Playing GM: Jimenez and Maholm

As the dust settled on last week’s very busy American League East dealings, the Baltimore Orioles are left with few choices. They could, conceivably, head into Spring Training as currently constituted. It isn’t a sexy choice, but it is a choice that the 85 win team can make. They could bank on the core carrying the team, Chris Tillman getting even better, and Kevin Gausman making good on his top prospect status. There is a slight glimmer of rational reason that it could all work out. Buck Showalter could push the right buttons with the role players assembled to supplement the core. The rotation could be steady yet unspectacular. The bullpen could be good.

With each passing day, that seems more likely the course. While fans will rightly question the commitment of the team, there is something to be said for not spending foolishly just to look busy. The Kansas City Royals spent a decade signing free agents past their prime to poorly constructed contracts. At the very least, the Orioles have not done that.

There is another course. It’s a course that would involve the club spending money and giving up their draft pick. Signing Ubaldo Jimenez and Paul Maholm would give the 2014 Orioles their best chance of winning.

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The initial negativity surrounding such a move is the loss of a draft pick. Yes, signing Jimenez would cost the Orioles their first round pick. Yes, draft picks are quite valuable. And, yes, an organization must sustain itself through the development of their farm system. But, the timing and the pitcher is worth the loss of a pick. First, the Orioles pick 17th. While there is always a chance of obtaining a future star ala Mike Trout, it is not as if the Orioles would be losing a top five pick. The number 17 pick isn’t worth missing the a legitimate chance at the playoffs.

The timing is also quite right considering Matt Garza. The 30 year old right hander signed a reasonable four year deal with the Milwaukee Brewers that will pay him $12.5 million per season. While Garza does have health issues, he wasn’t tied to a draft pick. At a similar age age and a slightly better resume, Garza essentially set the market for Jimenez. Any team signing Jimenez won’t pay much more than the $12.5 million per season.

That actually makes for a situation where Jimenez could fulfill the value of his contract. The right hander isn’t an ace, but he makes for a very good number two starter. His strengths play right into what the Orioles lack. Despite his ups and downs, he has pitched at least 176 innings each season since 2008. Despite pitching most of his career in Colorado, he has a career average of 0.7 HR/9. And, he has a career 21.5 percent strikeout rate. Last year, in his resurgence from a bizarre season and a half slump, he posted a strikeout rate of 25 percent.

The two red flags with Jimenez are his control and, perhaps, his velocity. His career walk rate of 10.5 percent is quite high. Even during his excellent 2013 season, he compiled a 10.3 percent walk rate. Control has always been an issue and it is a valid concern considering his poor 2011 and 2013 seasons. His velocity has decreased in three consecutive seasons, culminating in a fastball that averages 91.5 MPH. While no longer throwing 96 MPH is a concern, Jimenez has had minimal physical problems. And, he posted one of his best seasons last year with the career low velocity.

The addition of Jimenez would fill Orioles’ weaknesses, which were a lack of strikeouts and innings from a starter. While the Orioles defense looks to be elite in 2014, too many balls put in play put an inordinate amount of pressure on any defense. Strikeouts alleviate that pressure. With the exception of 2013, Jimenez has posted a WAR value of at least 3.2 per season. No Orioles pitcher posted a WAR value over 2 last season. The rotation would still lack the quintessential ace, but Chris Tillman and Jimenez would be a very solid 1-2 punch that would allow Wei-Yin Chen to move to the middle of the rotation and give options on the fourth and fifth spot.

Those options would be lead to the signing the Paul Maholm to take over the final spot in the rotation. The 32 year old southpaw would make for a quality addition to the backend of the rotation. He isn’t a star, but he is the type of pitcher the Orioles need. He generates his outs primarily on the ground, posting a 52.1 percent ground ball rate for his career. Like Jimenez, he keeps the ball in the park as evidenced by his 0.9 HR/9 rate. His strikeout rate is acceptable (14.9 percent) and his walk rate is stellar (7.5 percent). Never a hard thrower, the lefty mixes his 87 MPH fastball with his slider, curveball, and changeup. While he only projects to be a 1, possibly 2 WAR player, the Orioles only had four starters with a value over one.

With Maholm at the backend of the rotation, the Orioles would finally have some quality depth. They would have legitimate options, especially when it comes to Kevin Gausman. Their prize pitching prospect could compete for a rotation spot. If he wins it, great. If he isn’t ready, the Orioles would still have quality options like Miguel Gonzalez and/or Bud Norris. Even better, one of those choices would make for an even deeper bullpen.

The case can be made that Orioles should add a bat. But, there is no real impact bat available. Kendrys Morales could be had, but he is tied to a draft pick. Ubaldo Jimenez has more value that Morales when it comes to draft pick compensation. Strengthening the rotation and building organizational pitching depth is paramount in competing in the American League East. A rotation of Tillman, Jimenez, Chen, Norris, and Maholm can compete, especially with Miguel Gonzalez shifting to the bullpen and Gausman safely tucked away at triple-A.

The beauty of it all is that the improvement and depth comes at a relatively low cost. Jimenez would get similar money to Garza and Maholm’s contract wouldn’t costly. The Orioles can spend responsibly, improve the team, and truly compete. The offense, as is, will score runs. It still has above average home run power. But, if the Orioles are to truly compete, the pitching staff must be upgraded and built. Jimenez and Maholm would allow for that to happen.

This path doesn’t guarantee a playoff spot. It does result in the loss of a draft pick. But, it gives them a shot. It gives the excellent core that seems to have little time left together a chance to get back to the playoff tournament. It’s a path the Orioles should take.

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About the author


Gary Armida  

Orioles Analyst

Gary Armida is a Father to the best little girl in the world. After that, he is a writer who has been covering Major League Baseball since 2007. During that time, Gary operated FullCountpitch.com, one of the first independent online sites that gained Major League Baseball media credentials. Over the years, he has covered two Winter Meetings and has written feature articles for a variety of outlets while interviewing Major League personnel such as Rick Peterson, Jason Giambi, Zack Wheeler, Jeff Luhnow, Jack Zduriencik, Michael Bourn, and many others. In addition to his work at BSL, Gary contributes to USA Today Sports Weekly and maintains his personal site, garyarmida.com, that serves as his portfolio as well as a place for additional content.


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One Response to Playing GM: Jimenez and Maholm

  1. Michael says:

    The O’s need to sign Maholm first as he would come at a very reasonable price and is a ground ball pitcher. The prices seem to dropping on starters like Jimenez. See where they go and sign him. Yes all clubs have placed value on 1 st round picks, but with this lineup the time to make a couple of sensible signings of quality starters is now ! The east is a tough division and without two additional starters the O’s will simply not have any hope. Give us some hope and the fans will once again pack Camden yard? It will also remove the pressure to bring up the prospects too early.

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