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The Corner of Carnegie and Ontario celebrates Ubaldo?

The Corner of Carnegie and Ontario celebrates Ubaldo?
March 6, 2013
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I just can help but cringe when I say the name Ubaldo Jimenez.

I was never a fan of the deal that brought him here, and that certainly hasn’t changed over the past 1 ½ years. When he signed my daughter’s baseball last year, I honestly thought, “Holy cow, he just ruined that ball. If I throw it, it’s going to hit the dirt a foot in front of the plate, or end up somewhere off the wall and only take about three seconds to get there.”

Today, with the snow piling up here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, I’ve decided to let it all go. It’s time to embrace my inner…Ubaldo…

No, I’m not planning on walking 12 in 2 2/3 of an inning.

No, I’m not planning on utilizing all seventeen of my pitches on one batter in one inning because I have to face him twice.

I’m letting it all go. No longer will I cringe when I say his name. No longer will I utilize the phrase “he who shall not be named.”  No longer will I think of him every time I take out my garbage to the curb.

No, today is the day that I give Mr. Jimenez a new lease on life. It’s the year of Ubaldo here at the Corner of Carnegie…

…at least until April…

Seriously, the pitching on this team is so important. I don’t mean to spend a second week in a row discussing this topic, but I feel like last week’s piece focused a ton on the bottom end of the rotation. Pitching is the most important part of any team, but for the Cleveland Indians, that seems magnified many times over this coming season. The Indians addressed several holes in the Indians line-up, and while the starting rotation wasn’t ignored, there clearly wasn’t the same mass of moves to improve the area in which the Indians likely needed the most help.

This is nowhere near a critique of the Indians’ front office, as it was perhaps the most exciting offseason I’ve ever seen as an Indians fan, but it does make me wonder if the Tribe isn’t going to be a part of some high scoring baseball games in 2013.

Everything keeps coming back to the pitching for me, and in particular, what the expectations should be.

While I’ve talked about the importance of the bottom of the rotation, the key to the Cleveland Indians season is clearly on the shoulders of both Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson. The Indians have an intriguing mix of middle-to-bottom of the rotation starters, and many have the ability to provide stability to any rotation, but if the Indians want to make a realistic push into the playoffs, they will only go as far as their #1 and #2 starters.

I’m not going to lie here. That’s a scary proposition.

There remains some hope though, as Terry Francona brings with him a different mentality to how he handles his pitchers. Francona immediately brings respect, so he doesn’t have to earn it the way that Manny Acta seemingly had to do day-to-day. While that may not be fair to Acta, it is what it is. Francona brings with him two World Series victories, and with it comes the cache of being one of the best managers in baseball.

It’s clear that the Indians’ players are on board the Terry Francona train.

I’ve been listening to most of the Tribe skipper's press conferences and I can’t help but be impressed. The guy has a knack of lifting guys up, even when he’s being realistic with their abilities. A case in point is when he talked about Dice K the other day. “He has a knack of getting out of jams.” Um, that’s a compliment, right? Regardless of the meaning, it sure came out like one.

While listening to Francona this spring, it’s clear that he realizes the importance of Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, but it’s equally clear that he’s spent a lot of this early spring assuring both that he buys into their potential as top-of-the-rotation starters.

Francona initially stated that there wasn’t a rush to name an opening day starter. In doing that, he took the pressure off his two potential “aces” in the early going to keep them from pressing. Then, Francona, named Masterson his opening day starter fairly early in the process.

I took it as a positive that Masterson was quickly showing the coaching staff signs that he may be ready to rebound from a tough 2012 season. While Masterson melted down in several outings last year, Francona has been quick to jump to his opening day starters’ defense. Francona noted that in a recent spring press conference.

“If the starter keeps going six innings or more in each outing, he’s going to win some ballgames…and that’s going to vary from year-to-year depending on the offense.”

It was a clear statement that he thinks Masterson was perhaps mired behind an offense that couldn’t support him last year. How does that mess with a starter’s head, especially one that prides himself of staying in games, regardless of score or performance? That’s hard to quantify, and it’s likely what will always keep Masterson from being considered a true ace. I just can’t help but thinking back to opening day last season, when Masterson was brilliant, and the Indians lost. That’s the M.O. for many of his starts, and that will assuredly be helped this year. If the Indians begin supporting Masterson, it’s distinctly possible that he gets right quickly.

