This hardly rates as a surprise. Gardenhire had already made clear he viewed Jimenez as the top ninth-inning option heading into camp (as The Athletic’s Cody Stavenhagen tweeted late last year).
Still, the confirmation of Jimenez’s role is worthy of note, as it wasn’t fully assured when camp opened. The 25-year-old has a dozen saves under his belt but hardly entered Spring Training with a lengthy history of locking down victories. After four scoreless appearances, Jimenez remains on track for the gig.
More importantly, the decision is critical to Jimenez’s contractual future. He’s readying for a key platform season. Reliever arbitration salaries are highly dependent upon saves tallies, so the opportunity to accrue them from the jump promises to boost his earning power substantially.
It’s possible to imagine some different outcomes for Jimenez’s future. The Tigers could consider approaching him about an extension. It’s also possible to imagine a mid-season trade.
Jimenez was reportedly asked about by contending teams at last year’s trade deadline. While he ended the season with only a 4.37 ERA, his second-straight campaign in that ballpark, Jimenez racked up a hefty 12.4 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9 while delivering a 14.8% swinging-strike rate. If he can make a few tweaks — such as limiting the long ball (nearly two per nine in 2019) — Jimenez could emerge as a truly dominant late-inning reliever.