The signing of Ubaldo Jimenez as a free agent back in February 2014 can be looked at as a failure to this point. Over two-and-a-half years as an Oriole, Jimenez has appeared in 70 games (67 starts) with a record of 21-26, 4.81 ERA, 1.516 WHIP, 4.30 FIP and 83 ERA+. None of those numbers are good and they feel especially worse when the man producing them is making $13 million this season. Something needs to be done.
Should he stay or should he go?
We have heard conflicting reports on that front. The Baltimore Sun’s Eduardo Encina suggests that the O’s would not want to eat his remaining salary (about $21 million between the rest of 2016 and 2017). But MASN’s Roch Kubatko is reporting that they, in fact, are willing to do so given just how awful he has been.
Going with Kubatko and his sources, it is easy to understand why now may be the time to make a decision. Righty Yovani Gallardo looks likely to return from injury this coming weekend. He pitched in Norfolk on Monday and did pretty well (five innings, one run, two walks, five strikeouts) Meanwhile, Jimenez is recovering from what is likely the worst start of his professional career (0.1 inning, six hits, one strikeout, five runs). A swap of the two would make sense.
If the O’s front office decides that there is room for both Jimenez and Gallardo, then another starter may have to go. Since Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright both have options, it would likely be one of them. If either of them implodes during their next start, that may make the decision for Duquette/Showalter. But even still, Jimenez has had his own self-destruction so many times before. Would it be right to banish one of the young guys to the minors while the veteran continues to be a burden to the team?
And if they did that, they would be keeping a guy (Jimenez) who, based on some of his quotes following the 10-9 loss to the Blue Jays on Sunday doesn't totally seem to understand why he has been so bad.
"Maybe location,” Jimenez told MASN’s Steve Malewski. “I feel like I was falling behind in the count and I left a couple pitches up. I think I threw two good pitches and they were able to hit them for doubles. They came out swinging right away. They did good. They hit the ball the opposite way. They didn’t try to pull it.”
That is a tad concerning. He can’t even point to what is wrong with his game. Sure, the Blue Jays probably were having a good, and maybe a bit lucky, inning. No matter how bad a pitcher is, you aren’t likely to get six hits over seven batters. But at least understand why you stink and why they were able to do so well.
Try starting with this: Jimenez’s fastball is averaging just under 90 mph this season; a career low. The Rockies knew he was a high-velocity, fastball-first guy back in the day. When he lost that, they lost him. The fact is that his other stuff just isn’t as good without that mid-90s cheese he used to have.
Add to that, he throws a cement mixer of a curveball. The pitch is almost always a ball and opposing hitters are never tricked by it, so why use it? Stop practicing your curveball and focus on the change-up or slider, because the two-seam fastball desperately needs a companion. OK, OK. We are getting off track.
Also of note, Odrisamer Despaigne is sitting down in Norfolk with 50 career major league games to his credit and is doing an OK job for the Tides (3.59 ERA, 12 starts, 62.2 innings, 53 strikeouts, 20 walks, 68 hits). Maybe he is even worthy of a rotation spot ahead of Jimenez.
Off to the ‘pen
Showalter alluded to the possibility of putting Jimenez into the bullpen, but did not seem overly enthusiastic about the idea.
“The problem with the American League and the American League East, you put someone in that bullpen, they have to be effective there too,” Showalter said. “We had a chance in that ballgame because Vance Worley threw 60 pitches and got us to the fifth inning. So, you put somebody down there, you have to feel capable they can do that job too.”
Read that as: Ubaldo would probably stink in the bullpen too.
During his decade long career in the bigs, Jimenez has made just four appearances out of the bullpen and they did not go great. In those chances he threw 6.1 innings and allowed four runs on six hits, four walks and nine strikeouts.
But the O's bullpen is pretty thin right now. The only two arms that are reliable just about every single time are Brad Brach and Zach Britton. Mychal Givens has moments of brilliance, and if and when Darren O’Day returns, that will add another dimension to the ‘pen. Plus Worley deserves an honorable mention. As the long man, he has been unexpectedly good. But the middle innings are up in the air.
This new guy, Brian Duensing, seems pretty terrible. And T.J. McFarland has not been much better. The southpaw’s splits are reversed with lefties hitting .378 against him while righties struggle to the tune of a .222 average. And, of course, McFarland has options, so he could be easily moved to make room for Jimenez.
But then you are ignoring guys like Chaz Roe, Pedro Beato and Oliver Drake who are all with the Triple-A Tides right now and have shown an ability to pitch out of a bullpen on a major league team with some level of success. Jimenez has never done that.
Would he go to the minors?
Struggling, yet established, major league players don’t go back down to the minors once they have proven themselves at the highest level. It just does not happen, but Jimenez is a special case.
In order to go back down on the farm, Jimenez would have to accept the assignment and much of what goes with it: small towns, cheap food, cruddy hotels, bus rides, etc. And he would have to pass through waivers. Something tells me an awful right-handed 32-year-old with $21 million remaining on his deal would make it through just fine. After that, it would be up to him on how things go from there.
If the Orioles simply cut Jimenez, the best he can really hope for is a minor league deal elsewhere, so why not try to make with the O’s, a team with a weak starting rotation yet a legitimate chance at making a playoff run? It feels like a no-brainer. But that's easy for me to say.
What is clear is that Jimenez cannot continue to trot out to the mound every fifth day and collapse after just a few hitters or innings. It puts too much pressure on the bullpen and forces the offense to continually dig out of a huge hole.
At the same time, Jimenez doesn't seem to fit the profile of a bullpen pitcher. His struggles are coming at all different points in the games: sometimes it’s the first inning, sometimes it’s the third time through the order. He himself is not even sure what is going on.
In a perfect world, Jimenez would accept an assignment to Norfolk, figure things out, and prove, by the beginning of August, that he is worthy of replacing Wright or Wilson in the rotation in order to make the final playoff push.
But don't expect that. Jimenez has yet to be all that impressive during his time in Baltimore. The experiment could be coming to a close. The plan may now be to allow Wright and Wilson to continue to grow and hope that Gallardo will come back and pitch like the All-Star he once was. *sigh*