Ubaldo Jimenez Rumors

Blue Jays Notes: Jimenez, Santana, Anthopoulos

The Blue Jays haven't made any offers to free agent starters but that could change in the near future, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports.  The Jays have considered such options as Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, A.J. Burnett and Bronson Arroyo, and have also looked at adding starting pitching (such as the Rays' David Price and the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija) in trades.  While Jimenez might not be Toronto's top choice, the team has nevertheless looked into his medical records and other "extensive background work" on the right-hander.

Here's some more from general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who spoke to reporters at the Jays' state of the franchise event tonight.  All of Anthopoulos' comments are from the Twitter feeds of Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith and Shi Davidi…

  • Anthopoulos noted that any of four free agent starters (Santana, Jimenez, Burnett, Arroyo) could "all be a significant improvement" to the Jays' rotation.
  • The idea of pursuing a free agent is becoming more appealing to the club, Anthopoulos said, since prices are beginning to drop.
  • In terms of internal pitching prospects, Anthopoulos praised Marcus Stroman, comparing the 22-year-old righty to Athletics right-hander Sonny Gray.  While ideally Stroman would spend 2014 in the minors, Anthopoulos believes Stroman is ready for the majors now.  Stroman made solid showing in recent top 100 prospects lists from Baseball Prospectus (ranked 27th), MLB.com (r55th) and ESPN's Keith Law (58th), and Baseball America considers Stroman to be the second-best prospect in Toronto's system, behind only Aaron Sanchez.
  • Pitching seems to be Toronto's focus, as Anthopoulos said the club isn't actively pursuing position players.  We heard yesterday that the Jays were "in the mix" for Stephen Drew to fill their hole at second base.
  • Anthopoulos said the team has had dialogue with most of the top free agents and continues to talk with both free agents and with other teams about trades, though "I don't know that I'd say were close on anything."

Heyman On Free Agents: Drew, Morales, Jimenez

CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman covered a series of free agent topics in an MLB Network appearance last night (hat tip to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca). Among them:

  • The Blue Jays are "in the mix" for shortstop Stephen Drew, presumably viewing him as a second base option. Nevertheless, the Red Sox remain the favorites to land him, as they prefer to play Xander Bogaerts at third and appear willing to give Drew multiple years. Boston could dangle an opt-out clause of some kind to sweeten things for Drew, Heyman adds. There was a competing report last night on the Yankees' interest, but Heyman says that the club "seem[s] more interested in Drew than ever" after landing Masahiro Tanaka.
  • Toronto, says Heyman, figures to be a major threat to land any of the prominent remaining free agents. As he explained further today, the Jays — armed with two protected first-round draft picks — may have made the strategic decision to wait out the market for players that are burdened with draft pick compensation. Likewise, as Heyman wrote today, the Mariners could still figure in on the top of the remaining free agent crop.
  • Kendrys Morales is among the players who Heyman says could land with either of those clubs. The Jays like Morales, but presumably would need to deal first baseman/DH Adam Lind to bring him on board. Likewise, the Rangers could potentially be involved, but would likely have to flip Mitch Moreland for a Morales signing to fit. If one of those clubs did land Morales, the Pirates might be a club that could swoop in on the trade market, says Heyman.
  • The market for Nelson Cruz is looking thin, Heyman says. Cruz may not want to play in Safeco Field, and other possible landing spots like the Orioles and Rangers are focused on pitching.
  • Turning to the mound, Heyman said that Ubaldo Jimenez may now be willing to drop his salary demands and could ultimately land in the three-year, $39MM range. The Blue Jays and Orioles are the most likely clubs to sign Jimenez, according to Heyman, with the O's still concerned about burning a draft pick. Meanwhile, the Indians could still get involved if the price on Jimenez falls even further.

Free Agent Faceoff: Ervin Santana Vs. Ubaldo Jimenez

Now that both Masahiro Tanaka and Matt Garza are off the market, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez are widely considered the top two starters in free agency. Some may argue in favor of Bronson Arroyo as well, but given the lack of draft pick compensation and his age relative to Santana and Jimenez, Arroyo figures to have a different market than the pair of early-30s Dominican right-handers.

