Watching Ubaldo Jimenez in the first half of last season was like nothing Rockies fans have ever experienced. The franchise has never had an elite ace the rest of the league was jealous of, and Jimenez was historically great to start last season. But everything that has happened outside of those three and a half months justifies the Rockies trading the best pitcher they have ever had for four minor-league players from the Cleveland Indians.
Emotionally, it's very hard to watch Jimenez, a home-grown ace who was supposed to anchor a World Series contending team, leave in exchange for four faceless names. But it's understandable to trade a pitcher who is 10-16 with a 4.19 ERA since last All-Star break, especially when his team is underachieving at a rate of six games under .500.
If Jimenez was having the exact same season but the Rockies were contending for a playoff spot, he would still be on the team. However, the Rockies have vastly underperformed, and moving Jimenez became the most viable way to shake up the team. It appeared Jimenez was going to stay put unless the Rockies received what General Manger Dan O'Dowd called a "Herschel Walker deal." And while no one is saying lefty pitcher Drew Pomeranz, right-hander Alex White, Double-A reliever Joe Gardner and Double-A utilityman Matt McBride are going to change the course of the Rockies for the next decade the way the Walker trade did for the Dallas Cowboys, O'Dowd must have been significantly impressed with the offer.
Rockies management also could have been motivated to move Jimenez based on assorted red flags. Some believed Jimenez's herky-jerky delivery would eventually lead to serious injury. The team watched his fastball velocity drop since the mid-way point of last season. After handling Coors Field as well as any Rockie pitcher ever has through the early stages of his career, Jimenez posted a 5.55 ERA in eleven starts at home this year, allowing a .310 batting average against him. There were also rumors that Jimenez had become disconnected with pitching coach Bob Apodaca.
Jimenez was a good but not overwhelming 56-45 with a 3.66 ERA in 138 games for the Rockies. But, he was also a home-grown talent and the pride of the Rockies' improved scouting in Latin America over the past decade. In addition, he was liked by teammates, fans, management and media. He had promise like no pitcher the Rockies ever had and above all, the fan base wanted him to be great.
But a pitcher has never sustained dominance here, and trading Jimenez might be an admission by team management that it will never happen. Colorado wears on a pitcher's body more so than any other location in baseball. Whether it's the lack of oxygen or the expansive outfield, no pitcher in team history has logged three consecutive seasons of 200-plus innings. Aaron Cook is the only pitcher in team history to pitch 1,000 innings. A pitcher simply may never have a long, excellent career in Colorado.
So the Rockies have reloaded with three young arms in the deal with Cleveland. Pomeranz is the prize catch in the trade, even though he cannot officially be announced until August 15 thanks to a weird baseball rule. According to MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo, Pomeranz is the 32nd best minor-league prospect in baseball. He has a plus-fastball that reaches the mid-90s and, as Mayo puts it, "perhaps the best breaking ball in the 2010 Draft class." Mayo says he has a chance to be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, and for this deal to be successful for the Rockies, that has to come true.
White recently made three starts in the majors with the Indians after spending just two seasons in the minors. He is said to possess an above-average fastball and splitter, but needs to develop an off-speed pitch if he hopes to continue as a starter in the big-leagues. Gardner is capable of inducing plenty of ground ball outs, which is exactly what you need at Coors Field. McBride is a utility man who may never make it to the majors.
In short, it's a lot of question marks in return for Jimenez -- and trading the person, story and talent was painful. But trading Jimenez the pitcher, especially if it nets the team three contributing players, was probably the best thing to do.
More from our Baseball archive: "Ubaldo Jimenez: The Colorado Rockies should consider trading him if price is right."
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