07 August 2014

How Should the Orioles Make Room for Ubaldo Jimenez?


Ubaldo Jimenez has been on the disabled list for about a month after injuring his ankle, and he will be activated soon. Apparently the Orioles are still undecided on how to use him, although the options appear limited: Jimenez will either rejoin the rotation (either a five- or six-man staff), or he'll be relegated to the bullpen for a while.

Jimenez's last start came on July 5. In 18 starts and 99.2 innings before getting hurt, he had a 4.52 ERA, was striking out 7.95 batters per nine innings, and was walking 5.42 batters per nine (the highest among MLB starters with more than 90 innings pitched). Jimenez likely isn't this bad, but the five other Orioles' starting pitchers -- Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, and Miguel Gonzalez -- have pitched well lately and are making Buck Showalter's decision on what to do difficult. (Of the five, Gonzalez seems to be the odd man out, if the O's do stick with the traditional rotation.) Showalter and the O's have surely been mulling this decision for a while -- perhaps that's why, if you believe the rumors, the O's were shopping Gonzalez (possibly to the Red Sox in a potential package for Jon Lester) before the trade deadline.

In the last 30 days, the O's rotation has the fifth best ERA in the majors (3.34). (They also rank 18th in FIP and 20th in xFIP.) In that span, O's starters haven't been doing anything particularly well other than simply not allowing runs. They're 24th in K/9, 11th in BB/9, t-19th in HR/9, 23rd in GB%, and don't have an absurdly low BABIP -- though they have stranded the highest percentage of runners (78.7%). Certainly a chunk of the staff's overall improvement can be explained by a superb defense and particularly Caleb Joseph's pitch-framing and baserunner-eliminating skills.

So what should the Orioles do? I'm not overly fond of a six-man rotation, so I don't think moving Gonzalez to the bullpen would be the worst option. I also doubt the O's want to use Jimenez in the bullpen in the first year of his four-year contract, though winning should be the chief concern. The O's already have three other left-handed relievers in the bullpen (Zach Britton, Andrew Miller, and Brian Matusz), so it doesn't necessarily matter that Gonzalez, if he replaces T.J. McFarland as the long man, is right-handed.

My guess is that the Orioles option McFarland. Gonzalez could also be optioned. I never thought the O's would option Ryan Webb to Norfolk, so I guess anything is fair game at this point.

Photo via Keith Allison

30 comments:

David said...

Refresh my memory, what would be the result of optioning Ubaldo? He would go on waivers and then what? Nobody would claim him. If someone did, that's even better.

Jon Shepherd said...

Ubaldo cannot be optioned. He can be put on revocable waivers or outright waivers.

David said...

Thanks. And at that point another team would either claim him or the Orioles could move him to AAA if he cleared? What I'm getting at is that hes the worst of the 6 starting pitchers and will continue to be until he gets his command in order. Unless it's impossible to do so, why don't they send him to AAA?

Matt Kremnitzer said...

That's not how it works. He can't be sent to the minors now that he's healthy.

Jon Shepherd said...

If Ubaldo passes through revocable waivers, he then can either be pulled back and kept on the 25 man roster while also enabling the team to trade him in August or he can be designated for assignment. The Orioles can choose to send him to Norfolk where he can accept the assignment and pull in his salary or he can refuse the assignment forcing the team to keep him on the 25 man roster or terminating his contract but still paying him.

Jon Shepherd said...

In other words...it would require some sort of special agreement for him to accept being in Norfolk.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Thanks, Jon. That's more of what I was getting at. And for the money he's making, it's not going to happen.

David said...

Thanks for clearing this up guys. I think what's clear when examining these waiver rules is that the MLBPA is pretty good at their job.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

This conversation says a lot about how awful that Jimenez contract looks right now. But things can change...

Musicturtle said...

This is a tough situation for the team, and it will test Buck's management ability to keep everyone on the same page. I think that McFarland is optioned and Gonzalez goes to the bullpen. Although like you said Matt, I wouldn't rule out anything, including a 6 man rotation since some of the guys seem to perform better with more rest.

Mark Levenstein said...

Again,it's not fair to say the O's have three additional lefties in the bullpen. Britton is the closer. A specialist. It doesn't matter which arm he throws with, he's got his job. That said it wouldn't surprise me if they option TJ and move Gonzalez into the long man role. He can definitely do that job. But if they want to keep him on a regular pitching schedule, in case Ubaldo really flails in his next 2-3 starts, then optioning Gonzalez and keeping McFarland makes sense.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Technically Matusz is the only reliever in the bullpen being used as a left-handed specialist. Miller isn't viewed that way, and McFarland is the long man. But fair enough. My point was more that it doesn't matter if the long man is right- or left-handed, but I probably could have worded that better.

