The current baseball climate is perfect for creating Ubaldo Jimenez trade rumors. He's far and away the best pitcher rumored to be available, he's been injured and ineffective at times this year, and the Rockies are headed toward playoff irrelevancy if their play doesn't change in a hurry.
Those are also the reasons the team should explore the idea of trading him.
Speculation about the Rockies trading Jimenez has sharply escalated over the past two weeks, with as many as seventeen teams reportedly sniffing around. The New York Yankees, who are reportedly sending a scout to Denver to watch Jimenez pitch tonight, are creating the most chatter. And while not saying he is looking to move the team's ace, Rockies General Manager Dan O'Dowd told the Denver Post's Troy Renck he picks up the phone when other teams want to talk trades, no matter whom they are inquiring about.
While it might sound blasphemous to discuss trading a young arm that showed as much brilliance as Jimenez's did during the first half of last season, it's one of the smartest things the franchise can do right now. As it stands, Jimenez is the only noteworthy starting pitcher rumored to be available. So when teams such as the Yankees, Boston Red Sox or Cincinnati Reds come calling, the Rockies can literally ask for whichever players they want, because the alternative is those inquiring teams settle for picking up a third starter on the open market.
For example, the Yankees are the team most seriously involved in trade talks with the Rockies, but the two sides are reportedly far apart because the Rockies are asking for New York's best offensive prospect and its three best pitching prospects. It's smart bargaining by the Rockies: Request an outlandish package of players initially, let the Yankees explore the barren starting pitching market, and if they inquire again later, the Rockies can ask for a lesser, yet still promising group, and it won't seem so unreasonable compared to the Rockies' first demand.
And if talks collapse, the Rockies still have a young pitcher who possesses Cy Young-worthy stuff signed to a very modest contract; Jimenez is set to make $17.95 million over the next three years.
O'Dowd has said prying Jimenez away from the Rockies would take a "Herschel Walker deal," referencing a 1989 trade by the Dallas Cowboys in which the team traded Walker for a slew of players that set the team up for its success in the 1990s. Clearly, he's seeking a deal that would net him several elite prospects that could keep the Rockies competitive in the division for years, and if he doesn't get what he wants, he's content with holding on to his ace.
The only risk in shopping Jimenez around is that the pitcher could take the talks seriously and let them affect his performance -- or he might harbor ill will toward the team. He has stated that he understands the business side of the game, but that he wants to end his career in Colorado.
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Jimenez is one of the most talented pitchers in the National League, but the franchise could easily view last season's miraculous first half as an aberration in an otherwise promising yet inconsistent career. If members of management feel they know something the rest of the league doesn't, they would be smart to capitalize while other teams can still remember the pitcher he was at the beginning of last year.
Or the Rockies could see the beginning of this season as an aberration caused by injuries. Jimenez owns a 2.62 ERA since June 1.
There are also emotional and public relations considerations to keep in mind. Jimenez is a symbol of the home-grown talent the Rockies have ridden to their recent success and the prized jewel from the team's dedication to scout Latin America over the past decade. And if the team trades its ace, it would be a clear sign it is throwing in the towel on a season that was exceeded in expectations only by the '08 campaign that followed the World Series run.
The Rockies would be smart to keep Jimenez unless they are overwhelmed by an offer -- but they would be stupid not to explore their options given the current circumstances.