It appears the Baltimore Orioles have agreed to terms with free agent starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez. The deal is reportedly worth four years, $50 million dollars. One of the biggest free agent contracts the Orioles have agreed to in a long time, they will be expecting great things from Jimenez. In fact this is the first free agent deal to a starting pitchers to go over three years. Baltimore was not comfortable with the rotation they were taking to Spring Training and felt the need to make a couple of moves. It clearly came down to Jimenez and Ervin Santana.
They previously signed Korean import Suk-min Yoon to a three year, $5.75 million deal. With the addition of Jimenez the 2014 projected starting rotating should include Jimenez, Yoon, Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez. Will it be enough? The jury is still out but at least the Orioles are trying to keep pace.
Baltimore is banking on two things when it comes to Jimenez. First, that he will remain durable since he has pitched at least 175 innings and made over 30 starts in each of the past six years. Secondly, they are hoping that his 1.82 ERA during the second half of last season is a sign that he figured it out. Previously, in 2013 alone, Jimenez carried an ERA of 4.86 and sports a career 32-39 American League record.
One knock on Jimenez is lost velocity which can be seen from 2011 through 2013. He lost two miles per hour over that period now tipping the top end at 92 miles per hour, down from a previous 93.9 miles per hour average. Fast enough? Sure but will the trend continue for the 30 year old? this could be a sign of things to come over the next four seasons.
The reality of the situation is the Orioles had to do something in an attempt to keep pace in the American League East. The Rays sport dominant pitching, the Red Sox are coming off a World Series title and the Yankees, oh the Yankees, have been spending again signing Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Japanese prize Masahiro Tanaka this off-season.
Will the likes of Jimenez be enough? Not likely but at the executives can show the fans they are trying to keep pace. If Jimenez is all the Orioles hope he can be they are still trotting out Tillman, Chen and Gonzalez 60 percent of the time. Tillman exceeded expectations in 2013 by finishing 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA in his first year with 15+ starts. Will he repeat? Good question. The 28 year old Gonzalez has 48 lifetime appearances and Chen appears like a career 4.00 ERA pitcher. However, if those two are asked to be the fourth and fifth starters in the rotations then all is not lost.
Is Jimenez the saving grace or missing piece to a World Series puzzle? No but he should not hurt the ballclub. At least not in the first year of his contract anyway. The key in Baltimore will continue to be one run games. The won an incredible percentage of them in 2012 and saw success for the first time in years However, in 2013 that number changed and saw the Orioles fall back near the bottom of the American League East. Can Jimenez keep them in games? It depends on whether or not the Orioles signed the post All-Star break pitcher of last year or the 2011 thru All-Star break of 2013 pitcher that he had previously been. No matter what at least the Orioles can tell their fans they opened the wallet, for better or worse.