The Rockies’ dangling of fireballer Ubaldo Jimenez on the trade block has sparked a small storm of hot stove rumors. While the trade market is plentiful with some intriguing B-level starting pitching, contenders in tight division races– the AL East’s Red Sox and Yankees, the AL Central’s Tigers and Indians and the NL Central’s Reds are all in pursuit of this summer’s most prized commodity. Each club seeks an arm that could give them an edge through the remaining few months of the regular season and in the playoffs. In terms of starting pitching, Jimenez’ immense talent is a close to a sure thing that this deadline’s market offers.
The following report serves to clarify the sea of hot stove rumors surrounding a possible Ubaldo Jimenez trade. Each of the following teams is ranked on their chances of acquiring Jimenez– if the pitcher is to be traded.
The prized arm of this year’s deadline talks, Ubaldo Jimenez has drawn serious interest from the Red Sox, Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers and the Cincinnati Reds while being scouted by at least ten other teams.
After finishing third in NL Cy Young balloting last fall, Jimenez’s numbers have been far more pedestrian this season. Posting a 19-8 record with a 2.88 ERA in 2010, Jimenez’s 6-9 record, 4.20 ERA and 8.6 H/9– up from 6.7 last year– poses a cause for concern– on the surface. However, considering Jimenez starts half of his games in baseball’s second toughest park on pitchers, Coors Field, it’s obvious that his three-run home/road ERA split –a ridiculous 5.55/2.83– is the culprit. Perhaps more importantly for teams looking to get a second half boost by acquiring him, after a rough April, Jimenez has improved in every month this season and his career trends suggest he’ll have a nice second-half.
Because he’s under contract through 2012– with $13.75 million worth of club options spanning through 2014– and because he’s set to make a ridiculously team friendly $7 million between now and the end of next season, Jimenez has drawn considerable interest since his name appeared in trade rumors earlier this month.
With the lone (true) number-one starter on the trade market, the Rockies are demanding three or four top prospects in return, including one (MLB) rotation-ready arm. According to Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated, the Rockies would want three out of the Yankees’ top four prospects– catchers Jesus Montero and Austin Romine and pitchers Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances– and/or Ivan Nova in a deal for Jimenez. From the Reds, the Rockies would want Devin Mesoraco, Aroldis Chapman and either Chris Heisey or another young talent.
Despite holding the best record in the American League (64-39) and holding a two-and-a-half game lead on the Yankees in their division, the Red Sox are looking to add a starting pitcher to their rotation. According to Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated, though the Red Sox are interested in the Mariners’ Erik Bedard, they’re aggressively pursuing Jimenez.
Losing Daisuke Matsuzaka to season-ending elbow surgery a couple of months ago, the Red Sox are becoming desperate for a fresh starter after a slew of worrisome medical reports have clouded (injured) Clay Buchholz’s future. Though he’s shown some improvement lately– going 4-0 and lowering his ERA from 7.47 to 6.20 over his last four starts– righthander John Lackey has been completely unreliable this season (and last). His ugly numbers– 6.20 ERA, 1.57 WHIP and 123 hits allowed in 97 innings pitched– and his shaky relationship with manager Terry Francona exacerbate the club’s need for a starter even further.
Value ($$/$$$$) Will Middlebrooks, Kyle Weiland, Anthony Ranaudo, Ryan Lavarnway, Lars Anderson, Josh Reddick
Because they exhausted their supply of top-tier prospects in last winter’s Adrian Gonzalez trade, the Red Sox purse of trade chips pales in comparison to that of the Yankees or Reds. Luckily however, they have enough talent at the top of their system to draw Colorado’s interest. Last Friday, Fox Sports‘ John Paul Morosi and Ken Rosenthal reported that Rockies’ GM Dan O’Dowd named Kyle Weiland and Will Middlebrooks as the two pivotal prospects in a possible trade with the Red Sox. Other prospects that could be included are 2010 1st round draft selection (pitcher) Anthony Ranaudo, power-hitting catcher Ryan Lavarnway and enigmatic slugger Lars Anderson.
