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Don't give up on Jimenez yet

Don't give up on Jimenez yet
April 26, 2012
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Another start. Another underwhelming performance. And thus another sad chapter in the story of Ubaldo Jimenez as a Cleveland Indian.

On Wednesday, Jimenez faced the Kansas City Royals in his fourth start of the 2012 campaign. There was not much to like — the Cleveland right-hander labored throughout, regularly fell behind in the count and served up two two-run home runs while barely making it through six innings of work.

It seemed to be more of the same for Jimenez, who has now seen almost all of his statistics deteriorate since joining the Indians at the 2011 MLB trade deadline. His walks issued (5.25 BB/9), ERA (4.50) and WHIP (1.50) are all up while his velocity and strikeout rate is severely down (4.87 K/9). (Jimenez owns an 8.1 K/9 rate for his career.)

To be clear, this column is not one of the trendy Jimenez roasts that have appeared so frequently since last July. Instead, this column is one last feeble attempt to defend Jimenez, if that is even possible.

As everyone knows, the Indians went to great lengths to bring Jimenez on board this past July. As the Tribe held onto imprudent hopes of competing in the AL Central, the team’s front office made the decision to move top pitching prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White as well as sinkerballer prospect Joe Gardner and utility man Matt McBride to acquire Jimenez from the Colorado Rockies. A steep price indeed.

Obviously, the Indians did not reach the playoffs and since then, Jimenez has drastically underachieved. The team and its front office have endured harsh criticism, with a lot of it surrounding the fact that the Indians chose to trade a potential Major League power lefty in Pomeranz to acquire Jimenez.

However, let’s rewind. Last July, the Indians dealt away a potential power lefty, but what about when they traded away a proven power lefty?

We seem to forget that in July of 2008, the Indians traded away C.C. Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers for a prospect package that was built around a slugging outfielder/first baseman named Matt LaPorta.

It could be argued that the Indians gave up more to acquire LaPorta than Jimenez. A slew of prospects were sent to the Rockies for Jimenez, but prospects are just that — prospects. No one knows whether they will pan out.

But in acquiring LaPorta, the Indians parted with Sabathia, a home grown talent, former Cy Young Award winner and just a straight up horse on the mound.

Like Jimenez, LaPorta has struggled as an Indian. In 1,008 Major League plate appearances, the right-handed hitter has a .238/.304/.397 line with a total of 30 home runs and 115 RBIs. Certainly, some pretty undesirable numbers for what roughly equates to two full seasons of work.

Unlike Jimenez, however, LaPorta has not been subjected to the same immense criticism. Sure, he has his detractors but not the vehement haters that seem to follow Jimenez. In fact, many Tribe fans still attest that the Indians have never really given LaPorta a chance at the Major League level.

LaPorta is currently playing at the Indians’ Class-AAA affiliate in Columbus where he is tearing the cover off the ball. The former Florida Gator is hitting .344/.394/.656, with five home runs and 10 RBIs. Though this should probably be expected considering he has a career .301/.391/.572 line at the minor league level.

As expected, a number of vocal Indians fans have already been clamoring for LaPorta to return to the team’s Major League roster, especially if the Choo injury proves more serious than originally thought.

So, why is there support for LaPorta yet none for Jimenez? Jimenez certainly has the better major league track record as he posted three very good seasons from 2008 to 2010 while LaPorta has shown himself to be a Major League fringe player at best.

Of the two, Jimenez certainly seems to be the more likely candidate to rebound for the Indians. Jimenez still has a track record of success while LaPorta also has a track record of success — but at Class AAA.

Will Jimenez succeed and become the ace that the Indians thought they traded for? There is no easy answer to that question and sadly, the answer right now looks to be no.

Jimenez has looked poor since he came to Northeast Ohio, and he has done little to make anyone believe that brighter days are ahead. But it is still early. His 2012 season is only four starts old, and there is plenty of time to right the ship. As the weather warms up, he is bound to see some significant velocity increases. Who knows, we could be seeing a very different pitcher come July.

After all, it has been almost four years, and many Indians fans are still convinced that LaPorta can develop into the hulking first baseman that the team so desperately lacks. At the very least, we should withhold our judgment until July. One year’s time should be the perfect barometer as to just how successful or unsuccessful the Jimenez deal has been.

Steve can be reached via email at orbaneks@gmail.com.

