Most teams wouldn’t see opportunity in a 1 and 1/3 inning spring training debut that yielded five earned runs, two walks and two hit by pitches as an opportunity. Of course, only one team has Ray Searage.
After a strong 2013 campaign for the Indians, the owner of the above pitching line, Ubaldo Jimenez, signed a 4 yr/$50M dollar deal with Baltimore. While he wasn’t terrible, he failed to live up to expectations by posting a 4.81 ERA in only 125 innings of work. Following a less than stellar debut that landed him in mop up duty by the end of the season, the media will have you on a short leash. When you get roughed up in your Grapefruit opener that will make it even shorter. Talking heads seem to suggest he might return to the pen again this year making him not only the highest paid pitcher in Orioles franchise history, but the highest paid middle reliever as well. The O’s likely have five guys more reliable than him in Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris and Miguel Gonzalez. That’s not even counting the potential return of Dylan Bundy to the mix.
As they say, one man’s trash, that’s another man’s come up. Enter the Pirates who know a thing or two about shopping at the Grapefruit League thrift shop, by trading for and rebuilding out-of-favor starters two of the last three offseasons. The results have been impressive with the acquired pitchers eating a combined 401 innings, 468 strikeouts, and 8.4 fWAR for around $13.5 million in salary and a couple of low upside, low A prospects. That’s not even counting what Vance Worley could still do as a Pirate. The other trade acquisition, AJ Burnett, liked the Buccos’ magic so much he ate $4 million just to come back and get another try.
Pitching coach Ray Searage is beginning to develop a reputation of restoring pitchers to their former value. On top of the trade acquisitions, Searage and the Pirates’ front office also have the Francisco Liriano and Edison Volquez successes as feathers in their cap. Both came to the organization as inconsistent starters whose stuff far and away surpassed their results. Both earned eight figure per year salaries this past offseason.
Jimenez seems like the best of both groups. He’s a once-elite starting pitcher who does not look like he has a clear place with his current club, like Vanimal and Burnett, and the issues he’s had seem in line with the issues of Volquez and Liriano. His problems are problems the Pirates have tackled in the past. At his best, Jimenez walked over a batter less per nine innings and had a ground ball rate up over 50%. That’s not to say he pitched to contact as he still managed to get over eight strikeouts per nine. He generated the weak stuff while missing bats. He managed six straight seasons with 175 or more innings, topping the 200 mark twice.
A trade could be a good fit for both clubs. The Pirates are still a solid #3 away from an elite or even top rotation. An in-form Jimenez would get them there and then some. The Orioles are a small market team playing in a big market division. They simply cannot afford to piss away salary on a player who isn’t working.
It’s gotten to a point where we just expect Searage to fix everything that comes his way. However, it’s important to note that there is some risk involved. Orioles might be willing to be patient with Jimenez, but they might also be interested in salvaging some of the $38.75 million still owed on the contract. In order to get the Pirates or anyone else to take him off their hands, they’d need to eat some of that salary, maybe even around half. Even then, they still shouldn’t expect much of a return in the way of prospects. Maybe the Pirates could send back one of the Stevens (Tarpley or Breault) acquired in the Travis Snider deal? Of course, any trade would take some salary off their plate and give them more flexibility moving forward.
When you’re good at something, you should always look for opportunities to play to your strength. The Pirates are good at reclaiming lost pitchers. Jimenez represents another opportunity to do just that. The Pirates need to look to find value everywhere while the Orioles need to be shrewd with their spending. This could be a deal of two small markets looking out for each other as the risk would be spread over two franchises.