Santana turned 31 in December and enjoyed an excellent rebound campaign with Royals in 2013 after he was acquired in a salary dump trade with the Angels. Similarly, Jimenez, who turned 30 last week, rebounded from a disastrous 18-month stretch that saw him post an ERA north of 5.00 and caused many fans around the game label him a lost cause.

Jimenez is more of a strikeout pitcher than Santana but also comes with worse control, as reflected in his 9.6 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 rates in 2013. While he was once an extreme ground-ball pitcher, Jimenez turned in a slightly below-league-average mark of 43.9 percent in 2013 (44.5 percent was average). Santana, meanwhile, relied on pristine command but picked up strike three far less often than Jimenez. He averaged nearly three full strikeouts fewer than Jimenez on a per-nine-inning basis (6.9) but walked just 2.2 hitters per nine. His ground-ball rate has trended upward over the past three seasons, culminating in a career-best 46.2 percent in 2013.

However, the pair shares some similarities as well. For one, Santana and Jimenez have displayed durability, averaging 200 and 198 innings per season, respectively, dating back to 2008. And, despite the different ways in which they've prevented runs, they've done so at nearly an identical rate. Dating back to that same 2008 season, Jimenez's 3.90 ERA is just a hair lower than Santana's 3.93 ERA. Both have experienced significant swings in that time, and that inconsistency has played a part in the fact that they remain on the free agent market on Jan. 27.

Also playing a part has been the lengthy Tanaka saga and the fact that each hurler will require forfeiture of a draft pick. Despite strong rebound campaigns for each, neither pitcher has seen his market develop much. That figures to change in the next month, and the debate among pundits as to which pitcher is the better investment for a team in need of pitching will likely produce arguments for both sides. With all that said, let's see what the MLBTR readership has to say about this pair of high-upside but relatively inconsistent pitchers.



West Notes: Darvish, Ubaldo, Hart, Fielder

Last night, the L.A. Times' Dylan Hernandez elaborated on reports that Michael Young is said to be weighing retirement, noting that if Young played in 2014, it can be considered a "safe bet" that it will be for the Dodgers. Young has been connected to a number of teams thus far, but to this point, there's yet to be a concrete indication as to whether or not he will play next season. Here's more out of baseball's Western divisions…

  • Rangers GM Jon Daniels said over the weekend at the team's fan fest that he would approach ace Yu Darvish about an extension "at the right time," writes ESPNDallas.com's Richard Durrett. Daniels pointed out that Darvish is controlled for four more years, so there's no urgency in getting a new deal worked out. The team's current focus is on getting Darvish, who was unsurprisingly announced as the Opening Day starter, ready to make 33 starts in 2014. As Durrett reminds, Darvish's contract allows him to opt out of the final year if he wins a Cy Young or finishes No. 2-4 in the voting twice from now through 2016.
  • Troy Renck of the Denver Post has still not heard of any interest from the Rockies in terms of a potential reunion with Ubaldo Jimenez (Sulia link). The relationship between the two sides ended poorly, says Renck, and it wouldn't make sense on Jimenez's behalf to spend the bulk of his career pitching at an altitude.
  • Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune writes that the Mariners are comfortable using a rotation of Corey Hart, Justin Smoak and Logan Morrison at first base and DH, with Hart eventually getting more time in the outfield as his surgically repaired knees recover. Hart has been doing simulated ground-balls to work on his footwork and agility but has not yet progressed to taking fly-balls, he said at the Mariners' fan fest this weekend. The presence of all three first base/DH-type players led to trade speculation earlier in the offseason.
  • Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News writes that Prince Fielder will hit third ahead of Adrian Beltre in next year's Rangers lineup — a concept that caused Beltre to boldly proclaim that Fielder will win the American League MVP award. Though he's usually been the one in the No. 4 spot (behind Ryan Braun and Miguel Cabrera), Fielder said he's excited to hit in front of Beltre. New leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo's robust on-base percentage figures to help Fielder's counting stats as well, Fraley points out.

Mariners Focusing On Complementary Players

After an offseason highlighted by the signing of Robinson Cano, the Mariners may be done adding high-priced talent, MLB.com's Greg Johns reports. GM Jack Zduriencik is looking for another starting pitcher, but probably won't want to pay the prices necessary to sign Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana.

