The Indians made a bold move at the trade deadline in 2011, trading away multiple top prospects to acquire Ubaldo Jimenez, a 27-year-old right-hander who was viewed at the time as one of the premier pitching talents in the National League. An imposing presence with a mid-90s fastball, Jimenez had steadily improved in the seasons leading up to 2010, when he went 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA to finish third in the Cy Young voting.
Jimenez wasn't been the same guy over the first half of the 2011 season in Colorado, posting a 4.46 ERA with significantly diminished velocity, but Cleveland still jumped at the opportunity to add a potential ace in his physical prime. As it turned out, the righty's troubles only worsened after the trade. He put up a 5.10 ERA in 11 starts down the stretch while the Indians rapidly faded from contention, and then trudged through a tumultuous 2012 campaign in which he lost 17 games with a 5.40 ERA, adding a career-high 4.8 BB/9 and a career-low 7.3 K/9. In two years, Jimenez had gone from superstar to liability.
He bounced back in a major way this season, and the timing could hardly have been better for him. In his final year under contract, Jimenez went 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA, pushing his K-rate all the way back up 9.6 while showing dramatically improved control. Although his velocity dropped for a third consecutive year, his secondary stuff was as good as ever, and in the second half Jimenez looked every bit the part of a No. 1 starter, posting a 1.82 ERA and 100/27 K/BB ratio while holding opponents to a .606 OPS. He notched double-digit strikeouts in four of his last eight starts.
Why Does He Fit?
His performance this season, especially toward the end, is awfully tantalizing. That's a guy that could legitimately be called an ace -- something the Twins have mostly lacked since Johan Santana's departure. He also doesn't turn 30 until January, so in theory you're not looking at any imminent decline.
While he's had his ups and downs in terms of performance and there are questions about the condition of his arm based on draining gas, he's been able to take the mound every five days throughout his career up to this point. Jimenez has made 31-plus starts in each of his six seasons since becoming a full-time big-leaguer. Only six pitchers have made more starts since 2008.
Why Doesn't He Fit?
There are no two ways about it: Jimenez is a massive risk. Even though he was able to succeed with a 91 MPH fastball this year, his steadily declining velocity is clearly a red flag, and he's still only a year removed from being one of the worst pitchers in the league.
Considering his age, his recent performance and the state of the market, Jimenez will surely require a sizable long-term deal. The Twins might have to go above and beyond what others are offering in order to lure him to a current non-contender. As enticing as his upside is, the downside may simply be too great to justify an unprecedented financial commitment. Beyond the money, signing Jimenez would also probably cost the Twins a high draft pick, as Cleveland seems likely to make a qualifying offer.
What Will He Cost?
The Offseason Handbook
pegs his estimated contract at four years and $64 million, which coincidentally is the same guess we made on Tim Lincecum, who was profiled here on Tuesday
. Lincecum ended up inking an extension with the Giants later that day at two years and $35 million. What does that tell us about Jimenez, who is similar to Lincecum in that his velocity has declined as he's approached 30? Compared to The Freak, Jimenez would seem to offer a lower ceiling and deeper floor, but he's also coming off a much better year. Sixty-four million still looks like a reasonable guess to me.
Would you pay that for a 30-year-old who was an ace this season, but mostly a disaster in the two years preceding?