21 February 2014

Arrivals and Departures (02/21/14): Jimenez Was Plan F

Hudson was Plan A
Two months have passed since our last Arrivals and Departures column as we having been waiting for something truly big to drop out of the sky.  Some thought we were overly optimistic, but there was nearly 20 MM left to be spent and we were given some awareness that it would be spent.  The only twist we had was that our information was leaning on Ervin Santana being an Oriole as opposed to Ubaldo Jimenez.  It was a twist on my end that seems fitting as a part of the "plan".  Let us recount the various pieces of this plan.

When the season ended, the plan was reported to be to sign Tim Hudson to serve as the staff veteran presence in place of Jason Hammel and Scott Feldman.  However, Hudson signed with the Giants in mid-November.  Plan B reportedly became wooing Scott Kazmir to the club.  The Oakland Athletics wound up winning that one with Kazmir being inked to a 2 year deal in early December.  Plan C was then to perhaps focus on a rehab player like Gavin Floyd along with a top flight closer like Grant Balfour, but Floyd signed with the Braves mid-December and Balfour had a weird issue involving his physical after he came to terms with the Orioles.  At this point, the club was reported as being interested once more in spending the rest of their surplus payroll on a big ticket starter.  That starter was Bronson Arroyo.  He wound up signing with the Diamondbacks on similar terms expressing a desire to pitch in the National League as well as a desire to avoid any physicals in Baltimore.  Plan E though then showed up when A.J. Burnett decided that he would pitch.  The Orioles were heavily involved (or not depending on who and when you believe), but he signed a comfortable deal with the Phillies.  Plan F appears to have been Jimenez.  This also matches Duquette's words in how the pitchers they have targeted were targeted by a half dozen other teams and the club simply lost out to others.  It may well be that this plan was somewhere below F given there was a lot of heat to rumors on pitchers like Bartolo Colon.

Apparently, going with what was at best Plan F is what some writers and fans refer to this team being in it to win it.  I would suggest though that the team had a payroll amount of 100 MM to fulfill and finally wound up with a way to achieve that payroll.  Yes, sometimes you do fall into a wonderfully, lucky situation that was completely not your intent.  The 2012 season kind of springs to mind.  That said, I doubt whether Ubaldo Jimenez is a prime example of serendipity.  The Indians could have signed him to a similar deal without a loss of a draft pick (which is worth about 20 MM), but long ago determined that they had no interest in investing long term in Jimenez due to the high maintenance of his mechanics.  That should be telling.  If it is not telling, then maybe Jimenez being the fifth or sixth or seventh invitation to the dance might be of some concern.

230 Fifth Hot Dog with Caviar
From my own perspective, Jimenez is not the right move.  Of all of these approaches the Orioles took, the only one that I really supported was going after a low tier rehab project.  If the team was in burn money mode, then I understood a one or two year deal for an aged gentleman pitcher. Over this off-season, I have been formulating a hypothetical approach to free agency that I refer to as hot dogs and caviar.  What that means is that in free agency, you gather a bounty of low level talent (hot dogs) along with recognized elite talent (caviar).  What you ignore is the middle where you pay 10-15 MM a year for a 2 win player (um, an executive Kobe-style burger).  Instead, you rely on your drafting and developmental system to find those guys in the middle.  This way you pay for prime performance while taking a probability approach with the draft and fringe guys to beef up the middle performance levels.

This off season, the caviar consisted of Masahiro Tanaka, Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin Soo Choo, and Brian McCann.  The Orioles passed on all of those players and never even inquired on them as far as we know.  Instead, they were quite active on the low end market.  In the past couple months, that market has yielded the team players like Liam Hendriks, Suk-min Yoon, Michael Almanzar, and David Lough being added to the 40 man roster.  In all likelihood, these players will not be exceptional, but that is the grace of acquiring these kinds of players.  Everyone agrees on them being unexceptional, meaning they cost little to acquire and little to dispose of.  Similar to previous commodities like Miguel Gonzalez and Nate McLouth, these guys might actually be useful.

However, with Jimenez, the team decided to move on the territory between the caviar and the hot dogs.  They decided to pay for a mid-level player.  At 4 years and around 50 MM, the cost is appropriate.  Jimienez costs the team a draft pick that was worth about 20 MM and his projected performance over the life of the contract was suggested at 75 MM.  He is capable of being a 2 slot pitcher, but has rarely ever been a 2 slot pitcher.  At worst, he is a backend arm, which the team has several.  In the end, that is where I disagree with the move.  Jimenez is an average pitcher capable of very good and very bad things within the same season.  He is not exceptional.  Exceptional players are not upended by a qualifying offer.  Yes, he is better than Bud Norris and probably better than Miguel Gonzalez, but I remain unconvinced that this expenditure has done anything to change the fortune of this ball club.  He simply is not a transformative talent.