"I don't think we're going to jump in and invest where some of these dollars are going," Zduriencik says. "It just doesn't make sense when you take a 30-, 31-, 32-year old pitcher that wants five or six years and there is some history there of injury or inconsistencies."

Zduriencik said those risks were the reason the Mariners didn't strongly pursue Masahiro Tanaka (who is younger, but would have required a long commitment). He also suggests that it would have been difficult to outbid the Yankees. "We've made two major investments here in the last two years with Felix [Hernandez] and now Robinson," Zduriencik says. "To do that again would have been real challenging. And in the end, the numbers could have gone up. If we made that offer, who knows what the heck the Yankees would have done after that?"

Johns notes that the Mariners are "in the running" for starter Scott Baker, who missed all of 2012 and most of 2013 due to injury. Zduriencik also says the Mariners have had many talks with Nelson Cruz's representation, but the length and dollar value of the contract and the threat of losing a draft pick are all part of the Mariners' considerations.


Central Notes: Burnett, Jimenez, Indians, Tigers

A.J. Burnett's decision about whether or not to retire is a crucial one for the Pirates, Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan writes. The Pirates are a "bubble team," and re-signing Burnett would give them the chance to separate themselves from potential Wild Card competitors like the Diamondbacks, Giants, Braves and Nationals, while also giving them a better chance to win the NL Central. If Burnett returning is worth even two wins to the Pirates, he could be crucial. Unfortunately for the Bucs, they have little control over Burnett's decision. Here are more notes from the Central divisions.

  • If Ubaldo Jimenez can't get the three- or four-year contract he seeks elsewhere, it's possible he could return to the Indians for one year and $14MM or less, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer writes. Such a scenario might sound unlikely, but Jimenez will cause the team that signs him to lose a draft pick, and Matt Garza, who didn't require the loss of a draft pick, will reportedly only get four years at an average of $13MM per season from the Brewers. (That deal does not yet seem to be complete, however.)
  • Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski says his team is unlikely to make any more big moves this offseason, MLB.com's Jason Beck tweets. That means the Tigers don't appear likely to sign Nelson Cruz, although Dombrowski did not mention Cruz by name.

Orioles, Blue Jays Active On Starting Pitching Market

According to separate reports, both the Orioles and Blue Jays are active in the market for starting pitching. Both clubs have been fairly quiet in free agency to date, at least in terms of dollars committed. (Baltimore gave $4.5MM to Ryan Webb, but otherwise has not promised much above league minimum for any players; Toronto has given out only one MLB contract, guaranteeing $8MM to Dioner Navarro.) 

The Orioles have had "recent, active dialogue" with several starters, including sought-after names like Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Bronson Arroyo, according to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun (via Twitter). As Connolly recently reported, the club's interest in closer Fernando Rodney may take a backseat to starting pitching in terms of priority. 

Meanwhile, Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos says that the club is "not done yet," as Sportsnet.ca's Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Noting that plenty of options remain, Anthopoulos expressed hope in making new acquisitions, but cautioned that, "at the same time we're not going to force anything." The Toronto GM said that the club likes the upside of several of its in-house starting options, including the rehabbing Brandon Morrow. He also warned that players with draft-pick compensation attached — which can refer only to Santana and Jimenez, among pitchers — could remain unsigned "into February and even into March."

With Masahiro Tanaka off of the market and Matt Garza seemingly close to following him, the starting pitching dam may finally have burst. As I noted on Tuesday, the long delay in Tanaka's situation has left an unprecedented number of substantial free agent business left to complete just weeks before the start of Spring Training — especially with respect to a number of quality rotation options.


