Was Ubaldo Jimenez the best free agent match for the Orioles?

Doug Pensinger

The Orioles have signed their free-agent starting pitcher. With most of the offseason in the books, who else could they have signed -- and should it have been someone else?

After ignoring all of my proposed offseason ideas, like signing Kelly Johnson and Edward Mujica, Dan Duquette has come to his senses and pried open the black-and-orange wallet to sign a starting pitcher, any starting pitcher, as I recently pleaded. But in fact, it wasn't just any starting pitcher -- it was Ubaldo Jimenez, considered one of the top free agent starters in a somewhat middling class, and who commanded four years and $50 million, more than the team has historically shelled out for pitching.

It's worth taking a look back, now that most of the free agent starters have signed somewhere, at whether Jimenez truly was the best option for the Orioles. With the large disclaimer that there are tons of unknowables here (such as whether the other free agents would have been willing to come to the AL East, whether the Orioles front office considered them a fit, etc.), here are this year's free agent starters who signed for at least two years or at least $10 million. This leaves out some interesting rebound candidates and the like, but probably represents the "top" or at least "proven" starters on the market, assuming that's the general type of pitcher the Orioles were out to sign all along.

Years/$M New team Avg WAR (last 3 years)
Bronson Arroyo 2/23.5 Diamondbacks 1.7
A.J. Burnett 1/16 Phillies 1.6
Bartolo Colon 2/20 Mets 3.3
Scott Feldman 3/30 Astros 0.6
Matt Garza 4/50 Brewers 1.8
Tim Hudson 2/23 Giants 1.8
Phil Hughes 3/24 Twins 0.4
Ubaldo Jimenez 4/50 Orioles 0.6
Scott Kazmir 2/20 Athletics 0.3
Hiroki Kuroda 1/16 Yankees 4.2
Ricky Nolasco 4/49 Twins 1.2
Mike Pelfrey 2/11 Twins 0
Ervin Santana N/A N/A 1.5
Masahiro Tanaka 7/155 Yankees N/A
Jason Vargas 4/32 Royals 1.9
Dan Haren 1/10 Dodgers 1.3

This chart uses only one stat, a meaningful one but not a be-all-end-all, and it has an arbitrary endpoint, and it excludes some important factors like age and health. But it doesn't make Jimenez out to be one of the most savvy signings of the offseason. Let's look a little closer at some of the guys who look better at a glance, and see if we can see how the Orioles fared.

The two guys who jump out based on WAR alone are Kuroda and Colon. There was no indication that Kuroda was ever looking in earnest to sign with anyone but the Yankees. Colon is a bit more intriguing, but he's not that far removed from a PED suspension, and more importantly, he's 40 years old. Both players would have improved the Orioles rotation in 2014, but neither seems like a long-term fix, nor does it seem likely that they would've come here.

Two of the other older pitchers on the list, Arroyo and Burnett, are names the Orioles were actually linked to in various offseason rumors, but the general beat on Burnett seems to be that he didn't want to pitch his victory-lap season in the AL East, and Arroyo's key stats have all been trending downward in the NL Central for a few years. Burnett might've been a nice short-term rental, but the Orioles weren't getting him, and it's not likely that 2014 Arroyo would've outperformed 2014 Jimenez.

Discarding some options that I hope the Orioles never really pursued -- Hughes, Nolasco, Vargas, Pelfrey, etc. -- all of whom have major question marks in their recent past -- leaves just a few guys who the Orioles reasonably could or should have considered against Jimenez. Let's look at each one separately.

Tim Hudson was a nice pickup by the Giants. Though he's also on the older end of the free agents listed (38), he's a groundball machine, which would've played nicely at homer-friendly Camden Yards and in front of the Orioles' sturdy infield defense. There were never any strong rumors connecting the Orioles to Hudson, and it's possible he wanted to stay in the NL to wrap up a nice career, but if he was ever available to the Orioles, he may have been a value deal surpassing Jimenez in the short-term, and without costing the team a draft pick.

Matt Garza got a shockingly similar deal to Jimenez, and didn't cost the Brewers a draft pick in order to sign. He's also pitched with relative success in the AL East before. But rumors swirled around Garza's medical records among his early suitors, and if Orioles fans have learned one thing this offseason, it's that the team's a tad gun-shy about health questions in their free agents. If there were legitimate questions about Garza's health, it's probably useless to speculate on his coming to the Orioles, but it's plausible, if he stays healthy, that he surpasses Jimenez's performance for the same cost. Put this one in the "time will tell" category.

Ervin Santana hasn't signed yet, so it's hard to gauge his value relative to Jimenez just yet. Maybe more importantly, though, Santana has been very bipolar over the years, with solid seasons sandwiched among total implosions, crazy home/road splits and more. As much as Jimenez has had his ups and downs, you can double them for Santana. Again, time will tell, but if the Orioles were going to give out multiple years and give up a draft pick, I'd rather have taken Jimenez than Santana, recent past notwithstanding.

Scott Feldman would have essentially been a lower-risk, lower-reward signing than Jimenez. When the Astros signed Feldman early, his deal looked a little nuts, but as the offseason went on, it became clear that it was a fairly standard value for middle-of-the-road pitching. Jimenez may have more ups and downs than Feldman, but over the course of their deals, there's little chance that Jimenez will be worse than Feldman, and a nontrivial chance that he'll be better.

When this offseason started, Ubaldo Jimenez was not at the top of my list for the Orioles to target. But a starting pitcher definitely was. The Orioles actually shelled out dollars and draft picks for a pitcher who, by comparison to the rest of the market, doesn't look so bad at all. As our other fine writers have covered, Jimenez has had his share of trials, and all that fans can do now is hope that they're in the past and he can nail down some solid #2 production in the rotation while the Orioles' pitching prospects continue to ascend. It doesn't look like a bad bet right now.

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