|No Orioles fan will be upset if this is the last appearance Ubaldo Jimenez makes for the Norfolk Tides. Photo courtesy of Christopher McCain / Norfolk Tides.|
Trade Jimenez to the Atlanta Braves for B.J. Upton. Really.
WHAT??? I'm sure that's what all the readers of this post are thinking. B.J. Upton? The poster child for failed free-agent signings? We don't want him on the Orioles; why help the Braves out? And those are legitimately initial reactions. On further thought, however, the trade does have some positives, as we'll see.
Before I look at the trade in details, I should emphasize that I do not advocate trading Jimenez for Upton straight-up, without balancing the salaries involved. Upton is owed $46.5 million over the next three seasons; Jimenez only $38.75. I would insist that the Braves pay the Orioles the difference so that, essentially, the Orioles would be paying $38.75 million for three seasons of B.J. Upton; the Braves paying $46.5 million for three seasons of Ubaldo Jimenez ($38.75 million to Jimenez, the rest to the Orioles.) This trade leaves the Orioles and the Braves in the same position they are in now, except that the Orioles have B.J. Upton and the Braves have Ubaldo Jimenez.
Such a trade is plausible. The Braves are willing, if not positively eager, to move Upton. Earlier this season, there were rumors that the Braves were trying to move Upton to the Cubs for Edwin Jackson, who was owed less than Jimenez ($22 million over two years) but was also substantially worse. It is true that B.J. Upton was the regular center fielder for the Braves in 2014, and the Braves have dealt Jason Heyward. However, if the Braves keep Justin Upton, they could move Evan Gattis from catcher to left field and play prospect Christian Bethancourt at catcher. They also have several marginal-to-adequate prospects who spent much of 2014 in AAA - Jose Constanza, Todd Cunningham, Joey Terdoslavich. While none of them are great prospects, the Braves could play some combination of those players if they decide B.J. Upton is a poor risk.
And there's a reasonable argument that such an exchange would help both sides:
- Despite our hopes and dreams, the money the Orioles have committed to Ubaldo Jimenez is committed; the Orioles can't trade Jimenez for anything other than another team's bad contract.I think that pretty much goes without saying; I can't think of any trade in which an expensive player on a multi-year contract, coming off a bad season, was traded for a quality player with a reasonable contract. So the $38.75 million owed to Jimenez is sunk; the Orioles will have to pay that money to Ubaldo or to someone else.
- Ubaldo Jimenez is a poor risk for the Orioles.
- Ubaldo Jimenez is not a very good pitcher. In the four seasons since Jimenez' outstanding 2010 with Colorado, he's had one good season (115 ERA+ in 2013); one injury-plagued and bad season (2011), and two bad, full seasons (2012 and 2014.) And a pitcher is responsible for only one thing; preventing runs. If Jimenez doesn't prevent runs, he is useless.
- Ubaldo Jimenez is not necessary for the Orioles. Right now, Jimenez would be their sixth starter. It's true that a sixth starter is almost a necessity for a team, because it's very unlikely that the first five starters will be effective and healthy all season. But even without Jimenez, the Orioles have rotation protection. Although Mike Wright struggled for four months at Norfolk, he seemed to right himself in August and is close to being ready for a big-league job. Tyler Wilson pitched quite well at AA and AAA in 2014 and is also nearly ready. Wright and Wilson could easily start 2015 at Norfolk, awaiting a call-up if the Orioles need a starting pitcher.
- Ubaldo Jimenez is probably more likely to pitch well with the Braves than the Orioles.
- While the American League East isn't the division it was a couple of years ago, it's still probably easier to pitch in the National League than the American League. It's surprising but true - in every one of his seasons in the National League, Jimenez had an ERA+ better than 100. There's still no designated hitter in the National League, which provides a safety valve for pitchers (despite the occasional Madison Bumgarner.)
- Turner Field is a better pitcher's park than Camden Yards. Oriole Park at Camden Yards lowered run production by about 3% in 2014, but that's a one-year fluke; historically, Oriole Park increased run production by about 3%. Turner Field had a similar fluke year in 2012, but otherwise has been essentially a run-neutral park.
- The Braves have had some success with seemingly washed-up pitchers. In 2014, Aaron Harang had his third above-average season since 2007. In 2013, after the Orioles released Freddy Garcia, the Braves got three good starts out of him.
- Although B.J. Upton was terrible overall, with the Braves, it's still possible that the Orioles could get something out of him.
- Upton's problems in Atlanta may be circumstantial. He may have been pressing to live up to his contract. He may have been pressing because he was playing with his younger and better brother Justin. He may simply have been exceptionally negatively affected by Turner Field. It's certainly possible that a different set of circumstances may rejuvenate his career.
- In the Showalter era, the Orioles have gotten value from players as far gone as B.J. Upton. Before 2014, Delmon Young was a disappointing veteran signed to a minor-league contract. Nate McLouth was released in mid-year after scuffling in AAA. There have also been some players who didn't recover, but there's at least a chance that that Orioles magic would rub off on B.J.
- Unlike a pitcher, there are many ways a position player can help a team win. One thing that B.J. Upton did do well in 2014 was steal bases; he stole 20 bases in 27 attempts. And, despite their success, the 2014 Orioles didn't steal a lot of bases. I hesitate to bring this up because it's seemingly out of character and I can't explain it, but B.J. Upton did accrue a .336 OBP vs. left-handed pitchers in 2014. It's possible that he could be an interesting change-of-pace option against left-handed pitchers.
- Andruw Jones, whose decline was even more complete than Upton's, did manage a couple of good bounceback years after his nadir.