The Orioles finally made a necessary splash Monday, agreeing to terms with free-agent starter Ubaldo Jimenez on a four-year, $48 million that gives the club a veteran starter to bolster a substandard rotation.
There are some things to like about the deal, starting with the fact that the Orioles actually spent some money to improve a roster that has a lot of talent in the everyday lineup, including 2013 All-Stars Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy. Jimenez, when he is right, has tantalizing talent, which he showed in the second half of last season when he helped pitch the Cleveland Indians into the playoffs.
After whiffing on other free-agent pitchers such as A.J. Burnett and Bronson Arroyo, the Orioles, if they wanted to be taken seriously in 2014, had to take a chance on Jimenez, who received the largest contract the club has ever given a free-agent pitcher (though that's not saying much). They also had to cough up their first-round draft pick -- a bummer for sure, but not a huge deal considering it was No. 17.
Still, this is a pretty big gamble for a club that doesn't like to give free-agent pitchers contracts beyond three years and that will soon have to pony up mega bucks to keep Davis and cornerstone catcher Matt Wieters -- both Scott Boras clients -- in Baltimore for the long term.
For starters, Jimenez can be as enigmatic as they come. On some days, he is borderline unhittable, keeping batters off balance by commanding his fastball and fooling them with a sneaky slider. But other days, he is erratic. In 2012, when Jimenez led the American League in losses, he led the league in wild pitches and was second in walks allowed.
The could be a major problem in the American League East, where patient teams like the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees will stand with their bats on their shoulders and let Jimenez run up his pitch count and unravel when he is having an off game.
In eight career appearances against those two AL East powerhouses, Jimenez has allowed 39 earned runs in 40 innings -- that's an average of five innings per start -- and surrendered 23 walks. He is 2-5 all-time in those games.
He has fared a little better against the Toronto Blue Jays (he has a 4.61 career ERA against them) and much better against the Tampa Bay Rays (2.73 career ERA), and you know firsthand how he has performed in limited action against the Orioles, as he is 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA in two starts against them.
It could be telling that the Indians reportedly had no interest in bringing back Jimenez, whom they traded four players to the Colorado Rockies to acquire in 2011. He tweaked his elongated delivery and was one of baseball's best pitchers in the second half of the 2013 season, finally living up to the hype late in his third season in Cleveland.
The Orioles are hoping that they can keep Jimenez on track and that his strong second half of 2013 is a sign of more good things to come, with Jimenez more often resembling the pitcher who dominated National League hitters early in his career in Colorado.
This is no doubt a gamble -- and fans are understandably excited to see that Dan Duquette and company are finally rolling the dice at a high-stakes table -- though every second-tier or third-tier starter comes with question marks.
The Orioles had to go for it. Prized pitching prospects Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are not ready to carry the rotation. Hardy and likely Nick Markakis will be free agents after the 2014 season, and Judgment Day with Boras over Davis and Wieters looms a year later, if not sooner. Their window is open now, and if Jimenez is as advertised, they will be in better position to compete for a playoff spot.