|Ubaldo is Mr. F.|
For the Orioles. their regretful commodity is Ubaldo Jimenez. A pitcher who teams were unwilling to commit money to two and a half years ago because his mechanics are temporal, an annual salary requirement over 10 MM, and a lost draft pick. He was the final pitcher the Orioles targeted in an offseason full of pitchers they were targeting. I christened him Plan F as a designation of how far down the list we knew he was and as a statement that this was highly unlikely to work out. Jimenez' first season was a mess. His second season was adequate. His third season so far rivals many of the largest tire fires. There is still one more season to go at 13.5 MM.
For the Padres, they were saddled with Melvin Upton, a once promising star player who over the past year experienced a modest performance revival. Upton is a true left fielder, but is capable of playing center field and adequate in right field. Over the past year, Upton has punished left handed pitching and has performed slightly below average against right handers. He has amassed an fWAR of 3 over that time period with 1.9 this year (for comparison, Chris Davis sitis at 2.2). Even with an annual salary of 16.45 MM that lasts through next season, he seems like an expensive but useful player. Particularly, if the end result is a highly capable second division outfielder for 2.95 MM in 2017. Upton is really what some people around Baltimore think Joey Rickard is.
Allegedly, the deal was:
Ubaldo Jimenez, Garrett Cleavinger, and Jhon Peluffo
for Melvin Upton
Garrett Cleavinger is a left handed pitcher who was selected out of Oregon in the third round of last year's draft. Cleavinger has the promise of a backend bullpen arm, but has some considerable hurdles in his way. He works in the low 90s though has creeped into the mid-90s at times. He also employs a hard slider that is highly effective when he actually gets it across the plate. His main issue is that there is inconsistency in the quality of his pitches as well as a general inability to locate them. Promoted mid-season to Frederick, batters appeared to be forcing him deeper into counts and exposing his weaknesses. The hope is that he could be a late inning complement to Mychal Givens, but he will need considerably more developmental time.
Jhon Peluffo is a 19 year old who has been turning heads in the Gulf Coast League. The Orioles are not a major player on the international amateur market and typically play in the low cost fringes. Occasionally, this strategy of spending less than any other team in baseball on this type of talent still winds up being successful. When the Orioles signed the 16 year old in March 2014, he was not considered a valuable prospect. Valuable 16 year olds sign within a few years of the yearly active date of July 2nd. Just within Colombia, Peluffo was considered somewhere around the ninth or tenth best pitching prospect that year with players like David Ayala (Reds), Erick Julio (Rockies) and Erling Moreno (Blue Jays) receiving far more attention and money.
After two decent yet unspectacular seasons in the Dominican Summer League, Peluffo, who is 6'3 with a considerable frame that has yet to fill out, broke out in the Gulf Coast League. I was told that he works around 90 with a good breaking ball and that Peluffo will emerge from the farm wasteland to be recognized as a top five arm in the organization's minors. I was then reminded that the Orioles system is quite barren and that Peluffo would be a ten to fifteen arm in a top rated farm below what Hansel Rodriguez was. Beyond that, I do not know much about Peluffo. He appears like your typical low minors pitcher with current success and a lot of projection.
Beyond that there was some talk of money exchanging hands, but that has been a pretty loose and vague rumor. Some love the oldies and are playing the vinyl Peter Angelos is Cheap even though the current perspective in front offices is that the Orioles are desperate and that they are willing to take on more money than most mid-season. That makes this analysis a bit uncertain. Also uncertain is that it simply is difficult to get good information on Peluffo or someone among my circle who both is qualified and has seen him pitch.
With all that in mind, I would have leaned in favor of this deal happening. A Hyun Soo Kim / Melvin Upton platoon in left field would have been remarkable. Kim has a 147/-22 wRC+ RHP/LHP split. Meanwhile, Upton carries a 85/143 wRC+ RHP/LHP split (2015's split was 102/124). A leftfielder with a 140 wRC+ would be equivalent to fielding someone like Kris Bryant or Yoenis Cespedes out there. To get that kind of production out of less than 10 MM in cost would be impressive. However, that was simply not done and Upton now plays for the Blue Jays.
