Free-agent pitchers rolling in dough; Ubaldo Jimenez patiently waits

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Ubaldo Jimenez
After a strong finish in 2013, Ubaldo Jimenez is waiting for the right deal. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

It really amazes me that big league general managers continue to toss buckets of money at aging pitchers, gambling to cash in on past success.

Roberto Hernandez compiled a miserable, 6-13 record last season with the Tampa Bay Rays, including an ERA of 4.89. Nonetheless, the 33-year-old Dominican inked a guaranteed $4.5 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies this winter. Front office boss Ruben Amaro Jr. must have thought he was signing another guy named Fausto Carmona, who only had one good season many moons ago.

Joaquin Benoit, 36, recently signed a two-year, $15 million pact with the usually frugal San Diego Padres, netting the ex-Detroit Tiger a $2 million raise to be the Friars setup man in the bullpen. That means Benoit will make almost $1 million more than San Diego’s closer, Huston Street, who is six years younger.

What blows me away even more is the New York Mets agreed to a two-year, $20 million deal with Bartolo Colon, a surgically repaired, 40-year-old former PED user. Are you kidding me? I know Colon went 18-6 with the AL West champion Oakland A’s last year, but what are the possibilities of that happening again with the hapless Mets? Wouldn’t the $14 million pay hike Executive VP Sandy Alderson gave Colon be better served by investing in younger talent?

Other veteran hurlers are aiming high as well, like durable right hander Ervin Santana, but have yet to receive. After posting a record of 9-10 in 32 starts with the Kansas City Royals in 2013, Santana’s asking price in November as a free agent was five years and $110 million. That’s a lot of dinero for a 32-year-old starter who has experienced a roller-coaster career. Since then, Santana has lowered his sights, and rumor has it the Tigers might agree to a sum in the neighborhood of $80 million, which would be on a par with Anibal Sanchez.

All this nonsense brings me to the million dollar question : Why is everybody ignoring Ubaldo Jimenez? Did he disrespect Bud Selig, as folks frequently do? Does he refuse to shower after road games and then board the team bus? Maybe the guy is just too nice. I can vouch for Ubaldo’s “amistad,” but he’s all business on the hill. This is a man who doesn’t smoke or drink, and his social life consists of strumming his guitar and enjoying birria de chivo, which, for my gringo readers, is goat stew.

Ubaldo Jimenez has scuffled on the mound since his days as a Colorado Rockie, when he was considered one of the game’s brightest stars. In 2010, he was a 19-game winner with a 2.80 ERA and threw a no-hitter. After being traded to the Cleveland Indians, however, the 6′-5″, 210-pounder couldn’t throw strikes or get his head screwed on correctly. In 2012, Jimenez suffered 17 losses and Cleveland fans became vocally abusive.

All that changed when new skipper Terry Francona came to town. Jimenez reinvented himself my throwing more sliders, sinkers and change-ups, instead of his four-seam fast ball. He tightened up his mechanics and finished up with a respectable, 13-9 slate, going 4-0 in September starts that kept Cleveland in the playoff race. And Ubaldo continued to miss bats, punching out 194 hitters in 182 innings.

Jimenez was so good in 2013 that the Indians picked up his $8 million team option and extended a $14.1 million bid to retain him. In previous years, Jimenez had never earned more than $5.75 million, so accepting the Indians generosity, even on a one-year deal, would have established him in a higher salary bracket for future negotiations. It should have been an offer Jimenez couldn’t refuse, but he did anyway.

In Ubaldo’s view, job security and staying in one place for a while was more important than immediate wealth. Jimenez, who will be 30 in January, and his agent Diego Bentz, are willing to wait out the market. But now that the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes have begun, things will likely slow to a snail’s pace. I don’t think it is realistic for Jimenez to expect the kind of money Santana is seeking. Santana, thanks to the Los Angeles Angels, has earned $23 million over the last two years, and he’s not about to take a pay cut. Matt Garza is another pitcher who has been compared to Jimenez. The oft-injured Garza has a career .500 record, but has banked $20 million over the same period as Santana.

I think Jimenez will settle for a deal similar to that of Jason Vargas, who was pleased with a four-year package of $32 million with the Royals. Vargas is an eight-year pro with a subpar record of 51-58, although a majority of those seasons were spent with the Seattle Mariners. Over the last three years, he has banked about $15 million, again thanks to Artie Moreno. Jimenez has collected only $14 million over four campaigns.

Is Jason Vargas a better pitcher than Ubaldo Jimenez?

Hell no.

Is Jimenez at least equal to Ervin Santana and Matt Garza?


The good news is, despite the buzz around Tanaka, there has been mild interest in Jimenez by the Mariners and the New York Yankees. Both teams need pitching, and if the Yanks don’t nail down the Japanese star, it could be curtains. Jimenez would be a difference-maker, and probably cheap enough to keep the payroll under the luxury-tax penalty.

I’d love to see Ubaldo Jimenez in pinstripes, because New York fans know baseball like no other. And even if my favorite Dominican pitcher doesn’t get the money he deserves, he will definitely earn respect.

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