Cleveland acquires Ubaldo Jimenez

The Cleveland Racist-Names are set to acquire Rockies’ ace Ubaldo Jimenez, pending a physical.

Rumours began to swirl that a deal was done shortly before Jimenez was to take the mound against the Padres.  He ended up making the start and threw one inning before being pulled in favour of Esmil Rogers.  A clearly upset Jimenez allowed four runs while throwing 45 pitches.  Rockies’ manager Jim Tracy took Jimenez aside when he returned to the dugout and then he began hugging his teammates before leaving.

Jimenez has been widely regarded as the top pitcher on the market, but until recently the price tag was too high, making it appear as though the Rockies were just dangling their best pitcher to entice someone to overpay for him.  The Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, Reds, Blue Jays, and Tigers have all  shown interest in the 27-year-old righty, but nothing was imminent until Cleveland came in with their offer.

Jimenez is generally thought of as an ace, but take out his phenomenal start in 2010 and the results have been mixed.  There’s no question he has the stuff, but some wonder if he’ll ever be consistent enough to be a true number one.  A move to the much tougher American League likely won’t help that perception.  So far in 2011, Jimenez has a 4.20 ERA with a 8.56/3.47/0.74 pitcher slash line* and a 3.49 xFIP in 122.0 innings pitched.  There is also some concern regarding his fastball velocity which has dropped about 3 mph from last year.

Pomeranz would have to be a ‘player to be named later’ in the deal since he was drafted fifth overall in last year’s draft.  Players from that draft cannot be traded until one year after they’ve signed, which in this case would be August 15th.

Both Pomeranz and White, both 22, are very highly regarded so it’s clear that Cleveland was willing to pay a high price for Jimenez who is under a very team-friendly contract until 2012 with affordable options for 2013 and 2014 (although he can void his 2014 option now that he’s been traded, as per a clause in his contract).  If both option years are picked up, Jimenez will cost Cleveland just under $19-million for three-plus years.

The trade signifies that Cleveland believes they have a team capable of contending, not only this year, but next year as well, but there’s a good chance they’ve set the franchise back by trading their two top pitching prospects.  White was named Cleveland’s second-best prospect by Baseball America at the beginning of the year after being drafted 15th overall in 2009.  He made his Major League debut earlier this season after only 175.2 innings of work in the minor leagues in a little over one pro season.  He has a fastball that sits 91-93, but can touch 96 with a two-seamer that he can throw for strikes with great sinking action.  He also throws a solid-average slider.

Pomeranz, meanwhile, was ranked fourth in Cleveland’s prospect rankings by Baseball America at the start of the season despite never having thrown a pitch in pro-ball.  This season, he posted a 1.87 ERA and 2.36 FIP over 15 starts in High-A before getting a mid-season promotion to AA where he continued dominating hitters over three starts.  Baseball America had this to say:

“Pomeranz has two plus pitches in his fastball and curveball.  His fastball sits in the low 90s and touches 95 mph.  It has good life and the deception in his delivery makes it tough to track the ball out of his hand.  His breaking ball is even more devastating, a knuckle-curve with hard 12-to-6 action…He has flashed a solid-average changeup at times and will need to use it more as a pro”

Gardner, 23, was also acquired and is no stiff himself.  He was a third-round pick of Cleveland in 2009 and draws some comparisons to Justin Masterson with his tall, powerful frame and power sinker.  He’s a groundball pitcher who has struggled so far this year in his first crack at AA.  According again to BA, he “has the potential to be a mid-rotation starter if he can develop a reliable slider and changeup.”

McBride, meanwhile is a converted catcher who now spends most of his time at first and in the outfield.  He posted a .391 wOBA at AA-Akron this season in 346 plate appearances before earning a call-up to AAA-Columbus.  He shows flashes of plus power and can draw a walk, but he’s already 26 and doesn’t have much of a ceiling.

If Jimenez continues his inconsistency and even one of those two pitchers develops into a top-of-the-rotation talent, Cleveland may end up regretting the deal for a long time.  Jimenez’s contract situation and upside does at least help out in explaining their motivation, as does their position in the standings.  Cleveland currently sits just two games above the .500-mark, but only one-and-a-half games back of Detroit in the AL Central.

The most troubling part of this for Cleveland is that they clearly believe their team is good enough to contend beyond this season, which seems questionable considering they are only in contention this season because of their weak division and their own unsustainable play.  They are, quite simply, setting themselves up to fail long term.

*- strikout rate/walk rate/home run allowed rate