I was also laughing listening to Francona talking about telling Masterson about his early decision. “I was excited to tell him, which was part of it. Once I knew, I couldn’t wait to tell him,” Francona said, showcasing the Tribe Manager’s baseball roots. He’s a fan, a baseball guy, an old school manager who just understands the nuances of the game of baseball, and more importantly, his players. Francona is definitively a player’s manager. While the same could be said of Acta, there’s a presence in a room that Acta never had, and that he drew away from as his team began to fold in 2012.

That will never happen with Francona. More on that in a second.

With regards to Masterson, he’s certainly not an ace in the general sense, but he definitely has the ability to dominate. Francona was asked if he saw a difference in the pitcher from his days as a member of the Red Sox to today, and Francona was clear. “No,” he said. “He was younger back then, but we put him near the back-end of the bullpen, because we though highly of him. The only difference is, of course, that he’s a starter here in Cleveland.”

The message has been sent. Masterson is the ace of this staff. He’s struggled at times during the spring, but Francona was clear that he could care a less about results right now as opposed to his guys getting their work. I firmly believe Masterson will rebound in 2013. I’m not sure if he’ll meet his 2011 standards, but he’ll be better than his 2012 self.

Which brings me to Ubaldo Jimenez.

I’ve been innately curious about how Francona would handle his enigmatic starter, and I’ve been watching closely.

There seems to be a Francona/Callaway party-line with regards to Jimenez this season, and it all seems to revolve around rhythm. Callaway was concerned with his time of delivery. When timing the start of his delivery to finish, it was a second longer going to the plate. In that time, “the arm has to find something to do, and quite often, it’s not good,” said Francona.

Callaway visited Jimenez twice this offseason, and the righty was extremely receptive to the work. Remember, Callaway is his fourth pitching coach in five seasons.

Francona didn’t seem to be too worried about the multiple pitching coaches. When asked if he was worried this offseason, he easily replied, “No, because there’s trust there.” The belief is if they can shorten his delivery, they can build a consistency that will allow his velocity to improve. It’s clear that this is a work in progress, but the big question remains whether or not it actually works?

I’m not a big believer that Jimenez is going to find two or three MPH based upon this better rhythm by itself. With that said, I also think there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Francona never hesitates when talking about Jimenez. “I’m proud of him. He’s been very receptive to the changes that Mickey’s put in place.”

So what’s the point here?

I’m not expecting miracles, but I do think Francona is working his mojo on these two guys. I know that Jimenez, in particular, has been the centrifuge of negativity over the past two seasons. His 2011 season in Colorado was a mess, and his 2011 in Cleveland was worse. His 2012 season was perhaps the worst in all of baseball for a starter. He has nowhere to go but up, and now, there’s definitively consistent and respected support behind him.

Jimenez and Masterson are likely going to fall into the role of innings eaters. It’s not ideal for a team looking for a staff, but if they can find four or five guys that can keep this team in games, they are going to win a lot of games. If Jimenez and Masterson can be a little more than that, then this team could be really, really special.

I have to mention Shin Soo-Choo here, and I was going to let it pass, but just can’t. For those that weren’t paying attention, Choo sent GM Chris Antonetti a letter after he was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds. I have always appreciated Choo’s abilities as a player, and have always felt that he was one of the better players in the league. His skill set is unique, and it comes in a surprising package.

With that said, he’s never been one of my favorite players. That’s more on me than anything else. He just wasn’t a guy that I went to see…but enjoyed seeing what he did once I got there.

What I failed to see is that Choo really got it. Choo was a guy that realized that without Chris Antonetti, Mark Shapiro and the Cleveland Indians, he may have led a very different life.

Here’s his note, as stated in a great piece by Ken Rosenthal last week:

After the trade … so many things are running through my mind … Six years ago … From the time I first arrived in Cleveland, all the way up til now… From Seattle, where I had no chance of playing … to the Cleveland Indians, where I was finally given a great chance to be an everyday player.

 “I want you to know that my family and I will always be thankful for this opportunity and want you to know how much I will remember the chance I was given in Cleveland … Because I firmly believe that without this opportunity, there is no Shin-Soo Choo and I would not be remembered.”

