What does the Jimenez deal mean for the Orioles ?
The Orioles’ agreement with Ubaldo Jimenez (pending a physical) is a substantial commitment for the organization, a four-year, $50-million pact that represents the longest deal they’ve ever given to a free agent starter.
While this will be discussed in the coming weeks in more depth, I wanted to opine a little bit about what his arrival means for the Orioles.
For starters, it signifies that the organization wants to win this year, a much-needed major move that helps the team’s rotation get significantly stronger. There’s a window of success right now for the Orioles, which is something that Duquette has acknowledged, and it’s going to be difficult -and pricey- to keep it intact. The O’s are trying to make the most of their lineup, which is one of the best in baseball, and a defense that is coming off a record-setting year. The key, as always, will be the pitching.
Jimenez, who went 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA in 32 starts for the Indians last season, will be immediately inserted into the rotation. Likely right behind Chris Tillman. Besides those two, Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez are locks, assuming they are both healthy, for two more spots and it was thought that Bud Norris was a solid candidate as well. But, Jimenez’s addition makes them a little more interesting.
Norris could very well still be part of the team’s rotation, but there’s a lot of competition for that fifth spot. Lefty Zach Britton is out of options so the team will try to find ways to keep him if he has a good spring, possibly in the bullpen. Norris is another potential bullpen guy -possibly even in the back end– if he doesn’t make the rotation. Jimenez’s acquisition almost assures top pitching prospect Kevin Gausman will start the year at Triple-A Norfolk and makes it a much tougher road for guys like Brian Matusz, who figures to be one of the lefties in the ‘pen, and Steve Johnson, who can still be sent to the Minor Leagues, to crack the rotation. New Oriole Suk-min Yoon is another guy who could come into play, though it’s hard to see him cracking the starting five out of camp.
The organization obviously sees Gausman as a starter long-term and there’s also the timeline for fellow pitching prospect Dylan Bundy, who could be a Major League option by June. Things could get more interesting as the season progresses.
That, of course, is assuming everyone is healthy. Gonzalez is currently dealing with minor back spasms and Chen is coming off offseason season to remove bone spurs in his knee, neither of which are expected to have any carryover into Grapefruit League games. But it’s worth monitoring.
Jimenez isn’t a savior and he’s had trouble with consistency. But he’s coming off a solid stretch in September going 4-0 with a 1.09 ERA in six September outings (all meaningful games with Cleveland in a tight Wild Card race) and he makes the competition for the fifth rotation spot that much harder. It could also strengthen the bullpen, depending on who the odd man out is. And given the Orioles recent pitching woes, that’s a really good thing.
Do they have enough in them to go out and make another move, say for a Kendrys Morales? Manager Buck Showalter said today he would prefer an every day DH and cautioned reporters that some of the better deals happen late in the spring. Stay tuned.