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