This leads us to consideration of the Three Outcomes for Ubaldo Jimenez:
1. Designation for Assignment
The argument to release Jimenez has nothing to do with cost. Cost is considered sunk into him and that simply is that. The true argument for his release is that there is no one appreciably better as a fifth starter or as the last man in the bullpen. Rumor mill suggests that Peter Angelos is willing to let Jimenez go free and swallow the rest of the contract. There is a growing feeling in the industry that Jimenez will not be an Oriole on August 1st. This is due to Jimenez' struggles with command and control for all of his pitches. He was described to me as a AA starting pitcher with no option in the pen as his fastball simply is not fast or deceptive enough to be overly relied on when his struggles with the strike zone deepen his counts.
However, the other lingering question is what else do the Orioles have. Tillman and Gausman have been solid members of the starting rotation. Dylan Bundy has shown glimpses of being a strong middle of the rotation starter. Yovani Gallardo unimpressively is putting out some adequacy and profiles at this point in his career as a solid 5th starter on a playoff team, a guy who gets left off post-season rosters typically. Then your fifth starter options consist of Jimenez, Vance Worley, Mike Wright, and Tyler Wilson.
Amongst that final rotation slot group is an abundance of underwhelming talent. Wright has been the darling of several organizations who are enamored with his velocity and think a few personalized tweaks can turn him into a solid MLB pitcher or, at worst, find him as a 7th or 8th inning arm. Tyler Wilson lives on the edge of effectiveness and is no stranger to good and poor games, unlikely to ever see much positive consistency. Worley exists in a similar space. You can dream on a few of his innings, but those dreams tend to dissipate into a cruel reality. Jimenez fits the same bill, but with such an issue with control that the pen is not an option. This hurts the club because it cannot do what teams generally do when all they have to offer at a slot is trash, which is riding the hot hand. Jimenez simply cannot be stored in the pen for a start or two.
2. Every Fifth Day, Praying for a Miracle
Based on his many ups and downs in the past few seasons, projection models had to cover their bases with Jimenez. His stretch of respectability last year resulted in him being perceived by the models as having a 25-30% chance of delivering above average performances over the course of the entire season. After a horrific first half, the model I use revised its estimate to about a 2% chance of a resurrection to above average performance. Worley, Wright, and Wilson all sit in the 5-15% range. For this year alone, it is difficult to argue that Jimenez should remain. Indeed, if he was sitting on a walk year, he would be gone.
He is not on a walk year though and another season is left on his contract. A season that will probably see him as a one in ten chance of being a positive pitcher, which would be in line with the W crew vying for that last rotation slot. With that in mind, it makes a little sense to keep him around simply in order to have him available next Spring Training. It is a meager hope.
3. Find Another Melvin
The third option is to find another bloated contract and get something that is at least of some use to the Orioles. Who would that be? I am unsure. Upton's deal fit well for what the Orioles need to shore up: outfield defense and another strong bat against left handers. Other options, like Upton's former teammate Matt Kemp, simply fall into a category of pointlessness for the club by providing little defensive value and a bat that comes and goes. Maybe something is out there, but I am unsure what.
So what Now?
I lean slightly to the idea that the Orioles lost out on an opportunity with Melvin Upton, assuming the money difference was not much, Peluffo is not some wunderkind, and Upton would be cool with remaining as a platoon player. Moving on from that situation, I frankly am at a loss to see another trade opportunity appearing. I think the club is unable to ride a hot hand with one of their other options, so the only option I see is the difficult one of letting him go to be the beautiful butterfly he could be. Jimenez would be a useful piece in Spring Training next year, but is that worth suffering through four starts in August before rosters expand? Maybe it is. Maybe four horrible starts is not a major trauma against the club's post season hopes. I think it might well be.