28 July 2016

The Three Outcomes For Ubaldo Jimenez

Ubaldo is Mr. F.
Over the past week, the Orioles engaged the Padres in an effort for each club to rearrange their own financial allotment into other areas.  These financial commitments had no positive value, but varied on opinion to what extent they were negative. 

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.


GRob78 said...

A timely post and quality writing. I don't think the Orioles will find another trade partner for Jimenez. (The fact that Angelos swooped in at the last moment and killed the deal over money reminds us fans of the bleaker reality that he is the larger issue in the club's struggles, but I digress.) Personally I think he'll hover between being a rarely used LRP and a spot-starter for the rotation when the Orioles know they can give a game away. He won't be on the postseason roster if the team makes to October (I think that still happens) and will be cut after Spring Training if he continues to struggle.

His mechanics are the issue here. The Orioles don't have the capacity to fix them. Listening to Jim Palmer provide critique on the broadcasts adds to my awareness of how bad Ubaldo has gotten. The Orioles made a bad deal in an off season full of bad deals for SPs. So we just need to eat the money and let him go next season. We have a good rotation right now, especially with Bundy finding his stuff. Its not rock star awesome, but its good. Gallardo won't be back next year (he'll be released on the buyout) so the Orioles have a real chance to move forward and grab some help. Moving Ubaldo is a necessity and, unfortunately, a reality at this point.

Boss61 said...

This is an excellent article, insightful and well-written. It gives heart to all of us who fancy ourselves as armchair general managers.

As for Ubaldo, he is pitching for his roster spot tonight. Anything less than a quality start finds him DFA'd by the time play resumes following the upcoming off-day.

Pip said...

Excellent writing and very insightful. Possibly the best I've read from you, Jon.
I wonder what killed the deal with San Diego? Not only did we not get him, but we insured that Toronto would.
However, at this time, it is almost certainly too late to add any kind a worthwhile pitching at any kind of reasonable cost, so we just have to play our cards.
Like the song says, "stick with me baby, I'm the fella you came in with, luck be a Lady tonight."

Jon Shepherd said...

@GRob - His mechanics were always an issue. That was one of the major themes as he was leaving Cleveland. There was a notion that Jimenez fixed his mechanics and was then dominant again. That was reported in the local media ad nauseum. Problem was that the Indians could have resigned him and they wanted nothing to do with it even though he dominated for his last two months with them. Each October in Baltimore there is an article about an Ubaldo whisperer. His mechanics are simply temperamental.

Gallardo deal has an option for 2018, not 2017. He is here next year.

@Boss - Thanks, yeah, Orioles are in a tough spot with Ubaldo.

@Pip - I typically here about how things fall apart, but I have not heard anything on the reasons why except from the media echo.

Roger said...

....an Ubaldo whisperer..... LMAO.

I still think there's a chance if the O's are really still "in" on Cashner. I wouldn't mind taking Kemp if the O's could also score Cashner or Hand. I think Ubaldo likely has more value (small as it is) to a team like the Padres who need to eat some innings when they're not competitive and Kemp can be a bench player until Rickard comes back. If he hits one timely home run then it might be worth it. Taking on Kemp's contract might make the Padres more willing to include Cashner or Hand. Kemp and Hand for Ubaldo and the same prospects mentioned for Upton. Throw in better prospects for Cashner.

I can't believe the O's didn't try to make the Harrell/Dario deal. A marginal but performing SP with a good LOOGY would fill two holes. The Braves seem to be able to trade interchangeable pieces to improve their farm system. I thought the O's might be able to pick up Harrell/Dario cheap but the Braves got a significant prospect from the Rangers.

Unknown said...

Jon, great article. The Ubaldo situation is probably the most important issue the birds face. He probably did no one any favors tonight by being mediocre in his favorite ballpark. Upton for ubaldo and mediocre prospects would have been ideal, I don't know enough about the prospects offered to make an educated opinion. I do know that hellickson is the only starter left that the birds could use. But the Phillies won't want Ubaldo. Who would it take to get Hellickson?

Unknown said...

If nothing else, the Twins should be fined for a rain-out when it never rained. Bush league...

Unknown said...

On a side note, tonight's game should have been played a while ago, MLB is hurting the birds in a lot of ways just by tonight's game taking place. I'm sure someone else has commented on that though.

Anonymous said...

...and Jimenez proceeds to out-pitch both Gausman and Gallardo (the game on Friday could have been won if we simply swap the stats from Jimenez's and Gausman's most recent starts).

Maybe the issue isn't one starter, but rather the complete lack of a rotation? As crazy as this might sound, I wonder if the Orioles front office should consider switching to rebuilding mode (since this is turning into a repeat of 2005)?