Since he was drafted 174th overall out of a Texas high school in 2005, athletic third baseman Will Middlebrooks has made consistent, annual progress toward the big leagues and he’s turning his flashy tools into on-field results. Blessed with immense body-control and a strong arm, Middlebrooks has developed into a premium defender at the hot-corner and should be an above-average glove in the big leagues sooner rather than later.
Offensively, Middlebrooks has improved his batting average and OPS annually since his ’08 debut in the New York Penn League and he’s finally utilizing his above-average raw power. After legitimizing his prospect status last season, posting a .276/.331/.439 line in the thick Carolina League air, Middlebrooks has pressed his stock even higher with a tremendous performance in the Eastern League this year. Batting .304/.346/.521 with 14 homeruns and 61 RBI– good for 7th in the league– while playing for the Portland SeaDogs, Middlebrooks’ rise culminated with a spot on USA’s roster at the 2011 All-Star Futures Game.
Outside of Middlebrooks, the Red Sox don’t have any first-tier prospects at the moment. Anthony Ranaudo, Kyle Weiland and Ryan Lavarnway are intriguing second-tier talents however, while former top-prospect Lars Anderson and Juan Uribe clone Yamaico Navarro should pique Colorado’s interest as well.
Weiland, a Notre Dame alumnus, made a rocky MLB debut early this month but followed with an impressive encore on July 19th. His solid command over three average or better pitches– including a 90-94 mph fastball– deceptive delivery and polished approach look the part of a rock-solid number-four starter on a contending club.
Drafted out of Yale, PawSox catcher Ryan Lavarnway is in the midst of a historic hot streak. Belting eight home runs, fifteen extra base hits and driving in twenty-one through fifteen July games, Lavarnway has improved his International League line to .364/.435/.722. Though his shaky defensive fundamentals leaves Terry Francona unimpressed, Lavarnway has the bat to fill a Mike Napoli-type catcher/firstbase role for Colorado.
Recent reports suggest that the Red Sox are making an honest run at Jimenez. While their crop of prospects isn’t as enticing as that of the Yankees, Reds or Indians, the Red Sox seem most likely to meet O’Dowd’s asking price. Now that their injury-ridden pitching staff is putting their wallet-busting offseason investment toward another World Series title in jeopardy, it’s difficult to believe that Theo Epstein will fall short– if he believes that Jimenez is prepared to help his club through the playoffs.
If Boston’s lack of first-tier prospects becomes a barrier in trade talks, the team could easily offer twenty-four-year-old outfielder Josh Reddick– especially if Boston can get a veteran, right-handed outfielder like Ryan Spilborghs in return. Reddick’s .345 batting average and .978 OPS this season could be too enticing for the Rockies to turn down and Ryan Kalish’s imminent return (from injury) will lessen the blow to Boston’s roster.
The Yankees have shown a mixed amount of interest in Ubaldo Jiminez this summer. While the organization boasts one of the best farm systems and a crop of high-value-position prospects that any team would covet, general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi have shown reluctance in their endorsement of a deal. Earlier today, Girardi told reporters:
“We’ve gotten this far with [our rotation]…They’ve pitched pretty well. When you look at our starting rotation, the ERAs look pretty good for the most part. I’m not sure what’s going to happen in the next four [or] five more days or whatever, but these guys have pitched well.”
Still though, with the Red Sox pursuing Jimenez, the Yankees have plenty of incentive to get involved; Not only in the keep-away game but also to improve their rotation– which is heavily reliant on the likes of Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. Their team has the talent to compete for a World Series now, but just as the A-Rod injury reminds fans, their window is closing as their team of veterans continues to age. With a top-flight pitcher to join Sabathia in their rotation for the home-stretch, the Yankees would be the team to beat heading into the post-season.
After posting an awesome season as the International League’s youngest regular in 2010, Yankees catching prospect Jesus Montero has continued to hone his skills. While his plus-plus raw power and sweet swing have made him a no-brainer top prospect since he stepped on the professional ballfield as a seventeen year-old four seasons ago, questions about Montero’s abillity to stick at catcher have followed him with every promotion. After leading the International League in in passed balls last year, Montero has improved his defense to the point of palatability.
