The Baltimore Orioles grabbed the best available free-agent starter on Tuesday afternoon when they agreed to a four-year, $48 million deal with Ubaldo Jimenez.
The deal was made official on Wednesday and the Orioles will introduce the veteran right-hander on Thursday morning.
Jimenez, 30, went 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA in 32 starts for the Cleveland Indians last season. He has a strong track record as an innings-eater, having thrown at least 180 innings in five of the last six seasons. He turned down the $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Indians, meaning the Orioles will forfeit their first-round draft pick (17th) as they sign him.
He had his best season in 2010 when he posted a 2.88 ERA in more than 221 innings for the Colorado Rockies. He struck out 8.7 batters per nine and had a 2.33 K/BB ratio. Jimenez received some MVP votes and finished third in voting for the National Leagues Cy Young that year.
Jimenez struggled in both 2011 and 2012, but a strong run down the stretch last season earned him this contract.
He went 6-5 with a 1.82 ERA in 84 innings over the second half of the 2013 campaign. He struck out 100 hitters, while walking just 27 and allowing only 17 earned runs over that stretch. Jimenez was especially effective in his final six starts -- he posted a 1.09 ERA, 7.29 KK/B ratio and 1.016 WHIP.
Prior to his second-half surge, Jimenez was below average. He had a winning record (7-4), but a 4.56 ERA in 98.2 innings. His K/BB ratio was just 1.77 and he had an unsightly 1.490 WHIP.
So why would the Orioles pay an average annual salary of $12 million through 2017 for a pitcher that hasn't put together a complete season since 2010?
Jimenez immediately adds depth to Baltimore's starting rotation, which is expected to also feature Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen and some combination of Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris, Kevin Gausman and Suk-min Yoon.
The Boston Red Sox are the reigning World Series champions after completing a worst-to-first turn in 2013, but the American League East is far from decided. The Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees all believe they can get their hands on the division title.
That partially explains why Dan Duquette would offer Jimenez the fourth year the pitcher coveted and the Orioles wanted to avoid.
Grade for Jimenez: A-
Baltimore's core may not be together much longer, which puts pressure on Jimenez to live up to the deal immediately.
Nick Markakis has a team option for 2015 at $17.5 million. The Orioles also have a 2015 option on Chen, who can make $4.75 million, which will represent nearly a 20 percent increase on his 2014 salary.
Much more troublesome are the futures of Chris Davis and Matt Wieters, who are both scheduled to become free agents after the 2015 season. They will make $10.35 million and $7.7 million, respectively, this season and that figure will undoubtedly rise over the course of a long-term deal.
It helps that Markakis will come off the books next winter, but with Jimenez aboard if the Orioles are to sign both Davis and Wieters to either an extension or a long-term deal they'll lock themselves into a handful of financially-crippling seasons. Adam Jones, who signed the largest deal in team history in 2012, is due a total of $49 million over three seasons beginning in 2016.
The Orioles opened last season with a payroll of over $90 million, the second-highest figure in franchise history. In order to keep this core together, they'll have to flirt with $100 million, which isn't something Peter Angelos will automatically allow.
Grade for Orioles: C-
We usually see teams find bargains this time of year, but the Orioles have gambled on Jimenez by conceding to his contract demands. It might have been the pressure of seeing Masahiro Tanaka land in New York, or the hole created in Boston by the departure of Ryan Dempster.
Whatever it was, the Orioles are hoping Jimenez will be more like the pitcher we saw in the second half of 2013 than the one we saw in the prior two-plus seasons.