Making sense of the Ubaldo megadeal

When I first heard that the Rockies were discussing the idea of shopping Ubaldo Jimenez a few weeks ago, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I mean, why would they trade a top flight starter, in his prime at a fairly young age (27), and most importantly, was signed at a VERY reasonable price, with an average annual salary of $5.18 million from now through 2014? The very idea literally made no sense, even if they had other positional needs to fill. Ubaldo was hands down the best pitcher in Rockies history, a class act that seemed to be the ideal piece to build a team around.

[caption id="attachment_94" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Ubaldo Jimenez (Getty Images)"][/caption]

GM Dan O’Dowd was quoted by the Denver Post as saying, “We would have to be absolutely overwhelmed – it would have to be a Hershel Walker deal.” Maybe the team knew something that the public didn’t. Maybe Jimenez’s sagging velocity was a bigger problem than first thought, or maybe behind his contagious smile and constant blissful demeanor, he was secretly at odds with the organization over a contract dispute. It became a game of ‘what if’ that couldn’t satisfy my, nor anyone’s curiosity as to why they would trade the one home-grown talent that actually turned into the ace they had hoped.

After much debate and analyzing, I believe there is a justifiable answer for this blockbuster deal. The Rox sent Ubaldo to Cleveland and acquired four prospects:

LHP Drew Pomeranz (3-2, 1.87 ERA in 15 starts for Class A Kinston and 0-1 with 2.57 ERA in 3 starts for Class AA Akron – 5th overall pick in 2010 draft by Cleveland). Note: rated #14 overall prospect in Baseball America’s midseason top 50 report. He won’t be able to join the Rockies until August 15.

RHP Alex White (1-0, 3.60 ERA in 3 starts for Cleveland in 2011 - drafted 15th

[caption id="attachment_95" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Drew Pomeranz (Getty Images)"][/caption]

overall in 2009 draft by Cleveland)

RHP Joe Gardner (7-8, 4.99 ERA in 19 starts with Class AA Akron – drafted 3rd round in 2009 draft by Cleveland)

1B/DH Matt McBride (.279 avg., 15 HR and 56 RBIs in Class AA and Class AAA in 2011 – 3rd round pick in 2006 draft by Cleveland)

This transaction hints that the Rox feel they have much bigger issues with the holes they need to fill than they initially thought. They obviously believe that 2011 is not the year to compete with San Francisco in the NL West or Atlanta for the Wild Card. But with their history of streaky second half comebacks, why would there be any reason to believe that another Rocktober wouldn’t ensue in 2011?

Contrary to what most Rockies fans believe, I think Dan O’Dowd has an enormous commitment to winning. When you look at the NL, the Giants and Phillies have pitching staffs that are absolutely stacked. Even if they miraculously made the playoffs, the Rockies wouldn’t have the firepower with their starting staff to compete with the Giants, Phills, or even the Braves.

Going into the season, most thought that the combo of Ubaldo and Jorge De La Rosa could at least allow Colorado to compete in the NL. When DLR went down with a blown elbow, for all intents and purposes, the Rockies season was over also. They had no other lefty starters, or proven starters for that matter, that could compete at a high enough level to make a deep run into the playoffs. Chacin has been a pleasant surprise, but the loss of De La Rosa was of an enormous consequence.

[caption id="attachment_96" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="GM Dan O'Dowd (AP Photo)"][/caption]

Even if Ubaldo rediscovered his dominant form from the first half of 2010, the Rockies wouldn’t have the pitching depth to compete with the elite in the NL. O’Dowd showed that he had the brass to say ‘hey, we don’t have near the depth at the top of the rotation that we need, so I’ll be willing to deal an ace (some would argue a number 2 starter due to his slumping numbers) for an array of top prospects in order to reach the depth we need to compete in the future’. I commend O’Dowd, and while the sentiments involved with losing a fan favorite with such a loveable personality are tough to deal with, the Rockies have a clear vision on where they need to get to be that elite team that so many expected at the start of the season.

A large number of experts and fans are already calling the deal an awful one for the Tribe. Consider Jimenez has had basically one stellar half season in 2010 when he won 15 games en route to starting the All-Star game, but won only four games the second half as he struggled with his command. He started out terribly in 2011 at 0-7, but has steadily improved to a 6-9 mark. Scouts expect White to become a solid 3rd starter by the end of this year, and he is only 22 years old. Pomeranz is considered an elite prospect, with a fastball that can reach the mid-90s, and a devastating curve ball. He too is 22, and many experts have predicted him to be an ace as one of baseball’s top prospects. They are no shoe-ins, but White and Pomeranz are considered top of the line starters in the near future, and Gardner and McBride both have solid upsides.

The very idea of trading Jimenez still seems surreal. I love Ubaldo just as much as the next Rockies fan, but to be honest, he really hasn’t competed at the level that you’d expect from someone with such uncanny stuff. Just look at his numbers. He has often struggled to command his fast ball that at times could reach triple digits with jaw-dropping movement. I really hope he can reach that level of performance that Rockies fans witnessed in 2010 when he finished 3rd in the NL Cy Young voting, but it appears the Rockies may have gotten themselves a whale of a deal if Pomeranz and White reach their full potentials.

This trade still has trouble sitting well with me, but hopefully I shed some light into why this trade makes some sense. Now is not the time for Colorado, and O’Dowd realized that an enormous makeover was needed to compete for World Series titles. Give him credit – the move isn’t sexy to say the least. He did what no one thought was imaginable, and it certainly won’t sit well with Rox fans for the time being. Hopefully for O’Dowd, the young prospects can handle the pressure and live up to the hype, otherwise his days in Colorado are numbered.

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