Cubs Notes: Samardzija, Tanaka, Santana, Jimenez

Here's the latest on the Cubs from CSN Chicago's Patrick Mooney

  • Jeff Samardzija and the Cubs are still far apart on a contract extension, "though there‚Äôs mutual respect on both sides and hope they can eventually find common ground."  Samardzija's name has surfaced in several trade rumors this offseason but Mooney reports that the Cubs now plan to keep the righty until closer to the July 31 trade deadline.  This would theoretically improve the quality of trade offers, such as how the Cubs scored a nice package of prospects from the Rangers last summer in exchange for Matt Garza.
  • The Cubs are prepared to give Masahiro Tanaka a nine-figure contract, a source tells Mooney.  The Cubs have long been considered a major suitor for the Japanese right-hander, with one MLB source telling Mooney's CSN colleague David Kaplan last month that the Cubs wouldn't be outbid for Tanaka's services.  That said, Mooney hears from several baseball officials that the bidding will get "silly" and another team will offer Tanaka a longer-term and more expensive deal.
  • If they can't sign Tanaka, the Cubs aren't interested in pursuing Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez or Garza.  The Cubs would have to surrender their second-round draft pick and corresponding draft pool money as compensation for signing either Santana or Jimenez. 
  • Santana "is the kind of buy-high pitcher the Cubs are trying to avoid now," Mooney writes.  The Cubs did explore trading for Santana last winter when the righty was coming off a tough season with the Angels, and Santana ended up reviving his career with a good 2013 campaign with the Royals.

Indians Notes: Tanaka, Rotation, Johan, Abreu

The Indians have signed a couple of notable names to minor league deals this week, picking up right-hander Scott Atchison and outfielder Jeff Francoeur. They were also one of the two finalists on infielder Jamey Carroll. Here's the latest out of Cleveland (All courtesy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes)…

  • Hoynes writes that the Indians have been in contact with Masahiro Tanaka's agent, Casey Close, and could meet with him and his client in the coming days. The Indians "are in the game" and could make a lucrative multiyear offer, but Hoynes calls the chances of a deal "slim," noting that Cleveland isn't likely to outbid big spenders like the Yankees and possibly the Diamondbacks.
  • From that same piece, Hoynes writes that if they do not land Tanaka, they're content to wait for a starter to come to them at their price. Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo could all be of interest and could all sign after Tanaka. Hoynes writes that Cleveland has long coveted Garza, and also adds that they may be able to sign Jimenez if he's the last man standing from the remaining free agent starters. At that point, they could get Jimenez at their price and would have an advantage over other teams due to draft pick compensation. Cleveland is also content to let Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Shaun Marcum and Josh Tomlin battle for the fifth spot if they can't find a starter at the right price.
  • In a mailbag piece, Hoynes tells readers that while the Indians have spoken to Johan Santana's agents, his sense is that the team is focused on adding healthier, more dependable arms if it makes further pitching additions.
  • Cleveland isn't likely to sign Bobby Abreu because Jason Giambi is already in the fold, Hoynes reports. However, the Indians are impressed by Abreu's swing and improved conditioning. If it becomes clear that Giambi cannot fill the role he did for the Indians in 2013, then Abreu would be a candidate to do so.

Ubaldo Jimenez Still Seeking $14MM+ Annually

Though it's been a somewhat quiet offseason on the Ubaldo Jimenez front thus far, the lack of chatter doesn't mean his asking price is going down. The right-hander's agents are still telling teams that they seek an annual salary north of $14MM on a multiyear deal for their client, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.

Jimenez, represented by Relativity Baseball (formerly known as SFX), has seen his market slowed by the uncertainty surrounding Masahiro Tanaka. To this point in the offseason, no pitcher has secured a $14MM annual salary on a multiyear deal, though that again is likely due to the Tanaka market. Tanaka himself should clear that mark with ease, and Jimenez, Matt Garza and Ervin Santana also figure to top that mark with their eventual deals.

Because Jimenez rejected a qualifying offer, any team other than the Indians will be required to forfeit a top draft pick in order to sign him. Though he comes with a spotty track record in recent years, Jimenez is relatively young for a free agent (he turns 30 this month), and it's hard to argue with the performance he turned in this season. Many are quick to glance at Jimenez's splits and state that he had a dominant second half. While that's true — he had a 1.82 ERA after the All-Star break — Jimenez's rebound began much earlier than that. After allowing 19 earned runs in his first 17 innings, Jimenez pitched to a 2.61 ERA with a 179-to-69 K/BB ratio from April 29 through season's end — a span of 28 starts.

Though the Indians would like Jimenez back, he's likely to be too pricey for their tastes. Jimenez was recently connected to the Blue Jays and could draw interest from clubs such as the Yankees and Diamondbacks as well. The Orioles were at one time linked to Jimenez, but they, like the Indians, seem unable to afford him.


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