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Should Rangers Fans Want Ubaldo Jimenez?

Buster Olney and Jon Heyman reported Sunday that the Rockies are accepting offers for Ubaldo Jimenez. Despite his down season, after watching him in Denver Thursday I think that the Rangers should be willing to make a serious offer including Matt Harrison and Martin Perez to try to convince the Rockies to deal him.

 

Word has circulated over this weekend that the Rockies are nudging their ace Ubaldo Jimenez out on the trade market, with Buster Olney saying in an Insider post Sunday morning that the price is expected to be "painful." Jon Heyman supplied a good starting point:

rockies name price for ubaldo: montero, banuelos, betances & nova. nyy will do montero plus other pitchers (not those guys)

One would assume that the Rockies would come down a little from that asking point, but let's look at what the Rangers would have to do to match that kind of deal. Baseball America and Keith Law both updated their top prospects list last week. BA ranked Montero as the No. 8 best prospect in baseball, and Banuelos and Betances 13 and 26. Nova is the smallest asset in the deal, but he's not a throw-in. Law ranks those players 21, 18 and 34. 

First of all, the only position prospect in the Rangers system that rivals Montero is Jurickson Profar, the Rangers' precocious A-ball shortstop prospect who BA ranks No. 12 and Law ranks No. 22. Does that mean that the Rangers must include Profar in any deal for Ubaldo? I don't know that it does. The Rockies would be happy to have him as an asset, but the last thing they need for the foreseeable future is a shortstop. Troy Tulowitzki is locked up until 2020 now, and, as a quality defender at 26, he should be expected to stay at that spot for at least seven of those years. No, the Rockies want pitching and they want assets. As Olney notes, they also want players who will be major league contributors now or in the near future. Profar, who won't turn 19 until after he reports for spring training next February, won't be that.

As Adam Morris of Lone Star Ball noted Sunday, the Rockies will almost certainly demand two things of the Rangers: top pitching prospect Martin Perez and one of Derek Holland and Matt Harrison. Considering that Harrison's and Holland's numbers both rival Ubaldo's and that Perez is ranked as the No. 6 prospect in baseball by BA and No. 10 by Law, that may seem to some like an overpayment already. He's seen a velocity dip and a rise in his home runs allowed, and he has always carried a too-high walk rate between 3.5 and 4 per nine innings.

Walks aside, concerns over Jimenez surround his delivery and his velocity. In 2010 his 96.1 mph average on his fastball led major league starters. This season his 93.4 is ninth, just ahead of C.C. Sabathia and behind Alexi Ogando (fourth at 94.7) and Holland (sixth at 93.7). It is also worth noting that Harrison is 14th among MLB starters at 93.0. Fangraphs considered his fastball the second most effective in baseball in '10 and his split-change 12th. Only Felix Hernandez had a fastball-change combo that rivaled Ubaldo's in quality. This year, he's nowhere to be found among the leaders. His fastball ranks outside the top 40, while his change is 29th.

I saw his outing Thursday in Denver against the Brewers. He beat Yovani Gallardo, going six innings and allowing two runs on six hits (including an infield single and a misplay by Seth Smith, who was miserable in right all night). He hit and intentionally walked Prince Fielder and walked one other while striking out four. While that is a fairly pedestrian line for a major league ace (or anyone aspiring to be one), and every Rangers starter the past two times through their rotation has equalled or topped it, I saw much more effective pitches Thursday. Brewers hitters could not handle the fastball-change combo most of the night. His fastball did range throughout the mid-90s, but he topped 95 every time he needed it, and the change was by far his most effective pitch, as it struck out Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks and Casey McGehee and fooled hitters all day.  

The pitcher I saw Thursday looked more like the 2010 version of Ubaldo Jimenez than the 2011 first half guy, and if he continues to pitch like that in front of scouts this month, his price will continue to approach that asking price noted by Heyman. The beauty of Ubaldo, outside of his ability to dominate when he's right, is his contract. He makes $2.8 million this season, $4.2 next season, and the Rockies have a $5.75 million option for 2013. They also have a low 2014 option, but if he's dealt, he can and certainly will void that option. Those amounts are unheard of for a quality starter who will be in his 5th, 6th and 7th full seasons. While his value to the Rangers should be most apparent in the playoffs, his ability to throw 210-220 innings will be another bonus.

When I heard about his possible availability and then saw Morris' comments on cost, fresh off of seeing a good outing against a quality Brewers lineup, my tweeted reaction was:

zywica  
Post on SBN Dallas coming on this, but I watched Ubaldo in Denver Thursday. Would definitely give M Perez, Holland/Harrison, plus.

As well as Matt Harrison has pitched this season, I would prefer that he be involved, rather than Holland. As good as Harrison has been - and he's been good - and as much as it's seemed like Holland has struggled this year, Holland's xFIP is actually better. I think that represents Harrison's good fortune in compiling his great ERA, and I think that Holland will be the better pitcher long term.

As far as the 'plus,' that's obviously the rub. Heyman says that the Yankees tell the Rockies they won't include any of the three requested pitchers with Montero. Even if the Yankees include Nova, Perez and Harrison match the value of those top two players. I would not include Profar, nor do I think the Rangers would have to, even to approach the asking price. They have additional advanced arms like Robbie Erlin and Neil Ramirez who are Top 100 caliber prospects and are in the top two levels of the minors. The Rockies have Nolan Arenado flourishing in High A, but they still have a bigger need at third base than shortstop, and the Rangers have Chris Davis in AAA and Mike Olt in High A as possible hedges to Arenado developing like Ian Stewart never did. They also have a handful of promising middle infielders - Luis Sardinas, Rougned Odor, Hanser Alberto in particular - at the lower levels and several other quality arms (as many as anyone in baseball, in fact) who could be attached as additional players to dream on.

As of today, I would be willing to make an offer of Perez, Harrison, Olt or Davis, and another upside arm like Roman Mendez, and while I don't know that the Rockies would do that, I expect that it will match or exceed any other offers. 

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.