User Comments

Tony
April 27, 2012 - 12:44 PM EDT
You guys are kind of stealing my thunder somewhat for a piece I have planned as part of this Sunday's notebook where I look at the outfield. Indians have HUGE issues there. Yeah, there are some interesting guys in the lower levels of the system who could pan out in 3-4 years, but there is absolutely nothing of ML starting quality in the system ready to play this year or in 2013, or hell, in 2014. Big issue.
Jim
April 27, 2012 - 11:20 AM EDT
There's more in the pipeline than just Washington, as far as outfielders go, but...not at the upper levels. If you've not seen Luigi Rodriguez play, that kid is a freak, and may have the best pure speed in the system, but could be a gifted outfielder (no pop though). Bryson Myles is another guy that they are high on...but all are in the Lake County system, and with the exception of Myles (who is hurt, to what extent won't be known until a future minor league happenings, I'm sure), will likely be in Lake County all season.

As I've said before, the Indians have failed miserably in both drafting and trading for any sort of power in the outfield over the years, and while you can forgive some failings...it's hard to forgive 12+ years of it...

Now, prior to 2011, it was clear the Indians were at least pondering the idea of Nick Weglarz, Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley being their outfielders of the future (well...LaPorta was likely at first, but you get the point)...and in 2010...that looked really...really...good...

now...not so much...

As per Jimenez, I'm fairly certain we're all in agreement that we want the guy to perform to his 2010 year...LaPorta as well...and I suppose there is always hope...right?
Steve
April 27, 2012 - 10:37 AM EDT
It's not that LaPorta and specifically that trade have not been subjected to harsh criticism because they certainly have. However, I still know a lot of Tribe fans, at least in Erie, who are clamoring for a LaPorta callup. Tony might know more as to whether there actually is a decent contingent of fans who want to see him back in the Majors. But whenever I hear someone say he needs to be called up, I keep thinking, "What???" He has always hit in the minors. It's nothing new. So I just wonder why fans are ready to give him a chance after almost four years, yet no one seems ready to give Jimenez an equal chance.

I do question whether Jimenez can be what the Indians thought he could. However, I still think we have to give him more than four starts in April. The trade likely will not pan out, and it certainly has not as of now... But... I still think we have to give him a little more time. If it's June, and he is not dominant in every other start then the trade is what it is... a terrible one.
Rich
April 27, 2012 - 10:30 AM EDT
The Indians biggest upcoming problem is that they have no potential starting outfielders in their system, except with the possibility of Levon Washington, and that is by no means certain. With Sizemore done, even if he does play this year, Choo gone next year and Brantley maybe only being a fourth outfielder, the Indians will definitely have to spend some of the money saved with the contracts of Hafner ($13 mil) Lowe ($5) Sizemore ($5) and Kotchman ($3) to get outfielders.

My point on Sabathia is that it would have been better to get one major league ready prospect than three prospects farther from major league ready. With Jiminez, I liked the boldness of the move but question the trade because Jiminez was showing problems all of 2011. The Indians traded for the Jiminez of 2010 & 2009. They needed an immediate payback like the Tigers got with Fister. LIke I said, only a month into the season and he has time to regain form.
Phil
April 27, 2012 - 7:57 AM EDT
I think the point about the CC trade is who's to say that the 2 1st round supplemental picks the Indians would have received had they not re-signed CC would not be better than Laporta? Mike Trout who is arguably the best minor league outfielder at the age of 20 was a supplemental pick by the Angels in 2009, Indians probably would not have even thought about resigning Grady this past year if they had Trout in their system.
Richard
April 27, 2012 - 6:00 AM EDT
The Indians had to trade CC or see him walk away and get nothing in return. LaPorta and Brantley were the best they could get and you just hope they pan out.

The difference is the Indians did not have to trade Pomeranz and White, and they were getting an All-Star in return. The expectations were higher as Tony said.

Jimenez has looked terrible but his only problem is command. When he gets the ball in the strike zone they rarely hit it squarely. Even when he grooves 3-1 fastballs they can't square it up. When he's getting his breaking ball over he's untouchable, like in the 6 perfect innings he threw against the White Sox in his first start this year.

If he can find his mechanics he can be a very good starter. Even when he's off he can struggle through 6 innings and give up 2 or 3 runs.

LaPorta looks like a AAAA guy and nothing more.
Rich
April 26, 2012 - 6:36 PM EDT
I think every Indians fan hopes Both Laporta and Jiminez pan out. When you trade a Cy Young award winner, you HAVE TO get back at least one above average major league starter. And when you trade away your best pitching prospect since Adam Miller (pre-injuries) plus two other good pitching prospects, the ace starter in return has to be good, if not great. Unfortunately for the Indians and all of us rabid fans, it looks like the Indians have whiffed on both. Since coming over Jiminez has been a Carmona clone - great stuff, erratic control, high pitch counts and a roller coaster ride each outing. The hope for Jiminez is, unlike Carmona, he has an idea of how to pitch. If he can execute he can dominate. More hope for Jiminez than Laporta. I do remember, though, the year Sabathia was traded, he had a poor April before returning to form. Hopefully Jiminez can " find it" again soon.
Jim
April 26, 2012 - 5:33 PM EDT
Yeah Tony, I agree to a point, but do feel that while Ubaldo came in as a major leaguer with a track record...many also felt as though he was washed up, or was potentially washed up...and lower on the totem pole...but potentially a good get for two years...and there lies the similarity...LaPorta's potential vs. Ubaldo's potential...

