The Baltimore Orioles have agreed to terms with free agent pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, reports Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Terms of the agreement, which is pending a physical, are believed to be in the range of four years and $48 million. As a penalty for signing Jimenez, the Orioles will forfeit the 17th overall pick in the 2014 Draft, and the Cleveland Indians will add a sandwich-round compensation pick.
The 30 year-old Jimenez was one of baseball’s best pitchers from 2008-2010. Pitching at Coors Field, he posted a 3.43 ERA with strikeout and walk rates of 21.8 percent and 10.5 percent and a ground ball rate of 51.9 percent. His average fastball velocity of 95.7 percent made him the hardest throwing starting pitcher in the major leagues
In 2011, Jimenez was dealt midseason to the Cleveland Indians. He dropped off some, but his peripherals were better than his 4.68 ERA suggested. However, he had a miserable 2012 season, posting a 5.40 ERA, and 0.1 fWAR.
Jimenez’ 2013 campaign was a tale of two halves. Over the first half of the year, he had a 4.56 ERA with a 12.2 percent walk rate that was the worst mark in the AL. In the second half, Jimenez managed a 1.82 ERA, with vastly improved strikeout and walk rates of 29.1 percent and 7.9 percent. Only Anibal Sanchez could match his 3.0 fWAR.
Looking forwards to 2014, Orioles fans have to be wondering which Jimenez will show up. It’s safe to say he’s not the same pitcher as he was from 2008-10, as his fastball velocity has dropped precipitously in the last three seasons, down to an average of 91.7 in 2013. Still, he’s never missed a start in his big league career.
It’s unlikely that Jimenez will sustain his second half success, if only because that type of dominance is rarely matched. For his career, he has a 10.5 percent walk rate, and a massive improvement over 84 innings is a less reliable sample than the nearly 1200 innings before that.
However, Jimenez has a lot of upside at that contract. In order to compensate for his declining fastball velocity, he’s leaned more heavily on his slider, and developed a split-finger.
Clearly there’s significant risk in committing approximately $50 million to a pitcher who is as mechanically unorthodox as Jimenez, and who was basically replacement level for a year and a half before taking off over the final two months of the season against inferior competition. For the Orioles, it looks like a significantly better investment than some of the free agent pitching signings earlier in the offseason. Maybe there was something to what had to be an agonizingly slow winter for Orioles fans.