When the Orioles acquire a new player, I like to check in with the writers who know him best to see what kind of player I'll be rooting for. With the Orioles signing pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year deal that was finalized yesterday, I reached out to Purple Row, SBN's Rockies blog, and Let's Go Tribe, our Indians blog. Today you'll get to read what Andrew Fisher, lifelong Rockies fan, has to say about Jimenez. Tomorrow I'll be posting information from LGT. But for now, here's Andrew:
I have been a Rockies fan since the first game I attended, back in 1993 at age 5. Despite the franchise's complete monopoly on my baseball fandom, I have only been compelled one one occasion to splurge for a player's jersey. That player was not Larry Walker, Todd Helton or Troy Tulowitzki. It was Ubaldo Jimenez, gleefully purchased a week after he no-hit the Braves in 2010 on his way to a Bob Gibson-esque first half. Despite the magnitude of the event, it was only the final piece of long-building momentum to the purchase.
I did not watch Jimenez much when he was an Indian, but from what I did see, he spent two years without finding consistent mechanics on the mound. I believe he's still physically capable of being the 2010 version of himself, I believe, but I'd have trouble betting $50million that he'd get close. You have the guys at Let's Go Tribe to help you with the recent Ubaldo. For more on the guy, I'm here for you.
Like his name, Ubaldo was always a little bit different. Despite coming from the Dominican Republic, he was not particularly poor growing up. He had designs on becoming a doctor when baseball scouts came calling in his early teens. He signed with Colorado not due to being offered the most money, but because the Rockies were patient while he finished high school before signing. He developed a small hitch in his delivery, a distinctive arm stab with his pitching hand when he rocks back on the rubber. The Rockies tried to remove it from his motion when he was in the low minors, but it stayed, and it remains.
Once he reached the big league club, he subtly improved each year. In Colorado's first 14 years as a franchise, they made the playoffs once. In Ubaldo's first three years, they reached it twice, with the right-hander being a big part of both clubs. He didn't bring attention to himself, he just worked quietly and worked hard. He ran several miles at 6am the morning after every one of his starts, even after his no-hitter. He lived in an apartment in Denver with his mother and walked to Coors Field on game days. Ubaldo shone in a Rockies commercial where he hawked a fake Rogaine-knock-off called "Hair-B-There." Jimenez was an extremely likeable player - quiet, affable, workmanlike and most important - dominant.
That's probably selling him short. He seemingly transformed the idea of whether pitchers could succeed at altitude. Jimenez was near the top in the league in fastball velocity, and it came with a heavy dose of movement. The sink and velocity combination neutralized the dry altitude like no one before. But yet he tinkered with his craft and developed splitters and sharper curveballs, expanding his repertoire well past a half dozen offerings. The Rockies had a bright future behind a bright, thoughtful, extremely likeable ace. His starts even before 2010 were an event. His stuff was just that fun to watch, and he really was impossible to dislike.
Following his phenomenal 2010, Ubaldo felt he deserved a raise. He had signed a previously club-friendly extension before the 2009 season, keeping him cost-controlled through 2014. With four years of cheap Ubaldo already wrapped up, Colorado instead locked up the other two members of their big triO, signing CarGo and Tulo to long extensions in early December. I agreed with the move at the time, citing Ubaldo's in-place contract and the unpredictability of pitchers. But it probably did not seem fair to Ubaldo, especially after Colorado made Jorge de la Rosa the third highest-paid pitcher in franchise history that off-season (following only Hampton/Neagle). But if his feelings were hurt, he did not publicize it.
That jersey I bought remains the only player jersey I own. It also has hung undisturbed in a clothing bag for three years. While the rest of the league saw Ubaldo unravel in April and May, he started falling apart in March. Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd publically scorned Jimenez for taking a vacation that February. I attended a Cactus League game that March in which Ubaldo allowed eight hits in the first inning to the White Sox. An hour later, while wearing Jimenez' jersey, a falcon released an unreal volume of its droppings directly on me. It was foreshadowing indeed.
Rockies fans have many theories to what happened to Jimenez in 2011. Some believe that injuries suffered during that spring and O'Dowd's negative comments made Ubaldo feel the need to assert himself further at any cost, pushing himself through injury into ruin. Others have floated the idea that he sulked his way out of his typical preparation. Still another theory suggests that injuries that spring made him alter his mechanics, losing effectiveness and confidence along the way until he could no longer regain his prior form. There is probably truth to all three ideas. It seems in retrospect that the Rockies believed he was broken beyond repair and wanted to sell as high as they could.
It was after the trade that negative feelings surfaced on both sides. While the exact quote escapes me, Tulowitzki was quoted as saying something to the effect of Ubaldo needing honor the contract he signed just two years before. In Spring Training 2012 as a member of the Indians, Ubaldo fired a fastball off of Tulo's arm in their first meeting. That attack was not well received. In just a year, Ubaldo transformed from an incredibly likeable cornerstone superstar to a cowardly, whiny punk to many Rockies fans. I have trouble with such absolutes, so that isn't why my Jimenez jersey remains untouched. As Ubaldo's effectiveness and image imploded in Colorado, so did the Rockies' fortunes on the field. It's a harsh reminder.
Now that Ubaldo has financial stability and a place he feels welcome, it is possible he could return to form. Maybe not 2010, but 2008 and 2009 would be a nice addition in Baltimore. If not though, he's still (probably) a really good guy to root for.