July 31, 2011
The Tribe Add a Chief UPDATED
The Indians have stockpiled plenty of pitching in trades over the past two seasons, but before today, they’d offloaded two more aces than they’d acquired; we wrote in BP2011 that “[Mark] Shapiro managed to acquire 19 young pitchers in those 16 roster-clearing trades without acquiring one who projects as a rotation anchor.” After taking his struggles against southpaws to a more manageable level this season, Justin Masterson might yet meet that description, but Jimenez has already spent a couple seasons among the elite, despite his current league-average ERA.
With just 2.5 games separating them from Detroit at the top of the weak AL Central, the Indians—who dealt CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee to contenders in 2008 and 2009, respectively—found themselves in the unfamiliar position of requiring rearmament, and they acted decisively to land the best pitcher on the market. Although they paid a high price in prospects, they got a front-of-the-rotation starter who should serve them well at a team-friendly rate for the next two seasons, regardless of how their unanticipated push for the playoffs in 2011 ends.
Jimenez’s 15-1 start to 2010, highlighted by an April no-hitter and an ERA that hovered below 1.00 until mid-June, may have given rise to unrealistic expectations, since that infinitesimal ERA was built on the back of a .233 BABIP. Over the rest of the season, Jimenez posted a 4.15 ERA and a .300 BABIP, perhaps a better reflection of his true talent than his otherworldly kickoff to the campaign. In 2011, Jimenez has followed the opposite trajectory, as he endured a miserable April and May (which might have had something to do with a lacerated cuticle that cost him 18 DL days) before subsequently righting the ship.
Those expecting a post-Coors altitude adjustment to produce a drastic decline in Ubaldo’s ERA might want to temper their expectations: In roughly 850 career innings, the righty has shown almost no home/away split, posting a 3.67 ERA at Coors and a combined 3.65 figure everywhere else. In addition, the 27-year-old does come with a couple warning signs. A high ground-ball rate served Jimenez well earlier in his Colorado career, but he’s induced fewer grounders in each of the past three seasons. After routinely sitting at 96 mph in prior years, he’s also shown significantly reduced velocity this season, averaging a still-impressive 94. Couple that decline with a delivery that’s anything but smooth, and there is some risk that Jimenez’s best days could be behind him. Cost-controlled aces rarely change hands in their prime, so Jimenez’s availability might suggest that the Rockies aren’t optimistic about his future.
As a result of the trade, Jimenez can void his $8 million team option for 2014, but he’s still Cleveland’s property for under $10 million over the next two seasons combined. As Kevin observed, the Indians have put a lot on the line by promoting prospects and acquiring Jimenez and Kosuke Fukudome in an attempt to capitalize on their unexpectedly advanced position on the win curve, and if their shiny new ace doesn’t earn them a playoff spot this season or age well thereafter, this deal could look a whole lot worse for them down the road. —Ben Lindbergh
Acquired RHP Joe Gardner, RHP Matt McBride, RHP Alex White, and a PTBNL from the Indians for RHP Ubaldo Jimenez. [7/30]
The big prize in the deal is Pomeranz, the first college pitcher selected in last year's draft, although his inclusion in the deal cannot be announced until August 16 due to the Pete Incaviglia rule. He's a pure power package at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds with a low- to mid-90s fastball and a devastating curve, and that combination is made all the more effective by his left-handedness. Pomeranz dominated the Carolina League in his pro debut, putting up a 1.87 ERA in 15 starts while striking out 95 in 77 innings. Double-A did little to slow him down; he had three impressive outings for Akron before the deal. As good as Pomeranz is, he's not perfect—he's blowing away hitters primarily off those two pitches, while his changeup is both below average and rarely seen. He can be at least a third starter with a good shot at an upgrade should he refine a third pitch, and could be ready at some point in 2012.
In White, the Rockies receive the Indians' first-round pick from 2009. He reached the big leagues in his second full season before being sidelined by a mysterious finger injury, which conjured up memories of Adam Miller, the former top arm in the system who saw his career destroyed by problems with his digits. When healthy, White has a low-90s fastball, but his bread and butter is an 87-91 mph splitter with nasty movement. He also has a plus changeup. White has consistently been a hard prospect to evaluate, because while he pitched well at every level of the minors, there isn’t much history to go on as far as split/change combinations go, and there are still scouts who seem him as a reliever down the road. They're a minority, and White will surely remain in the rotation, likely a third or fourth starter.
A second-round pick in 2006, McBride was an intriguing prospect when he was a catcher, but he's not that anymore. While he's a good hitter with a career batting line of .282/.345/.467, it's not enough stick as a legitimate first-base prospect. He'll certainly get some major-league at-bats in his career, but it's unlikely he’ll ever get an extended stay in the bigs.
Gardner made some noise in 2010 with a 2.75 ERA at Low- and High-A to go with an outstanding ground-ball percentage, but he's struggling in his first test at the upper levels with a 4.99 ERA in 19 starts. As good as his sinker is, Gardner doesn't have a pitch to miss bats, though his ability to keep the ball out of the air gives him relief possibilities in Coors.
To say the Indians have gone all-in on the 2011 season is putting it lightly. Their top two position prospects, Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis, are in the big leagues, while their top two pitching prospects entering the year, Pomeranz and White, are Colorado-bound. Last month's first-round pick, high school shortstop Francisco Lindor, will become the top prospect in the system the moment he signs, but after that the system is suddenly a very dry well. —Kevin Goldstein
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus.