19 November 2014

Should the Orioles Trade Ubaldo Jimenez for Nick Swisher?

It appears as if the Orioles only have three rotation spots for Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris, and Ubaldo Jimenez, so someone has to be the odd man out. (At the very least, Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman should be considered locks.) Keeping one of them around in the bullpen isn't the worst idea -- rotation depth can be extremely beneficial -- but it's also not the best use of resources. And, of course, the Orioles could always explore a trade; they did that last year, when Gonzalez was seemingly available. And Norris may be available as well.

Understandably, the Orioles are doing their best to somehow find a suitor for Jimenez, and Cleveland could be a potential landing spot.
So would the Indians be willing to deal Nick Swisher to the Orioles in exchange for Jimenez (and possibly some cash)? Swisher is essentially the Indians' version of Jimenez -- a player who was awful last year, is not a guarantee to help the team much, and still has a sizable amount of money left on his contract.

I recently exchanged e-mails on a possible Jimenez-Swisher swap with Adam Hintz of It's Pronounced Lajaway, the ESPN SweetSpot Network affiliate for the Cleveland Indians. Here's our conversation:

Matt Kremnitzer: Should the Orioles and Indians swap Nick Swisher and Ubaldo Jimenez? Swisher will make $30 million over the next two years. He also has a vesting option for 2017 based on plate appearances and health that's unlikely to be met. Meanwhile, Jimenez has three years and about $39 million left on his contract. His contract also calls for $2.25 million to be deferred annually. So it's possible the O's would have to throw some money in to make the deal happen.

Still, there could be a match. Jimenez could provide some back-end rotation relief for the Indians. Swisher could provide the Orioles with a 1B/OF/DH type player, which could be important depending on what happens with Nelson Cruz in free agency.

That's sort of the surface-level analysis of the deal. Do you think Cleveland would be interested?


Adam Hintz: Let me preface all of this by saying -- I'm the guy in my fantasy football league who makes crazy big deals for the sake of making them, so this hypothetical trade is right up my alley: two guys who were big names and big acquisitions for their teams (Swisher signed the richest free-agent contract in Indians history, if I remember correctly) who completely fell apart in 2014.

If I am in the front office in Cleveland, I am willing to do this deal immediately -- extra money from Baltimore be damned. The fans in Cleveland (at least from the ones I've spoken to) hate Swisher and his bloated contract. They were only lukewarm on him in 2013 when he had a typically good Swisher year (because none of his stats jump out at you, he doesn't seem like a $14 million per year player), and they absolutely hate him after the abysmal 2014 he just suffered through.

Then again, he was injured this year and he has such a track record that he's a good bet to bounce back to some degree. If healthy, he won't post a .608 OPS again... I feel confident predicting that. I could see why Baltimore would be interested, though.

But Swisher's role on this team is gone, and that's the problem. He arrived in 2013 with the promise of being able to play RF, LF, 1B, and DH, and by the end of 2014 there are very real concerns that he's now a 1B/DH. The Indians can't play him at 1st base with Carlos Santana there, they don't want to move Santana back to C with Gomes there, and they don't want to pay $14m to a DH who hits 20-ish home runs at best. At this juncture, I would guess that the Indians would be thrilled to be rid of Swisher.

Likewise, in Baltimore, Ubaldo signed a fairly sizable deal on the heels of that 3-month stretch of competence in 2013. If you take 2014 at face value, the Ubaldo of summer '13 was a mirage in the desert and no longer exists... by the end of the season he was out of the rotation and buried on the roster. It certainly seems like he's on the outs in Baltimore.

But I'll tell you why the Indians would love to get Ubaldo back (at least in a swap that sent Swisher away): Mickey Callaway. Callaway has been nothing short of a pitching guru on Terry Francona's staff, turning Corey Kluber into a Cy Young winner (did that really happen?), Carlos Carrasco into a monster, and Ubaldo into a guy who looked like he was worth 4/$48. The logic goes like this: whatever fairy dust Callaway sprinkles on pitchers worked on Ubaldo once, why couldn't it work again? A rotation of Kluber, Carrasco, Bauer, Salazar, Jimenez has the on-paper potential to be something special.

Bottom line is this: Indians' fans have seen enough of Swisher and the Orioles organization (if not the fans) have probably seen enough of Jimenez. The numbers are so close in terms of salaries... why shouldn't this be a case of "one man's trash / another man's treasure"?

Of course, it makes too much sense to actually happen.


MK: I could see the Orioles being interested in this trade first of all because the money is pretty close (I doubt they want to throw in a bunch of cash), and second, they already have five other starting pitchers who they'd probably rather have in the rotation. They could always trade away Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen, or Bud Norris instead, but getting rid of Jimenez would make sense. It's not that they have five other aces -- far from it. But you may be more likely to get a subpar performance out of Jimenez from game to game now than a solid one. With an outstanding defense, the Orioles also don't want a pitcher around who's going to walk 5.5 batters per nine innings, even if he's unlikely to be quite that awful again.

Also, like you noted, the Indians recently had success with Jimenez in 2013, though the concern would be that he'd revert to his 2012 self. I guess the reality, or maybe even the hope, is that his current talent is somewhere between the two. If he's able to be a 1.5-2 win pitcher, then he'd be a serviceable back-end arm.

Swisher is not really a good defender anywhere, though I would seriously doubt the Orioles want him to play anywhere in the outfield. Then again, they let Nelson Cruz and even Delmon Young see some extended time in the field last season, so they may be able to get away with it. If Chris Davis returns, there really isn't a spot open at first base, though Swisher could serve as a fill-in at both first base and designated hitter. That would probably move Steve Pearce to a corner outfield/DH role.

Considering that Swisher played at least 145 games in every season from 2006 to 2013, it's not surprising that he broke down. He missed a good chunk of the season and eventually had surgery on both knees, so there's certainly some injury risk. Perhaps the knee injuries were the primary reason for his awful numbers; that would be the optimistic view for the acquiring team.

Steamer projects that Swisher will post a slash line of .234/.321/.386 next season. Obviously that wouldn't be very good for a 1B/DH, let alone one making $15 million each the next two seasons. But that's the type of risk a team takes on when getting rid of a player they don't want.


AH: Let's just get one thing out of the way: both of these guys are overpaid, and both guys don't really have a role on their teams right now. Ubaldo is the 6th man in that rotation and Swisher is below Santana, Gomes, and realistically Murphy on the depth chart.

What is the best/worst case scenario for each guy? Here's how I see it:

I think Swisher's basement is 2014. At least... I hope that's the basement. I don't want to live in a world where we can go deeper than that. I could write it off as injuries and bad luck, but there were real concerning signs outside of the slash line, too. Swisher, a guy who made his money on his OBP seemed to lose all semblance of plate discipline last season, swinging at balls and shaking his head at the umpire on called 3rd strikes game after game. Will that come back? I don't know. I'm not optimistic.

But if he does come back, and he DHs a bit, there's no reason a healthy Nick Swisher can't put up .265/.320/.440 with 20 HRs again. If the Orioles lose Cruz, I could see the match there.

What about Ubaldo? I was one of the few people at IPL to think 4/48 wasn't ridiculous -- though I was proven very wrong last season. I remember watching him in early 2013 (before his Renaissance) and it was a painful experience: nibbling his way to 100 pitches through 5 innings, walking too many guys... and this was the best Ubaldo we had seen since the trade. But then things clicked, and everything he did in the second half of 2013 looked sustainable (except of course... for the fact that it was Ubaldo and we should have known better).

Do I think it's likely Ubaldo regains that amazing form he had in 2013? No. I think it's more likely Swisher is a contributor to a good team. But if the Cleveland Indians are going to pay $14m or so to someone, I'd rather it be to a lottery ticket like Ubaldo than a guy we don't need (even when healthy) in Swisher.

Why would the Orioles do it? Would they NEED Swisher's production?


MK: The Orioles wouldn't necessarily need Swisher's production, just like they surprisingly didn't need much from Jimenez last year. But $12 million, or $15 million, or whatever is a lot of money to pay someone who isn't adding much to a team. Bad contracts happen; that's the risk of free agency. But if the O's do acquire Swisher, Buck Showalter would figure out some role for him.

If the O's do bring back Nick Markakis but not Nelson Cruz, Steve Pearce will probably see lots of time in left field and/or DH instead of first base. And if the O's keep Chris Davis, he'll be the primary first baseman. I assume if the Orioles acquire Swisher, then he'd get some time at first and DH. Maybe they would make him the primary DH, at least to start the season. But depending on how much Manny Machado and Matt Wieters are able to contribute after returning from season-ending injuries, the O's probably wouldn't need Swisher to be great or anything. But a competent hitter would help.

It's not a perfect trade, but there does seem to be a fit. Both teams would be trading one risky player for another.

Do you think the Indians would demand that the Orioles include some cash in the trade? If so, how much? Or would a straight swap suffice?


AH: I'd have to think that a straight swap would suffice.

The Indians have some money at the moment, because they're free of Justin Masterson (who was quietly making 8 figures last season). I know they're a smart team and all, but it would surprise me if they wanted anything really drastic in terms of money in a hypothetical Swisher/Ubaldo swap.

Here's how I think about it: I was okay with a $10-$12M per year deal with Ubaldo anyway (meaning Swisher was on the team as well). Now, the Indians could take that chance while getting rid of a bad contract (and essentially not owing any additional money).

I don't know much about the Orioles -- who is Steve Pearce? Is he a quality piece or is he replacement level? How do you feel about Nelson Cruz? I know Cruz had a huge year last year, but is there real fear it was a fluke?


MK: Steve Pearce is a journeyman who filled in admirably and gave the O's a huge boost (161 wRC+ in 102 games). Considering Chris Davis's struggles and the season-ending injuries to Matt Wieters and Manny Machado, Pearce's production was a big reason why the O's ran away with the American League East. He never hit this well in any previous season, and there's no reason to believe he's really this good. But he's certainly useful -- he hits well against left-handed pitching and can play first base and corner outfield adequately -- and he isn't eligible for free agency until 2016. So he'll be in Baltimore for at least one more season and should fill in as needed.

In fewer plate appearances and games, Pearce was better than Nelson Cruz. But Cruz also played in 159 games, something he'd only accomplished one other time, and accumulated 40 home runs. And now he's trying to parlay his 137 wRC+ season into a four- or five-year deal. I don't know if last year was a fluke or not, but he probably won't be as good going forward (career 118 wRC+). I certainly would be wary of any deal longer than three years (he turns 35 in July). I could certainly see the Orioles bringing him back and it making sense, but I also think they would be OK without him.

I'm not sure the Orioles would be willing to re-sign Nick Markakis and Cruz, tender Chris Davis a contract, and also trade for Nick Swisher. That's a lot of money tied up in first base and corner outfield options, even though Davis is scheduled to be a free agent after next season (along with Wieters). It's possible that the O's would trade for Swisher instead of re-signing Cruz, and then use Swisher mainly as the DH and reallocate that money to other areas of need. Swisher is a few months younger than Cruz and is similar overall offensively (more on-base skills, less power), though the injury concerns and decline over the past two seasons are two huge red flags.

But here's one option that could make a lot of sense. Considering Swisher had surgery on both knees, I doubt the O's want him running around much in the outfield. So the Orioles could instead choose to trade Davis (he'll make about $12 million next season in his last arbitration-eligible year) and install Swisher at first base. Swisher can then split his time between first and DH; Pearce can play at first as well. Davis and Swisher are both about average to below average defensively at first. Davis has the higher ceiling offensively, as his great 2013 season demonstrated, but he took a huge step back in 2014. He could end up walking after next season anyway, and I would not be in favor of a long-term deal for him. The O's could then also re-sign Markakis and Cruz, which they seem interested in doing anyway. Or they could go a different route.There's a lot of moving parts.

Like you mentioned before, the Indians don't seem to need Swisher and have better options under contract. If they keep him, would Swisher mostly DH? And who would Ubaldo Jimenez be replacing in their starting rotation?


AH: That's the thing, I don't know if Swisher has a role on this team right now.

Francona obviously loves him for his clubhouse presence and his loyalty to veterans (which is maddening at times, but I understand it). Yan Gomes has emerged as one of the best catchers in the AL, if not all of baseball, and Santana has settled in at 1B with a surprisingly proficient glove at that position. Both Gomes and Santana are better offensively than Swisher, so it would feel really awful to have a DH making 14-15 million and only putting up slightly-above-average numbers.

Swisher was valuable to this team when he could move around and play different positions and occupy different slots in the lineup. More than anything else, his lack of additional dimensions as a player has torpedoed his value to this team.

Ubaldo, on the other hand, presents such an interesting insurance policy for the rotation. There were so many guys on this team who could be total flukes going forward -- Carrasco for one and Kluber for another -- that having a lottery ticket at the back of the rotation would seem to temper some of that risk. If Ubaldo can regain any semblance of 2013 under Callaway, he has a definite spot in the rotation -- but if he can just be serviceable, he projects as a solid depth option. I have to believe bad Ubaldo is better than average Zach McAllister or any iteration of Josh Tomlin, so I can see a clear role for the mercurial pitcher... as opposed to Nick Swisher (outlined above).

So yeah, I'd do the deal because I think it makes sense for both teams right now. Baltimore has no space for Ubaldo barring a total Renaissance, but has a place to theoretically play Swisher, where Cleveland has no place for Swisher but a potential role for Ubaldo is almost too easy to project.

I'm not saying it's a slam dunk trade that needs to happen -- both organizations know it could blow up in their faces -- but the positional battles seem to have mitigated some of the risk in the cases of both players, and I just can't get over how much sense it makes.


Thanks again to Adam Hintz, who was able to provide further insight into Nick Swisher and the Cleveland Indians' side of things.

It's worth noting that another IPL writer recently discussed Jimenez and completely disagreed with the Indians bringing him on board. Similarly, I'm sure many O's fans would want no part of Swisher.

Photo via Keith Allison


Erik said...

I much prefer trying to get Buehrle from Toronto for Ubaldo. He is $19 million next year, but then a free agent. Ubaldo is $39 million over three years. Sure, the Orioles would have to add more, but they get a real pitcher when they need one, and then flexibility afterwards.

Pat Holden said...

I don't think the Jays would go for that, unless we added a ton to the deal. And while Buehrle is good, it would still leave us with a surplus of starters.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I'm not sure why the Blue Jays would want Ubaldo.

Anonymous said...

I'm unsure how the Jays could replace Buerhle's value with Jimenez and an additional six million dollars. Maybe they would take Jimenez+Gonzalez or Pearce. Maybe.

Eric said...

A Buehrle-Ubaldo deal seems like it is doing nothing but changing the name on the jersey, the problem would still exist. While Buehrle is slightly better it is not a huge margin, especially with Buehrle's age and expected to continue slow decline. There is still a surplus of pitchers and no clear number 1 or really even a number 2.

I actually like the article a lot and think if this becomes a real possibility, the O's should pull the trigger. My thought is, worst-case Swisher fills the role Young did last year as a bench guy/injury insurance policy. Yes it would be more money, but the money will be there somewhere anyway with Ubaldo. If not, at least the deal is 1 year shorter.

Anonymous said...

Buerhle is a much better pitcher. He is a solid three on a playoff contender. Jimenez was the sixth best pitcher on an uneven Baltimore rotation.

I would much more prefer to have Buerhle than Jimenez. I am unsure why Buerhle is continually underrated.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Yes, Buehrle is better. I'm still not sure how Ubaldo Jimenez fits into the picture.

Eric said...

Forgot to add this: Yes Buerhle is better, but what is the incentive for Toronto there? Why would you give a division foe a better player, for a worse player, and nothing else? There is no win in there for Toronto, and thus no reason to even consider it. Any reason why you brought that idea up Erik? Seems unfounded and more hopeful with no real rumor or thought-process behind it.

Philip said...

I can only say "no" in about 10 languages, but imagine me screaming all of them.
If you have a bad contract, trading it for another bad contract does less than nothing.
Jiminez has been awful(and I thought it was bad from day 1) but the Orioles have adjusted to his awfulness. He's gone from "ace" to "TJ Macfarland", stuffed into the bullpen where he can't do much damage.
He can be eased back as far and as fast as improvement will allow, and recover into an asset, or be dumped for a mid-level prospect or such.
But to trade him for another bad performer is to create another set of necessary accommodations which will end with the same problems we currently have, just at a different position.
Stay away from bad contracts, including someone else's!

Pat Holden said...

I agree that it's ideal to stay away from bad contracts, but I'd be stunned if the O's were able to deal Ubaldo without taking on a bad contract.

Erik said...

I read an article that Toronto is looking to move Buehrle because of the salary explosion. If we can give Toronto the salary relief they are looking for and reasonable return, then there is a chance to get him. Ubaldo had a bad year, not a bad career. Meanwhile, they have seen something that is making them squirrely about Buehrle. That has to be true for them to want to move him.

Paying for "somethings" as opposed to nothings is always better. Yes, we probably have to throw a second pitcher in. We would have to see what they like and if it is cheap enough. Their scouting and our scouting may not be the same.