The Rockies interest in Montero probably isn’t tied very closely to his catching ability however. Montero’s bat draws comparisons to Carlos Delgado and with Todd Helton nearing retirement, the team is in need of an impact corner-infielder. Montero would easily fit the bill. Though the Yankees won’t be quick to trade him, the presence of Mark Teixeira and their interest in Prince Fielder could make him a bit more expendable in a deadline deal.
Beyond Montero, the trade become’s more complicated. After telling the Yankees that they’d want three from a group of Montero, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Ivan Nova last week, Rockies GM Dan O’Down lowered the asking price to Jesus Montero, Austin Romine and “two pitchers.” Romine has Major League bloodlines and his rocket-arm and surprising athleticism (for a catcher) make him an enticing acquisition for an NL team seeking a future, defense-oriented everyday catcher. The two pitchers that O’Dowd would want would either be a package of Ivan Nova and Dellin Betances or Phil Hughes and Betances. Both Nova and Hughes would be nice additions to the Rockies rotation immediately, though Hughes’ star-level ceiling could lower their demands with respect to the other names in the trade.
July 29th, Update: The Rockies have scouts watching Dellin Betances’ recent starts with AA Trenton.
Even after lowering their demands, the Rockies’ asking price is probably well off of Yankees GM Brian Cashman’s mark. Russell Martin will be a free agent after 2012 and after a hot start to his career in pinstripes, he’s seriously tailed off in the past few months. After batting .293/.376/.587 with a .293 ISO through the end of April, Martin has managed just a .197/.305/.284 line since and his ISO has plummeted with every month. Both Romine and Montero are ready to catch in at least a part-time role and could become crucial pieces as early as this season if Martin continues to struggle. This issue alone could be enough to keep Montero and Romine in pinstripes.
Designated hitter Jorge Posada is clearly nearing retirement and Montero’s polished bat and plus-plus raw power are nearly major league ready. Keeping Montero would quiet the need for the Yankees to add an expensive bat– like Prince Fielder– this coming offseason, effectively saving the extra budget to spend on talented lefty CJ Wilson or a bullpen weapon.
If the Rockies are to trade Ubaldo Jiminez to any team besides the Red Sox or Yankees, it’s probably the Reds who will win the sweepstakes. Two reasons: (1) Cincinnati has the prospect depth to meet Colorado’s demands. (2) Cincinnati’s general manager, Walt Jocketty, has proven to be adept at assembling midseason deals.
Value ($$$/$$$$) Aroldis Chapman, Devin Mesoraco*, Chris Heisey, Homer Bailey
Among catching prospects who actually project to play the position in the big leagues, Devin Mesoraco ranks behind only Wilin Rosario in talent level. Playing in the International League this season, Mesoraco has hit .307 with an .883 OPS and he’s improved his defense behind the plate. While the Rockies do have Wilin Rosario, a catching prospect blessed with a bazooka for an arm and at least 20 homerun power, their big league backstop, Chris Ianetta, has only one season remaining on his contract. Furthermore, though soon-to-be 38 year-old first baseman Todd Helton has re-found his stroke after a poor showing in 2010, his contract runs out after 2013 and the club is seeking a long-term answer at first base. Mesoraco’s defense is certainly playable behind the plate but his immense raw power may be better served playing everyday at first base.
If the Reds want to take home Ubaldo Jiminez, they’ll need to pony up Aroldis Chapman, period. While Chapman’s 2011 season started off a bit rocky, the hurler has caught fire pitching out of Cincinnati’s bullpen of late. Since returning from the disabled list at the end of June, Chapman has struck out 23 batters through 13 2/3 innings– raising his K/9 rate to 13 for the season– while allowing just three hits (seven baserunners in total) and three earned runs. He’s harnessed his command lately, and he’s allowing just three hits per nine innings pitched on the season– an amazing rate. As a strikeout-oriented lefthander come from a similarly hitter-friendly park, Chapman will fit Colorado perfectly and could either slot in to the rotation or develop into a shutdown closer.
