Despite being no-hit by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim starting pitcher Ervin Santana on July 27, later that same day speculation began to rise that the Cleveland Indians are looking to acquire not just a bat, but an ace for their young staff.
Fox Sports Ken Rosenthal originally reported that the Indians are "strongly in the mix" for the Colorado Rockies' ace Ubaldo Jimenez. Dan Knobler then confirmed that report on Twitter, but added that "they're a real longshot."
So which reporter got it right?
Ubaldo Jimenez has always been a good young pitcher in Colorado, but had a career year in 2010, going 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA and 214 Ks. Those numbers helped put him third in NL Cy Young voting. They are even more impressive when you factor in that his home ballpark, Coors Field, is notorious for its small spaces and numerous home runs.
Jimenez has obviously had more success on the road in his career, holding a 3.04 ERA, 8.9 K/9 and a 2.43 K/BB ratio. Those numbers are all a significant improvement as compared to his career combined home and away numbers of 3.62 ERA, 8.2 K/9 and a 2.10 K/BB rate.
The main reason that Jimenez is being dealt, though, is that he is struggling in 2011. Jimenez holds a 4.20 ERA thus far in the year, which is close to his career worst mark of 4.28 in his first full season in 2007. While his ERA is up, the Rockies say it is because Jimenez's velocity is down. That could be a cause for concern for any potential buyer.
Despite the velocity dip, Jimenez's K/9 and BB/9 rates are right around the same as his great 2010. This means that if he gets out of Coors Field, he could be just as effective as he was last year for the team that acquires him.
While Jimenez could have a lot of success getting out of Colorado and pitching in Progressive Field, it could be costly for general manager Chris Antonetti to pry him from the Rockies' grasp.
The biggest factor is not that he is a true ace in a thin trade market, but that he has a very team-friendly contract. Jimenez is earning $2.8 million this year, $4.2 million in 2012 and has a $5.85 million team option in 2013. A contract like that is perfect for the small market and frugally owned Cleveland Indians, making him seem like almost a perfect fit.
But with a team-friendly contract and loads of talent, it would take loads of prospects to acquire the 27-year-old Dominican Republic native.
Or would it?
The two other front-runners in the Jimenez sweepstakes are the Cincinnati Reds and New York Yankees, while the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays have also shown interest. Many prospect names have been thrown around by media pundits, but according to Rosenthal on Twitter, the Rockies are not asking for the Reds two blue-chip prospects. So the Indians could still hold on to their premium talent.
The asking price has reportedly been one pitcher who could immediately fill the vacant rotation spot Jimenez would leave behind and then three other sure-thing prospects. Since the Indians are loaded with quality pitching talent, they could easily get a deal done that could benefit both sides.
One deal that the Rockies are reportedly asking for from the Reds, according to MLB.com's Thomas Harding, is starting pitchers Travis Wood and Homer Bailey, along with either pitcher Aroldis Chapman or catcher Devin Mesoraco.
While Chapman and Mesoraco are both blue-chip talents, the Reds are not interested in dealing either of them for Jimenez. So it does not mean that the Indians would have to give up top prospects like Lonnie Chisenhall or Drew Pomeranz in a similar deal.
Players that the Indians could offer to the Rockies are Zach McAllister (major league-ready pitcher), outfield prospect Nick Weglarz and pitching prospect Joe Gardner.
McAllister has already made his major league debut for the Indians earlier this year, and as a ground-ball pitcher, could fit well in Coors Field. He was the pitcher of the year in the Yankees organization in 2009 before a horrible 2010 where he was traded to the Indians as the player to be named later in the Austin Kearns deal. In 2011 at Triple-A, he was named the starting pitcher for the International League at the All-Star game.
Who are the front runners for Ubaldo Jimenez?
Weglarz was once a top prospect of the Tribe, but has had injury issues. He is currently at Double-A Akron, though he played 50 games at Triple-A Columbus in 2010 before injuring his thumb. Weglarz's 2011 slash line of .168/.369/.290, which makes him seem like not much of a talent, but when fully healthy, he can rake.
Weglarz has always been a premium corner outfielder with plus power and an eye that has only been rivaled by Carlos Santana in his days in the farm system. The fact that his OBP is .200 points higher than his BA shows that he knows the value of a walk and doesn't feel the need to launch every other pitch out of the park.
Gardner is lost in the myriad of quality pitching prospects that Cleveland possesses, but that does not diminish his talent in any way. Gardner has spent the entirety of his 2011 at Double-A Akron, where he has underwhelmed with a 4.79 ERA and 1.543 WHIP.
He is focusing on the development of his changeup and slider instead of relying on his nasty sinker like he has done throughout most of his career. Having a pitcher with one of the best sinkers in the minor leagues could be very tantalizing for the Rockies.
If the Rockies could slightly lower the asking price on Jimenez, the Indians could put together a very nice package for their ace. Bringing Jimenez to Cleveland could greatly improve their playoff chances in the AL Central where they would sport arguably the best rotation in the division.
Jimenez won't help them score runs, which has been the Indians biggest weakness as of late, but being a 27-year-old ace that can be controlled for cheap through 2013 might make him too good of a deal to pass up for Cleveland.