Jon Shepherd said...

I think Chen is most suited for the pen with his prior experiences in Japan showing great improvement in his pitches. That said, I think the differences between MiGo and Chen are for the most part not large, so MiGo to the pen saves you some money down the road in arbitration.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Yeah, that could be true. Also, Norris was previously talked about as someone who could eventually be used in a relief role. But if they don't use a 6-man staff, they have to "demote" someone. And that guy is probably Gonzalez.

Pat Holden said...

Maybe they'll option this Gausman kid back to Aberdeen.

Musicturtle said...

Well I guess Miggy made his statement tonight on whether he belongs in the rotation or not. I think(actually hope) this start for Jimenez on Saturday is a trial run. If he does well, Buck figures it out, if not, keep him out of the rotation.

All we need is a lead after 6 innings. Miller, O'Day, Britton will bring it home.

Albert Nistico said...

Gonzalez's splits are better than McFarland's and he has options so sending Miguel to the bullpen is what I would like to see. We have been very fortunate with our Rule 5 picks, aside from Almanzar so the production we have gotten saves the arms in the bullpen. However, someone has to go down and Ubaldo needs an opportunity to prove he is worth the money he's being paid and Buck always gives his players that chance. I would like to see him get a few starts, that way if he doesn't perform by that time rosters expand and adjustments can be made. The last thing I want to see is a six man rotation or sending Gaussman down, I love watching him pitch and he has the mentality to push this team during a playoff run.

Anonymous said...

Given the L/R ERA splits of Gonzalez and Jimenez, I still think that the Orioles should consider the possibility of using them as a "relay team." After all, if they could be expected to each pitch for 4-5 innings every five games, you should be able to live with having one fewer pitcher in the bullpen.

Anonymous said...

This is probably a dumb question but I'm asking anyway. Why is a 6 man rotation such a bad thing?

Matt Kremnitzer said...

It's not a dumb question. If modern bullpens weren't built around specialists and 1-2 inning relievers, then it wouldn't be such a problem. But having 6 guys who wouldn't necessarily be able to pitch out of the bullpen instead of 5 would limit Showalter's bullpen usage skills.

I'm also not sure of what the point of wedging in another decent start when, besides Gausman at times, the O's have a collection of decent/similar starters. Maybe spacing out guys like Gonzalez and Chen would be an OK idea, but again, it would limit the bullpen.

Albert Nistico said...

I would assume that pitching coaches and managers would hope to get their starters in a comfortable groove heading into the last quarter of the season and giving them five days rest instead of four might throw them off rhythm. Just look at Gaussman and the impact inconsistency had on him before settling in these last few starts.

Jesse said...

Send down Flaherty or Schoop, keep the bullpen stocked full of fresh arms, 6 man rotation. Let Flaherty or Schoop get every day swings down in Norfolk, then bring him back in 3 weeks when rosters expand.

Matt Perez said...

Gausman has thrown 107 innings this year. My understanding is that he's on an inning count for about 160. That gives him another 9 starts or about until the end of the season.

Don't you have to put him in the pen or the minors and save him for the playoffs at this point?

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Maybe. I'm not sure how wise it would be to save anyone for the playoffs until the O's actually clinch, or are very close to doing so.

Anonymous said...

Call me crazy... but why not try the following to keep a 5-man rotation with six guys?

* The #5 and #6 guys would take turns filling the last spot of the rotation. In other words, the rotation order would alternate between 1-2-3-4-5 and 1-2-3-4-6.

* When either starter gets skipped, he would be available for the bullpen.

If this is a possibility, alternating between Gausman and Jimenez might be one way to limit Gausman's innings.

Erik said...

Matt Perez is onto something with Gausman. Earl Weaver used to put young pitchers into the pen all the time to put less stress on them. Also, Gausman is a two-pitch pitcher for the moment, so multiple times through a lineup is probably not his best scenario.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Gausman has been just fine.

Anonymous said...

I thought that a player could be outrighted to the minors once without his consent.

Jon Shepherd said...

Not if a player logged enough service time.

Erik said...

This is why a franchise that has limited resources should not sign players with a particular reputation for inconsistency to free agent contracts. The heartburn is not worth it. (The positive is the big swings between good/bad seasons increase the chance of a big 'plus' year) The same is true for signing injury-prone players. A franchise with limited resources cannot have tens of millions of dollars sitting on the DL all the time.

The problem is that until Baltimore is in the playoff running year-after-year, it will be hard to get the best quality free agents in our price range to sign on. Until then, the Ubaldos are what we get.