In my humble opinion...Jimenez, while a fun topic of derision at this point, is completely linked to Pomeranz and White. The SECOND one of them has a fantastic start or closes...or whatever...Ubaldo will need to match...or holy cow...

and I'll be leading that charge...;)

Steve...I graduated in 1989...the year the hoops team went to the State quarters and lost to Blackhawk...Rowls, Zanotti...what about you...

So, if you're an Indians' fan, the next question that ALWAYS comes up is...what about football?
Tony
April 26, 2012 - 5:15 PM EDT
The backlash I think is different because of the circumstances. Even though LaPorta was the centerpiece from the Sabathia deal, he was still a prospect, and prospects often don't pan out. There is a lot of disappointment in LaPorta, but I feel a lot of people have already moved on as that ship has sailed and they they ultimately understand that is the risk you take with trading for prospects. But with Ubaldo, there is a lot of disgust because he was not a prospect. He was a Major League player the Indians acquired by sending away a collection of prospects....the complete opposite trade LaPorta was in. Ubaldo was supposed to be a sure thing. A rock at the top of the rotation. But instead he's been anything but and a HUGE disappointment.
Steve
April 26, 2012 - 4:56 PM EDT
There was a massive backlash against Shapiro, I do agree. However, there still seems to be this strong contingent of Tribe fans who long for a LaPorta return.

Jim, oh my gosh, what a coincidence. Ha ha. Very small world indeed. When did you graduate?
Jim
April 26, 2012 - 4:49 PM EDT
Steve...you went to GM???? Tony said he had someone from the Erie Times writing for us, but I didn't realize that it was someone from my second hometown...

GET OUTTA HERE!!!!!

Clearly I graduated a few years before you, but a small...small world.
Jack
April 26, 2012 - 4:49 PM EDT
Can't say I completely agree with your opinion. There was a lot of vitriol against Shapiro when he traded CC and got what he got. True there wasn't any hatred against LaPorta. But that's simply because he was a high profile prospect. But many of us didn't feel that Shapiro got nearly enough for a CY winner.

The difference between Ubaldo and LaPorta is that many (including myself) felt that we were getting damaged goods in Ubaldo. In 2010 he was averaging 94-95 and hitting 97.

When the trade was made, Ubaldo was hitting 91-93 and topping out at 95. For a guy who has command issues, that's a huge difference. So far, nothing Ubaldo has done has changed anybody's opinion that he isn't damaged goods. Teams just don't trade their ace pitchers who have team friendly contracts with several years on them for prospects. It just doesn't happen unless they have other reasons - such as concerns about a player's health.

And lets face it we all loved Pomerantz and what we believe is a promising future. We all saw him as a potential #2 and White as a solid #4.

Jim
April 26, 2012 - 4:44 PM EDT
I don't live in Cleveland, but I can't think of five Indians' fans that don't, in some way, jeer LaPorta. The difference between Jimenez and LaPorta is simply split differently. Jimenez is the sole source of fury for the deal that sent away two top prospects, and two marginal...LaPorta is just a part of the deal. He's splitting the frustration with Brantley (who many are turning on now), and Bryson (who????). Okay...maybe just Brantley.

I think that LaPorta has zero chance of being the worthwhile piece in the deal for Sabathia, and have to believe that many agree. While he's tearing the cover off the ball for the Clippers, who is that against? A few potential #3-#5 starters...every four or fifth day, and a bunch of moderate starters and relievers from night to night? Has he consistently improved his approach at the plate, with regards to K's vs. Walks? Has he started to actually hit lefties? Seriously, the guy is one of about four players ever in the history (sarcasm) of baseball to actually swing from the right side of the plate, and hit righties better.

Now, can Jimenez turn it around? I say not likely. I've heard metrics guys throw around yes and no with varying numbers. Now I'm not a metrics guy, and I say flat out no. Why? Because he's pitched like utter garbage since prior to the deal, seems to have a bad attitude, is losing velocity, and can't locate. That doesn't seem like a good mix to me.

I still have that small part of me that, like you, hopes for the best...

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