SARASOTA, Fla. -- Let’s not get too carried away. Free agent pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez is not going to be mistaken for Clayton Kershaw any time soon, but the 30-year-old right-hander who agreed to a four-year deal with the Orioles on Monday is the significant pitching acquisition that Dan Duquette has been trying to pull off for the last four months.
There is some risk involved, of course. The Orioles have been reluctant in the past to sign any free agent pitcher for more than three years, so there could be some recriminations and negative ramifications if this reported $48 million deal does not pay off with a couple of playoff appearances. But it’s about time the front office rolled the dice on a solid starter to shore up a largely unproven rotation.
The deal also will require the Orioles to give up their first pick in the June draft, a concept that has heretofore been anathema to an organization that hopes to build a perennial contender largely through internal player development, but Duquette obviously felt that the club’s minor league pitching depth had improved to the point that he could bypass the opportunity to get another young arm with the 17th overall pick.
That’s a tough choice, but when you look at the odds of any mid-first-round pick actually reaching the major leagues and having a solid career, this deal was a gamble worth taking. Jimenez has had some misfortune after establishing himself as a front-line starter in Colorado – including a 17-loss season in Cleveland two years ago -- but he bounced back last year to go 13-9 with a top-ten ERA (3.30).
If he can pick up where he left off with the Indians, he’ll fit right into the No. 2 slot in the Orioles rotation, behind 16-game winner Chris Tillman. He’ll give the club the experienced veteran that manager Buck Showalter and Duquette have been talking about all winter, and one who is not in his mid-to-late 30s like the other names that had been falling off the board over the past few weeks.
The price may sound high, but it is in line with the market for a pitcher with a plus-.500 career record (82-75) and a sub-4.00 career ERA (3.92).
The way things stack up right now, the Orioles rotation would include Tillman, Jimenez, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris and leave the club with very strong minor league depth. Barring a spring injury to one of those five, the deal would allow the Orioles to park top prospect Kevin Gausman at Triple-A until the front office decides that it’s time for him to stay in the major leagues for good.
The Orioles already had announced a pitching acquisition on Monday, finalizing a three-year deal with Korean star Suk-min Yoon. It isn’t clear just where he fits into the pitching staff, but he also improves the team’s overall depth and sends another message that the the Orioles are serious about continuing to pursue top Asian talent – even if they aren’t going to be in the hunt for the most expensive players coming over from the Pacific Rim.
Does this save an offseason that had become a source of great frustration to Orioles fans? Certainly, it has to change the popular perception that Orioles owner Peter Angelos is not willing to spend big money to improve the team. The Jimenez contract, when finalized, will boost the Orioles payroll close to $100 million, which is a representative amount for a team that does not play in a top-15 media market.
The Orioles are never going to compete on an equal economic level with the Yankees and Red Sox, but they have to make some moves like this to show they are not willing to stand by while those two franchises spend their way into the playoffs every year.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, “The Schmuck Stops Here” at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts “The Week in Review” on Friday mornings at 9 on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.
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