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January 2, 2014

Rumor Roundup

Ubaldo's Asking Price

by Daniel Rathman

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Padres could use Tommy John survivor Cory Luebke as a reliever
General manager Josh Byrnes has not done much to bolster his lineup this offseason, but the pitching staff has a few fresh faces.

Byrnes was among the early risers in the starter market, inking Josh Johnson to a one-year, $8 million contract on November 19 that might be heralded as the buy-low bargain of the year. He also added former Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit to the bullpen, handing him the primary setup role vacated by Luke Gregerson, who was traded to the Athletics for platoon outfielder Seth Smith. Finally, Byrnes acquired left-hander Patrick Schuster, the first-overall pick in the Rule Five draft, to compete for a specialist gig.

Despite all of those moves, Byrnes is still looking for another “arm or two” to round out the club, and he told reporters (including MLB.com’s Corey Brock) that a 2011 rookie darling might be part of the solution.

Cory Luebke, who turns 29 on March 4, has been on the shelf since April 28, 2012, prior to undergoing Tommy John surgery on May 23 of that year. Given the prolonged absence and his relatively advanced age, it’s easy to forget that the southpaw posted a 2.93 FIP and fanned 27.8 percent of the batters he faced two years ago. But Luebke did both of those things in a swingman role, amassing 139 2/3 innings over 17 starts and 29 relief appearances. If he is healthy, there should be room for him on the 2014 club, whether it’s in the rotation, out of the bullpen, or both.

There are several veteran LOOGYs still on the market, including Michael Gonzalez and fellow Tommy John returnee Eric O’Flaherty, but the Padres might struggle to find a more effective one than Luebke. The 199 arm-side batters whom Luebke has faced in the majors have combined for one home run, 13 walks, and 61 strikeouts— and his slider has produced a 28-to-1 K:BB ratio against them.

Ubaldo Jimenez’s asking price? Four years, up to $80 million
The market for top-tier starting pitchers has been slow to develop this offseason, and nearly a month after the Winter Meetings, many of the highest-priced arms are still searching for new homes. Perhaps none of them—not even Masahiro Tanaka, whose deadline to ink a major-league pact is January 24—carries as much upside or as much risk as Ubaldo Jimenez, who enjoyed a dominant second half in Cleveland.

Cleveland Plain-Dealer beat writer Paul Hoynes mentioned in his New Year’s Eve mailbag that the right-hander is (or was) hoping to cash in on his fine summertime work with a four-year hitch worth $68-80 million. That’s mid-rotation starter money for a pitcher who is just a year removed from 0.6-win work. On the other hand, Steffan Segui wrote in his scouting report that he expects Jimenez to perform at a no. 2-3 starter level over the next few years, a projection that would justify the price tag.

Jimenez, who turns 30 on January 22, declined a qualifying offer from the Indians earlier this offseason, so the team that signs him will need to cough up its highest unprotected draft pick. Former Royals righty Ervin Santana also carries the draft-pick burden, while Matt Garza—whom the Rangers acquired from the Cubs in July—does not.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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