“As soon I heard about the trade, I was excited,” Choo said. “I was losing my old teammates, but it was a great opportunity to play in the playoffs and maybe the World Series.

“Then to have to play center field, I just said, ‘Whoa.’ When I got traded, I thought, ‘Jay Bruce plays right field. So, where am I going?’ They said center field. I said, ‘Really?’ I was pretty shocked.”

“I know that baseball is a business,” Choo wrote to Antonetti, “… but whenever I would see you in the clubhouse … and see the emotional strain on your face … I would feel really bad … I would even say to myself, ‘Let’s try harder and make a great team.’ And I tried really hard for you … but unfortunately, the players just weren’t able to answer your emotional call.

 “Now that I have been traded, I have so many things I feel bad about … but I firmly believe that Cleveland will change for the better. You have a lot of young and talented players … but most importantly … players that will listen and follow your leadership … As a result, I know you will get great performances and results in the near future.”

“I am going to miss everyone within the organization … from the trainers who have watched over and taken care of me … to the clubhouse personnel,” Choo wrote.

“With that said and even though physically we are parting ways, everyone will always be in my heart and will always be in my thoughts and memory.”

I love the letter, and love the fact that Choo did what so many players today seemingly forget about: he said thanks.

He didn’t have to.

He could have just went on his way. The Indians sent him to Cincinnati, then gave another right fielder money he likely would have accepted. Instead, Choo reached out to let the Indians know that he owes them a debt of gratitude, and on top of that, sincerely wished that Cleveland will “change for the better.”

I know that my thoughts on Choo have changed considerably, and it does make me wish I’d have paid a bit more attention to him while he was here, other than to expect .300 and 20 and 90 every year.

So, good luck to you Shin-Soo, and may we see you again on the opposite side of the field in a World Series really…really soon…

The Rearviewmirror:

It’s hard for me to believe that February is gone, and we’re already into the nitty-gritty of March. A month from now, a new season will be upon us, and Progressive Field will be gearing up for the New York Yankees. I don’t know how good this team will be this year, but there’s hope. This isn’t the kind of hope that takes a shine just because you think Jason Kipnis might be great…but the kind of shine that Jason Kipnis is the fourth or fifth most important offensive player now.

This team could win some games….

…and Ubaldo Jimenez is going to help them do it…

I’m picking up my Jimenez jersey today…well…right after I find a Shin-Soo Choo…

 

Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as  the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

jwahoo
March 7, 2013 - 1:47 AM EST
You really can't over state how amazing the letter is. It just seems so honest. Usually players who are traded or become a FA say what they think they are expected to say.

I think Choo sent the letter from his heart and meant everything he said. When I was at ST Choo was one of the few players who came over and signed EVERY single ball that was handed to him. He honestly didn't leave until everyone had a signed baseball.

During a time when baseball players seem to try and squeeze every last penny out of a team Choo is a rare breed indeed. A guy who understands how luck he is and actually seems to appreciate how lucky he is to make millions of dollars playing baseball.

Shin Shoo Choo you are a rare player and have my deepest respect. Hope to see you in October. Thank you for your time in Cleveland.
Bric
March 6, 2013 - 10:46 PM EST
Choo will be remembered as a class act, day in, day out, playing for some teams that were so bad, they set records for futility.
His offense, especially when they had him lead off, and his defense elevated the teams to respectability.
Tony
March 6, 2013 - 10:35 PM EST
Tells you how out of touch I have been of late with some stuff with my vacation and living in my cave finishing my book....I never even knew of the Choo story! That's good stuff. Remember, he went to Buffalo in 2007 and came down with a serious arm injury that resulted in Tommy John surgery to his left elbow and had to have season ending surgery.....came back and established himself at the end of the 2008 season in Cleveland and there you go.
clohse
March 6, 2013 - 8:44 PM EST
Heya Jim,

I think a big part of the Choo letter that sets it apart from the bulk of today's players is that it actually expresses character. Taken with other things we know about him, which is very little, we have just begun to be able to be able to understand him as a person. He's Korean, he's driven drunk, he's talented as a baseball player, he's got a young family, he's written this letter. As an Indians fan, we're unlikely to get to know him better. It's a little sad, isn't it? It's even more sad to think that we know most MLB players even less.

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