As Opening Day approached in 2014, the Baltimore Orioles scraped the bottom of the free-agent pitching barrel and signed Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $50 million deal. The right-hander was coming off a 2013 campaign in which he posted a 3.30 ERA for the Cleveland Indians, by far his best effort since bursting onto the scene in 2010 and making his lone All-Star Game. Prior to 2013, however, Jimenez had gone 19-30 with a 5.03 ERA and a troubling 4.3 BB/9.
The Orioles’ deal with Jimenez was a reach, and was labeled as such by analysts far and wide. In Jimenez, the Orioles were signing a pitcher with markedly flagging velocity and a severe control problem who had turned in one good year in three tries. His fastball no longer tickled triple digits, but he had not found a way to effectively transition to pitching effectively at lower cruising speeds. At 6’6″, the gangly Jimenez has never found a way to repeat his mechanics, and where the ball is going when it leaves his hand has always been anyone’s best guess.
It was ugly from the get-go in Jimenez’s first year in Baltimore, and he eventually lost his spot in the rotation after a phantom ankle injury suffered while allegedly stepping in a pothole in the parking lot. He finished up his first year with a 4.81 ERA and the by far worst walk rate of his career. Things were a little better in year two, and Jimenez actually entered the All-Star break with an ERA below three. July and August were unmitigated disasters, and Jimenez finished the year with a 4.11 ERA. That seemed tolerable, but the way in which the final mark was reached was not. For a two-month stretch, Jimenez was one of the worst pitchers in the league after looking like one of the better pitchers in the league at times in the first half. Even the whisperings of Ramon Martinez could not turn Jimenez into a consistent performer.
It’s gone from bad to worse in year three. Jimenez has a 5-9 record with a 7.38 ERA. His bad innings start out benignly enough. He will give up a lead-off walk or a groundball single. Most pitchers could find a way to work around those things, but Ubaldo cannot. He implodes each and every time, looking more and more like a puppy who’s lost his tail as another run crosses the plate. You almost feel bad for the guy as the shell-shocked, blank look creeps across his face. Jimenez has no idea what he is doing on a major-league mound this season, and neither does Buck Showalter, who is clearly losing patience.
Eduardo Encina, a beat reporter for the Baltimore Sun, succinctly summed up Jimenez’s performance on Friday night. He allowed five earned runs and gave up five hits in 1.1 innings. After being yanked after 11 batters, Jimenez apparently went behind the stadium to self-combust.
— Eduardo A. Encina (@EddieInTheYard) July 9, 2016
Jimenez can no longer continue as a part of the Baltimore Orioles, and the remaining year-and-a-half on his deal must be eaten. That’s a big pill to swallow for the prideful men running the show in Baltimore, but it is glaringly obvious that Jimenez was one of the few terrible mistakes made in this new era of winning baseball in Birdland. With a precarious grasp on the top of the division, the Orioles cannot give anymore starts to a pitcher allowing nearly a run an inning. The playoffs will not happen this season if Ubaldo Jimenez makes 15 more starts between now and September.
Are there other options to replace Jimenez? Maybe. There’s Vance Worley who has been effective in relief. Same goes for Odrisamer Despaigne. Tyler Wilson has not been great, but at least he can be counted on to throw strikes. That those are the three options for the Orioles to replace Jimenez with is slightly depressing, but all three can do better than an ERA over seven. With an offense capable of mashing four home runs out of the park on any given night, a fifth starter with an ERA of 4.50 will get the job done.
The Orioles are in the same position now as they were when they signed Jimenez almost three years ago. Their starting pitching has not developed. Kevin Gausman looks, for all intents and purposes, like the latest prodigy who could not be guided from raw thrower to finished product with a functional breaking ball. The relative health of Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey this year has been a breath of fresh air, but it’s still hard to say what they can bring to the big leagues long-term. Both have bodies that appear more suited for late-inning relief. Wilson and Mike Wright look like the latest versions of the fringe arms that made up the rotations during the dark years between 1997 and 2012.
Years of failed starting pitching development put the Orioles in a place where signing Ubaldo Jimenez was the only option. Those developmental problems remain intact in 2016, but Jimenez himself has somehow found a way to be a bigger problem. His time has come, and the Orioles need to move on before his presence torpedoes what has the makings of a successful, playoff season.