Troy Renck of the Denver Post originally reported that the Rockies had asked the Reds to include Chris Heisey in a deal. However, Renck later clarified that the Rockies had explicitly asked for Mesoraco and Chapman to be included, while they only “expressed interest” in Heisey and Homer Bailey. If a trade is to happen between the two sides however, it’s likely that Heisey (along with Mesoraco and/or Chapman) and more will be included.
Playing more regularly this season, Heisey continues to surprise with his production. While he’s batting .245, he’s hit 12 home runs and driven in 34 runs in 192 at bats while offering solid baserunning and defense in the outfielder corners. To the Rockies, Heisey would provide a significant upgrade to Ryan Spilborghs in the team’s four-man outfield rotation. Unfortunately, Heisey’s lack of success against southpaws– he owns a .583 OPS against lefthanders in his career– would keep him from being an ideal platoon partner for Seth Smith, however.
The $20+ million remaining on Chapman’s MLB contract actually exceeds the remaining salary on Jimenez’s. For this reason, Colorado could also demand at least a few million dollars in cash via trade or a fourth player. If the Rockies decided to ask for another player they could improve their asking price from Mesoraco, Chapman, Heisey to Mesoraco, Chapman, Homer Bailey or even Mesoraco, Chapman, Leake. It also wouldn’t be out of the question for the Rockies to ask for Yonder Alonso or Juan Francisco. While Colorado isn’t desperate, they could use some corner infield prospects and both Alonso and Francisco are blocked in Cincinnati by Joey Votto.
Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty is a far less conservative trade partner than either (Red Sox GM) Theo Epstein or (Yankees GM) Brian Cashman. Throughout his career with the Cardinals, Jocketty engineered trades that brought Mark McGuire, Will Clark and Scott Rolen to his club. Clark would post a 1.081 OPS while helping St. Louis into the NLCS in 2000 while McGwire and Rolen would post numerous superstar-caliber seasons with the Cardinals before winning the 2006 World Series with the club. Though the Reds’s payroll stands at $76 million, Jocketty almost certainly won’t be afraid to pull the trigger if he believes the price is right.
The Reds’ record stands at 50-52 and they’re 8.5 games out of first place in the NL Central. The team is in the end-stages of a rebuilding phase and may not want to deal their plentiful stock of young talent if it doesn’t seem likely that Jiminez could push them into the postseason. Injuries to Scott Rolen and Zack Cozart have left holes in the left side of the infield while the poor performance of key players Edinson Volquez, (recently traded) Johnny Gomes and Drew Stubbes has kept the club from winning back-to-back games since June 14th-15th. Furthermore, in light of Francisco Cordero’s recent struggles and Chapman’s recent dominance, it may do more harm than good to deal their bullpen’s late-inning insurance.
* While the Reds could have Jiminez if they handed over a package that included Mesoraco and Chapman– there’s been plenty of rumors that they’re no longer willing to do so. According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Reds’ front office has been telling teams that both Mesoraco and young middle infielder Billy Hamilton are “untouchable” at this point. While we’ve seen general managers go back on their word in this respect, this new development obviously makes a trade between the two clubs more unlikely.
According to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the fading Cleveland Indians (52-50) are pursuing Ubaldo Jimenez in an attempt to regain hold of first place in the American League Central division. While the Indians’s have geared their organization toward a rebuilding phase and their crop of prospects is appropriately rich, it’s relatively unlikely that they’ll end up meeting O’Dowd’s demands of three top prospects. Cleveland not only needs to keep their young talent to continue their–already successful– rebuilding process, but injuries to Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo have forced the Indians’ hand in pursuit of a productive bat. Though they did pick up Kosuke Fukudome from the Cubs a couple of days ago, the team continues to focus on acquiring outfielder Ryan Ludwick from the Padres. In short, the Indians will look probably elsewhere for help.
Though the Tigers are clearly focused on adding Jimenez Jimenez to their thin rotation, it’s likely that Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski will be forced to accept a “fallback” option instead. With a paper-thin farm-system, the Tigers are reluctant to trade Jake Turner, the only prospect in their system that the Rockies have shown interest in. The team’s front office is already looking in other directions and at more-easily attainable veteran arms like Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Marquis, Hiroki Kuroda and Doug Fister. Though it’s looking increasingly likely that Kuroda will end up in New York.