Also, think beyond his numbers for a second.  Jimenez was with the Indians for a couple seasons.  They worked through his high maintenance mechanics and got him on a roll into the 2013 playoffs.  This off season, they saw his price drop down to a level equivalent to Edwin Jackson, Scott Feldman, and Bronson Arroyo.  They could sign him without losing a draft pick at a cost perhaps slightly above what the Orioles paid for Jimenez.  Instead, it has been reported that the Indians had not engaged in negotiations with Jimenez in weeks and simply no longer had any interest in him.  Maybe the Orioles have things figured out better than the Indians do.  That is the hope in Baltimore.  Or maybe the team has just figured out how to deftly achieve absolute zero in terms of expectations, which makes any notable investment appear as a much greater coup.

Anyway, here are the differences in the 40 man roster since the last time we posted in December:

Ubaldo Jimenez RHP
Troy Patton LHP restricted
Suk-min Yoon RHP
Michael Almanzar 3B
David Lough OF

Cord Phelps 2B
Danny Valencia 3B

List of Depot Articles:
Ubaldo Jimenez
Running Out of Options; Jimenez Makes Sense
Suk-min Yoon
Interview with Yonhap News' Jee-ho Yoo on Suk-min Yoon
Relievers Paid the Same (includes brief scouty report on Yoon)
Michael Almanzar
The Low Down on the Orioles Rule 5 Selections (evaluator report of Almanzar)
David Lough
Can David Lough be a Cheap Version of Nate McLouth
The Illusion of a Competitive Spring
Lough et al. Replacing McLouth et al.
Cord Phelps
Comparing Cord Phelps and Ryan Flaherty 

The Orioles' 40 man roster with options:

Click to Enlarge


Chito Martinez said...

I'm just happy they went with Plan F if it kept them from implementing Plan G (Santana).

The intriguing thing about Jimenez is his capacity for such high-level performance. He seems like the only guy in this mid-tier group of pitchers that truly has shown the potential to be an ace.

Now, the question is: Will the O's be able to harness Ubaldo's talent? This is where the rubber meets the road as far as the quality of Wallace et al. is concerned. I am not holding my breath, and I think your point about Cleveland's lack of interest even at this "bargain" price is worrisome. If Mickey Callaway got him straightened out for the second half, why don't they think he can do it going forward?

Jeremy said...

If this post is an attempt to make an argument against the Jimenez signing, it fails IMO. The whole thing reads like how-dare-anyone-be-happy sour grapes, and is made up mostly of distortions (Jimenez is "Plan F" only because you chose to present it that way) and one-sided speculation (eg, it's a stretch to say that the Indians clearly decided Jimenez was not worth it b/c of his mechanics issues). You're entitled to an opinion, and I won't sit here and say I am 100% confident Jimenez will take the O's over the top, but this comes across as an amateurish and not very persuasive complaining session, as if you just have some kind of special aloof wisdom that elevates your opinion over every other O's fan and journalist. I enjoy much of your work and that of others on CD, but I have to say I find this post disappointing.

Jon Shepherd said...

Well, the take home from this post is that the Orioles had other plans and wound up with this. What one hopes from a front office is a plan and being able to execute that plan. I think you would be hard pressed to conclude they executed the plan here. Second, it is fairly obvious that Santana is not highly wanted. He lasted until Spring Training and good pitchers do not get tangled up in Qualifying Offer positions.

Additionally, I do know people connected who point directly at Jimenez' mechanics as being the issue. I was told he was a hard worker and a great teammate, but that his issues at repeating his delivery were enough of a concern that they felt very uncomfortable offering him anything more than a one year offer.

Take it for what you will.

HenryW said...

Eh, I think the Red Sox last year are a pretty good counterpoint to your "hot dogs and caviar" (stars and scrubs by another name?) style of team-building. They feasted on middle-tier free agents last offseason.

Also, what the heck was up with the tone of this article? Totally loopy and weird. I agree with Jeremy in that I usually really enjoy the writing here but this was light on actual analysis and comes across as pretty goofy. It did seem like something you would read in The Sun, so maybe that's a compliment.

Jon Shepherd said...

For more quantitative analysis, read the links included in the article.

This post is a process argument, which is a common feature on this site. Quantitative analysis does not exactly fit in this specific piece.

I am not sure what gives the loopy and weird vibe. Maybe it is a reflection of the peculiar path the front office has taken this off season.

Jim D. said...

I do not agree with the premise that the Orioles front office should be criticized for not being able to "execute the plan". With that logic, if the Orioles had done whatever it took to outbid the Giants for Hudson, it would have been a success, if Hudson was their plan A. Also, I disagree with the implied criticism of the Orioles for not attempting to sign any of the "elite" players. Masahiro Tanaka, Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin Soo Choo, and Brian McCann all signed contracts that will likely end up on lists of "bad contracts" in a couple years.