Now, yes, there are no other arms currently in the system like Pomeranz and White, but there are lots of guys now on the immediate horizon who can help cover up their loss. Pitchers like lefty Scott Barnes for one, a guy some scouts have said could be a “Pomeranz-lite”.

- With Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin, Carlos Carrasco, Fausto Carmona, Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, and Zach McAlliser all under control for several seasons past this one, the Indians have a very strong, deep core of starters to go with the next several years. This is why the loss of White and Pomeranz does not hurt as much. With the starting rotation seemingly strong for the next few years, it gives the organization time to develop or draft the next Pomeranz and White so they are ready in 2013 or 2014.

- Speaking of drafting and developing, two of those future stud arms could be right-handed pitcher Dillon Howard (2nd round) and left-handed pitcher Dillon Peters (20th round) from the this year’s draft. Both are unsigned, and while Howard was expected to sign, Peters was not a sure thing. After this trade it would surprise me to see the Indians do what it takes to ensure they get both of them into the system to replenish some of the top level pitching talent they lost.

What the Indians gave up

- The big loss in the deal is Pomeranz, a pitcher who has come on like gangbusters this year and been everything the Indians hoped he would be when they took him #5 overall in last year’s draft. He was the unquestioned #1 prospect in the Indians system at the time of the trade, and for many evaluators is a Top 20 prospect in all of baseball. Losing a prospect of that caliber is something that is hard to sit with, especially being that he comes from the left side with power stuff with the potential to be a dominating front of the rotation pitcher. He looked to be on the path to being a big league option at some point next year, and a very successful pitcher for the Indians for a long time. I believe he will have a very good, long Major League career.

- Alex White is no doubt a very talented pitcher who has unbelievable makeup and is tough. Indians fans saw all of that firsthand when he was called up in May and made a few appearances before being sidelined with the finger injury. There is no doubt in my mind that prior to the finger injury he would have been a good number two or three starter for years to come for the Indians. With his fastball, splitter and slider combination he has the goods.

- That all said about White, I would be very nervous if I were the Rockies. The finger injury he suffered is an uncommon one in baseball, and is the same one which ruined former Indians top prospect Adam Miller’s career. Several surgeries and three years later Miller is making a miraculous comeback this season. Time will tell on White if the finger injury was serious or just a minor blip, but anytime a pitcher gets a significant injury to their hand, arm or shoulder I am concerned.

- It should be noted that when Miller initially was hurt he went through almost exactly the same rehab program where he was back pitching in a few months. But then he developed an elbow issue, something that may have come about because of concerns pitching with the finger. This is what could happen with White, and why the Indians are smart to maybe trade a potentially damaged goods pitcher now at peak value before anything else happens.

- I know there was legitimate concern about White’s finger, and knowing that scouts and other teams read the papers and such the Indians have been openly putting out his rehab progress a lot the last month. It is no coincidence that he went to Akron on Saturday for a rehab outing the day before the trade deadline. If teams balked about a deal not knowing he was healthy, by sending him on a rehab outing it was a way to “show” he was healthy and making great progress. So even though White was in fact on a rehab assignment and on his way back to the Indians at some point, it definitely looks like the Indians played some poker there with his true health status.

- Joe Gardner is a solid pitching prospect that the Rockies are getting in the deal, but he is not the higher level prospect he was claimed to be at the start of the season when he was included in several Top 10 lists. He has dropped significantly (I’d put him #25-30 now), but he is still a workhorse with a very good sinker he consistently runs in the low 90s and has touched 95 MPH and throws a high percentage of the time. His problem has been that both secondary offerings his slider and changeup are below average pitches, which is what has hurt him some this year when facing more talented hitters at the Double-A level.

- Gardner was a hot prospect at this time last year because of his high groundball and strikeout rates, but he has struggled this year in his first taste of Double-A. He sported a very good 3.8 BB/9 and 8.7 K/9 rate last season in Single-A, but that has changed significantly this season where he has a 4.3 BB/9 and 5.5 K/9 this year. On top of that he also held batters to a .197 BAA and had a 3.29 groundball rate (GO/AO), which is what made him very exciting with his ability to miss bats and get players to pound the ball on the ground. But this season hitters are batting .287 off of him and he has dipped to a 1.91 GO/AO. While the Rockies will surely continue to develop him as a starter, all of this points to his struggles with being a once pitch pitcher as a hard sinker can only take you so far, which is why he will likely end up in the bullpen if he makes the big leagues.

- Matt McBride was just inventory to the organization, something that was clearly on display this year when they assigned him to Double-A Akron to start the season and after a midseason promotion to Triple-A Columbus he was recently sent back to Akron. That kind of movement for a 26-year old prospect was a clear sign that he was not a priority prospect for the organization and was viewed more as organizational depth. He has good power and some versatility to play left field, first base and catcher, but he is considered a below average defender in the outfield.

- The Rockies may explore playing McBride at catcher again, a position he played prior to shoulder surgery at the end of 2007, but everything I have heard say his catching days are behind him. He may get a cup of coffee in the big leagues, especially now considering he was included in a major deal, but is not expected to stick around long. He is a guy who could have a nice career and play a long time bouncing back and forth between Triple-A and the big leagues.

Final thoughts

- As they often say though, to get something you have to give up something. Initially I will admit, I was upset about losing Pomeranz for any player. But if you look at the deal objectively, if Pomeranz ends up being anything close to what Jimenez has been as a Major League pitcher we would all have been elated. The Indians are trading the potential of Pomeranz in the future for a guy doing it now. That’s a tradeoff that helps the Indians now. A team looking to win right now.

- I know that some of us hate to deal prospects because we often get attached to them since we follow them and grow fond of what they could be. This is the tough part for me as I get to know a lot of these guys not just by looking at box scores and from conversations with organizational personnel and scouts, but also personally as well. I’ve gotten to know all of these players over the years, especially McBride who is a class guy. All are great young mean on and off the field, and I wish them nothing but the best.

- Overall, the only two pieces to be concerned about losing in this deal are Pomeranz and White. Gardner and McBride are more filler in the trade with limited Major League futures. So the question you have to ask is this: are Pomeranz and White worth Jimenez? For me, the chance to shore up the rotation with a front of the rotation pitcher is a no-brainer to win now and for the next few years. With Pomeranz and White not being guarantees going forward, I think a two-for-one sale to acquire a sure thing makes perfect sense. But that’s just me, as I am sure others value all four players the Indians gave up in this deal differently.

- Whether you like the trade or not, I think one thing all Indians fans will agree on is it is nice to see the Indians be a buyer for once at the trade deadline, or in any trade for that matter. Quite often they are the one trading the Ubaldo Jimenez’s of the world for prospects, but this time they are the ones making a move to win now rather than for the future. This is the biggest trade deadline deal in their history as far as them getting a Major League player in return. Kudos to Antonetti and company for having the guts to risk some of their future for a chance to win now.

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his latest book the 2011 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More is available for purchase for $20.95 to customers in the US (shipping and handling extra).

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