What could go down as the biggest deal of the 2011 trade deadline season might also be remembered as one of the most bizarre in recent history.
Here's the official deal, as reported by Troy Renck of the Denver Post: The Colorado Rockies pulled the trigger Saturday night on a five-player trade that sends right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez(notes) to the Cleveland Indians for pitching prospects Drew Pomeranz, Alex White(notes) and Joe Gardner, along with 26-year-old first baseman Matt McBride.
Now here's where it got weird: The deal was thought to be in place about an hour before the Rockies took the field against the San Diego Padres, which was Jimenez's turn in the rotation. Multiple sources, including Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman, reported that Jimenez had been scratched from Saturday's start, indicating the trade had been completed.
Not so fast. To everybody's surprise, most notably the pitcher in the center of the deal, Jimenez made the start for Colorado, while reliever Esmil Rogers(notes) warmed in the bullpen. Ubaldo, admittedly lacking focus, labored through a rough 43-pitch first inning, before returning to the dugout to learn from manager Jim Tracy that he was officially on his way to Cleveland.
What followed were several emotional moments as Jimenez walked the dugout hugging his friends and teammates good-bye.
It's unknown what Colorado's motivation was for putting Jimenez in that awkward position, but it could have been as simple as the deal not being official, or a even a bold move by O'Dowd to coax Cleveland into parting with the fourth prospect, which they eventually did (Gardner). Either way, it was a bizarre series of events and an unsatisfying ending to Ubaldo's Rockies career.
With that door closed, Jimenez opens a new one with Cleveland. Their aggressiveness here confirms they want him in their organization, and are going all in for a postseason run this season. But is it really worth it for them?
Sure, Jimenez upgrades their rotation at the moment. But is it nearly enough to not only overtake the Detroit Tigers and hold off the Chicago White Sox this season, but also to make it worth mortgaging a significant portion of their future? I'm inclined to say no, because let's be honest, aside from a historically dominating 2 1/2 month stretch in 2010, Jimenez hasn't presented himself as a difference-making ace. And since that time he has settled (or regressed) back to his 2006-2009 form.
He's not a bad pitcher, but Jimenez has inconsistent command, and the ease with which he's rattled has often been his demise. And add a troubling drop in velocity to the list of red flags. At times last season he was touching 99-100 mph in the late innings. This season, he's settled into the mid-90s with his fastball, and I've yet to hear a good explanation for what happened to that extra 3-4 mph.
It's a risky move for Indians GM Chris Antonetti, but that doesn't mean it's destined to blow up in his face. Jimenez is signed through 2014 at a very affordable rate. If Jimenez can rediscover the magic of early 2010, Antonetti will either have solidified his rotation for the short-term, or given himself a major trade chip to replenish his system.
And here are the pieces he'll have to replace:
Pomeranz, 22, is the crown jewel of the deal for Colorado. The 6-foot-5 left-hander was ranked as the 14th best prospect in the majors by Baseball America coming into 2011, and continued his rise posting a 1.98 ERA in 91 innings mostly spent with Cleveland's high Class A Kingston squad. Officially, Pomeranz will be listed as a player to be named later since he's not eligible to be traded until Aug. 15 — a year to the day he signed with Cleveland. He was the No. 5 pick in last year's draft.
Not far behind on the prospect list is White, who ranked 47th prior to 2011. The 22-year-old right-hander went 1-0 with a 3.60 in three starts with the Indians earlier this year before going on the DL with a finger injury. He was on track to make a rehab start Sunday with Class AA Akron before the news came down. Some believe he ultimately projects as a high leverage reliever for the late innings, but the Rockies are likely to see how he develops as a starter first.
Gardner rated as Cleveland's sixth-best prospect. His 3.2 ground ball/fly ball rate in the minors seems like a perfect fit for Coors Field. McBride rounds out the quartet. He's essentially a throw-in with little shot of making an impact. From that perspective, it's a little disappointing the Rockies couldn't acquire a much-needed big league-ready bat in the deal, but it's obvious the focus has shifted to rebuilding the pitching depth.
One last thing: There are no questions about Ubaldo Jimenez's character. This is business move for the Colorado Rockies. One that carries risk for them as well because Jimenez was not only popular in the community, but is still plenty young enough to blossom into a special pitcher.
The Rockies entered 2011 feeling like they were positioned to contend now and well beyond, but several breakdowns and regressions in the majors and minors have left them with questionable depth in several areas. Jimenez was one of the few pieces they possessed that could help replenish those areas in a bold move.
That, and they chose not to ignore the physical red flags.