After selling off CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee in recent years, the Indians actually went out and got an ace this time, trading LHP Drew Pomeranz, RHP Alex White, 1B Matt McBride and RHP Joe Gardner for Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez.
The deal certainly carries some risk. Jimenez was the game’s best pitcher during the first half of last season, but including tonight’s bizarre one-inning cameo, he’s 10-16 with a 4.18 ERA since. It’s not all bad: he entered Saturday with a 116/47 K/BB ratio and a modest 10 homers allowed in 122 innings this season. But the drop in his velocity is scary. His fastball, which was as potent as any starting pitcher’s in the league last season, is down about 3 mph this year.
And in return for Jimenez’s services through 2013, the Indians are giving up the two best pitching prospects they’ve developed in years. Pomeranz, the fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft, had a 1.98 ERA and a 112/38 K/BB ratio in 91 innings between high-A Kinston and Double-A Akron this season. He has definite No. 2 starter potential with his low-90s fastball and hard curve.
White, the 15th overall selection in 2009, had a 1.90 ERA and a 28/5 K/BB ratio in 23 2/3 innings for Triple-A Columbus and a 3.60 ERA in three starts for the Indians before going down with a finger injury. He’s healthy again now, but the Indians were planning on letting him spend the rest of the season as a reliever rather than try to stretch him back out as a starter. His ceiling isn’t much lower than Pomeranz’s, though he probably is the weaker bet to stay healthy.
McBride is the third known prospect in the deal, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the PTBN turns out to be a superior property. McBride hit .297/.359/.535 in Double-A this season, but he’s already 26 years old. While he might serve as a stopgap if Todd Helton gets hurt next year, he shouldn’t ever be a candidate to supplant the potential Hall of Famer.
What should make the Indians especially nervous is that the Rockies traded Jimenez even though he had more value to them than to any other team. His 2014 contract option at the bargain rate of $8 million can be voided by Jimenez now that he has been traded. So, while the Rockies had him at $18 million for 2012-14, the Indians will get him for $10 million for 2012-2013.
It’s nice to see the Indians rewarding their fans by making every effort to take what appears to be a very winnable AL Central. They had already acquired Kosuke Fukudome, and all indications are that Ryan Ludwick will be acquired Sunday. Still, this has the potential to really come back and bite them. In general, even the best pitching prospects are no more than 50-50 bets to go on to fine major league careers. But if Jimenez’s velocity dips further, the Indians may be wishing they had their two big-time arms back by the middle of next season.