The Indians are betting Ubaldo Jimenez's 2013 season was a mirage, and the Baltimore Orioles are wagering that it was not.
According to multiple reports and an Associated Press source, the Orioles and Jimenez have agreed on a four-year contract believed to be worth about $48 million. That would make it comparable to what the Indians gave free-agent outfielder Michael Bourn last year.
Assuming Jimenez passes his physical and officially signs with Baltimore, the Indians, as compensation, will get the Orioles' pick in the first round of the draft. That would be the 17th pick in the first round. The Indians also have their own first-round pick, the 23rd pick overall.
Indians officials obviously didn't think Jimenez was worth even a discounted contract, which is what Jimenez wound up getting as a free agent tied to a draft-pick compensation. Jimenez was coming off a big year for the Indians in 2013, but instead of the huge contract he undoubtedly was hoping to land as a free agent, Jimenez had to settle for a relatively modest deal with the Orioles.
One of the reasons Jimenez lasted so long on the market, in addition to the fact that signing him cost the signing team a high draft pick, is that nobody is sure which Jimenez the signing team will get. Will it be the dominating pitcher for the Indians last season or the unwatchable disaster he was in the two years prior to that?
Jimenez was the best pitcher on the Indians' staff in September last year, when the Tribe went 21-6, winning its last 10 games in a row to clinch a wild-card berth in the playoffs.
In six September starts, Jimenez was 4-0 with a 1.09 ERA and averaged 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings. He was named the American League's Pitcher of the Month for September. In the Indians' wild-card clinching, 5-1 win over Minnesota on the last day of the regular season, Jimenez held the Twins to one run in 6 2/3 innings while striking out 13.
After leading the American League in losses in 2012, when he was 9-17 with a 5.40 ERA, Jimenez in 2013 was 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA. In 28 starts from April 29 through the end of the season, he was 13-7 with a 2.61 ERA.
Prior to that, Jimenez was a disaster in the year and a half he spent in Cleveland, after being acquired in a blockbuster trade with Colorado in the middle of the 2011 season that cost the Indians two of their top pitching prospects at the time — both No. 1 picks — Drew Pomeranz and Alex White.
However, under new pitching coach Mickey Callaway, Jimenez underwent a remarkable career resurgence in 2013 — but Indians officials weren't buying it. Or at least they weren't buying it at Jimenez's price.
Tribe officials made a qualifying offer of $14.1 million to Jimenez, a one-year contract, that he rejected at the start of the free-agent season. By making that qualifying offer, however, it allowed the Indians to receive draft-pick compensation from any team signing Jimenez. That team will apparently be the Orioles and as a result, the Indians will have the 17th and 23rd picks in the first round of this year's draft.
In his 2 1/2 years in Cleveland, Jimenez started 74 games and was 26-30 with a 4.45 ERA. The Indians have now lost their two best starting pitchers in September of last year. Scott Kazmir, who had a 2.57 ERA in five September starts, signed a two-year, $22 million contract with Oakland at the start of the free-agent season. Indians officials had on-and-off contract with Jimenez's agent during the winter, but there was never a strong sense that the parties would reach an agreement that would bring the 30-year-old right-hander back to Cleveland.
Indians officials feel they can cover the loss of Jimenez and Kazmir with Danny Salazar and the winner of the spring training competition for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. The three leading candidates in that race are Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer.