What a world: Orioles are in first place and Ubaldo Jimenez has been their ace

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Ubaldo Jimenez was so bad last season that the Orioles basically did everything they could to avoid relying on him in the rotation just months after signing him to a four-year, $50 million contract as a free agent.

However, this offseason he talked extensively about hoping to get healthy after lots of nagging injuries and making an effort to revamp his mechanics with the coaching staff. Whatever he did, it’s been working.

Jimenez shut out the Indians for eight innings Sunday, improving to 7-3 and lowering his ERA to 3.09 with an 89/27 K/BB ratio in 87 innings that represents by far the best mark of his career. He’s been the Orioles’ best starting pitcher this season, which is a statement that would have sounded insane last year.

Sunday’s gem included seven strikeouts and zero walks. It was the third time this season he’s walked zero batters in a start and he’s walked three or fewer batters in 14 of his 15 outings. By comparison, last year Jimenez failed to have a single zero-walk start and walked three or fewer batters in just 13 of 22 outings.

Jimenez’s raw stuff hasn’t changed. His average fastball of 90.5 miles per hour is the exact same as last season and his off-speed stuff has similar velocities to 2014 as well. But he’s trusted that raw stuff far more, cutting his walk rate in half from 5.5 to 2.8 per nine innings while maintaining a strikeout rate near his norm of around one per inning. And in doing so he’s gone from a signing the Orioles immediately regretted to sitting atop the rotation for a first-place team.

What do the losers of the Gerrit Cole derby do now?

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Gerrit Cole is now a New York Yankee. Nine years and $324 million make that so. But though the Yankees are the only team who gets him, they weren’t the only team interested in him. So let’s take a look at what the losers of the Gerrit Cole derby — the Dodgers and the Angels — can do now that they know they’ve lost.

Dodgers

The Dodgers were hopeful they had a shot due to Cole’s Los Angeles ties. Welp, that didn’t pan out. Which is not a shock. I’m struggling to think of the last time that whole “he’s from [place] so he’ll want to sign with [team near place]” thing worked out. It didn’t happen with CC Sabathia in the Bay Area. It didn’t happen with Mark Teixeira in Baltimore. It didn’t even work out with Brandon Webb in Cincinnati. Money talks, geography walks.

But the Dodgers wanted Cole. They wanted to bolster a pitching staff that has relied on an aging and now free agent Rich Hill and on free agent Hyun-Jin Ryu. There’s a hole to fill, and without Cole available to fill that hole, they’ll have to do something. What is the something they can do?

How about sign their chief rival’s last big pitching star?

It’s certainly a decent plan. But it’s one that might get expensive for Los Angeles. USA Today reported on Monday that Bumgarner was seeking five years and $100 million-plus. Some raised their eyebrows at that report, but given how much Stephen Strasburg and Cole commanded, it seems downright reasonable now. That’s especially the case given that the Giants — despite being on the brink of a rebuild — probably don’t want to see their franchise hero sign with the hated Dodgers:

So it’ll be a bidding war. A war that will make Madison Bumgarner a very large amount of money.

 

Angels

The Angels made no secret of their desire to land Cole. Joe Maddon talked openly about him in his press conference here at the Winter Meetings on Monday. Cole talked openly during the 2019 season, and since it ended, about his connection to Orange County and the Big A.

But the Angels didn’t have the talent to entice Cole and to make him believe that they could contend like the Yankees can. If they made a competitive offer — and we don’t know if they did — they still would’ve had to convince him that they could win. And, really, there is no real basis to believe that they could make a credible case for that.

So where do the Angels go?

General Manager Billy Eppler said on Tuesday that the Angels did not have Gerrit Cole tunnel vision and that they could spend in excess of $20 million a year on multiple players, none of which had to be Cole. On Tuesday the Angels shed the contract of Zack Cozart and, with his $12 million+ and roster spot opened up, the Halos are said to be interested in third baseman Anthony Rendon or, as a fallback, Josh Donaldson.

As for pitching, the Angels will likely prove to be competition for  Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu and perhaps free agent Dallas Keuchel. They could also pursue trade options such as affordable pitchers like Miami’s Caleb Smith or Detroit’s Matthew Boyd or less-affordable — but less-costly in a trade — options like David Price, who the Red Sox were rumored to be shopping in the name of salary relief. Which is to say, the Angels have options, even if their top option is off the table.

But both they and their counterparts up in Los Angeles County, now have to go back to the drawing board now that Gerrit Cole is New York bound.