25 November 2014

Another Option for Getting Rid of Ubaldo Jimenez

This article was developed before the Braves traded Jason Heyward, hence their trading B.J. Upton is now less likely. Nevertheless, I thought there was still some points worth exploring.

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.
Ubaldo Jimenez has been a bust. Orioles fans want to get rid of him. Recently, the Depot has examined trading Jimenez to Cleveland for Nick Swisher, who had a bad 2014 with the Indians. But if that doesn't work out, and the Orioles really want to get rid of Jimenez, here's another idea that's so crazy it just might work.

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.
I'm not saying that the Orioles should make this trade, or that it would work out brilliantly if they did make it. It's possible that B.J. Upton is through. I'm saying that as an Orioles fan, I'd be equally happy paying $38.75 million for three years of B.J. Upton as for three years of Ubaldo Jimenez; and as a Braves fan I'd be equally happy paying $46.5 million for three years of Ubaldo Jimenez as for three years of B.J. Upton. Considering that the players have failed in their current environment, this change-of-scenery trade has more upside than downside for both teams.


Eric said...

I don't know if this is still the bad feeling I have had since the Ubaldo signing was announced, but I would do this or most other trades that are relatively even like this. Like you accurately pointed out, there is no way to get a good player or good contract for Ubaldo and his bad contract. It just won't happen. Might as well find another bad contract who presents a different problem that you may be able to work with or hide like Upton. Worse comes to worse, we still have a bad contract and zero production. I trust DD and think he might be able to pull something out. then we just wait and see if we have a pleasant surprise or if nothing changed but the name on the bad contract/jersey.

Statistics Don't Lie said...

I have to agree with the article and Eric's comment too.

IMO, Jimenez is about 60% likely to have next season being similar to last season - although some chance exists he rebounds and pushes himself into #5 starter. Without such a rebound, I figure he is giving maybe $2 m. value to the team. With a rebound, maybe he provides $4-9 m. value.

I don't really know Upton very well. However, it seems likely enough that his true value for the Orioles should range from $5-12 m.

People talk as if, right now, pitching is easier to obtain than RH power. Our OF situation seems more uncertain than SP depth. I would approve if the Os could swing this deal.

Anonymous said...

I trust Dan Duquette except he did this deal. Still dont know what he and Buck were thinking.

Would roll the dice on BJ. Defensively, he cant hurt. Still remember some of his outrageous throws from CF. His last year in TB he went to homers, more strikeouts and less walks to get a contract. Would like to see him change his approach, go to walks, get on base and take what you get. Possibly a new park and start will rejuvenate him.

Unless UJ is willing to basically breakdown his windup, much like a golfer going through a swing change, cant even imagine him being converted to the bullpen.

Of course, you could always say its better to give UJ one more year. But I am not so inclined unless he is willing to make some changes in his windup and accept time at Triple A if needed to make the changes.

Anonymous said...

The Orioles are a hard team to figure out. They got lucky last year due to down seasons by the Yankees and Red Sox. Chris Davis had one great year. The rest of his career he has done nothing.Baltimore needs a big time 1st baseman they can count on. Remember, Davis was suspended for a reason.He cheated. The O`s are going to fall and be looking up at the rest of their division.