The Orioles haven't done much this offseason. Or rather, they hadn't done much, until Sunday, which brought two actual, human signings. After officially announcing the acquisition of Korean pitcher Suk-min Yoon on a three-year, $5.75-million contract, they inked Ubaldo Jimenez for four years and $50 million, pending a physical.
While the Yoon deal is fairly trivial — he wants to be in the rotation, but an extended-reliever role à la T.J. McFarland is probably more likely — the Jimenez agreement is anything but. FanGraphs ranked Jimenez as the eighth-best free agent available before the offseason, above many names who have already signed. They listed him highly for a reason: He pitched pretty well last year — his 3.2 WAR by both RA9-WAR and FIP-WAR placed him as the 34th- and 39th-best pitcher in the majors, respectively (out of 81 qualifiers). Moreover, his success should carry over into 2014, where ZiPS projects 2.5 WAR in 173.0 innings.
*As Dave Cameron so astutely pointed out, the community was pretty much spot-on in its prognostication. Go FanGraphs readers!
If he's so good, you ask, why has he been on the market all this time? The answer is twofold. First, there's Jimenez's reputation as an erratic pitcher, but my colleague Jeff Long has already debunked that notion, so I'll leave that one alone.
Second, and more importantly, there's that first-round draft pick (or lack thereof). When Jimenez declined his 2014 option, the Indians extended a qualifying offer of $14.1 million; after he declined that offer, the team that inevitably signed him would have to forfeit their top pick in the June draft. Baltimore's top pick is #17 overall, but this isn't much of a sacrifice. Over at Camden Chat, Mark Brown shows that the selection probably wouldn't have been worth much anyway.
O's reportedly close to Jimenez on 4/48. I approve - ZiPS had Jimenez value for a team losing the 20th pick as 4/52.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) February 17, 2014
Szymborski's not alone here — the overall reaction to this signing seems to be positive. Of the six reaction pieces in the Transaction Scorecard, five approved, with Matt Snyder of CBS Sports offering the only dissension. The theoretical volatility and draft pick, not to mention the Tanaka saga, held Jimenez's signing date back, but none torpedoed his eventual deal.
Overall, this is a solid move for the birds. While they had four respectable, ~2 WAR arms available in Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman, their fifth starter slot was a question mark, and now their rotation is secure. This deal is significant for more than that, however, as it shows that the Orioles — despite my earlier beliefs to the contrary — haven't given up on contention in 2014.
What else is in store for the newly awakened Baltimore front office? After Jimenez's signing, their 2014 payroll will sit at about $91 million; Dan Duquette hasn't ruled out $100 million, so the Orioles might not be done spending. Some are now saying they should sign Kendrys Morales or Nelson Cruz (to whom they have been linked, for what it's worth). Neither would be huge, but both would represent upgrades over the existing solutions, and the draft picks they would require are now even more inconsequential.
Realistically, though, the Orioles probably won't do much this season, no matter whom they add. They're projected for 76 wins, and while that doesn't yet include Jimenez, the jump to 79 (at best) doesn't inspire much hope. Unless Kevin Gausman or another pitcher (Chen?) breaks out, 2014 will be just like 1998 through 2011. Jimenez makes them better at a reasonable price, but he likely doesn't move them into playoff position. Nevertheless, there is light at the end of this tunnel — 2015 and beyond could be the years when Baltimore returns with a bang. If it is, and if Jimenez (or possibly Yoon) is a reason why, they'll look back on this day as a proud one in Orioles history.
All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
Ryan Romano writes for Beyond the Box Score, the FanGraphs Community blog, and Camden Chat that one time. Follow him on Twitter at @triple_r_ if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports and live tweeting about Community, Thursdays at 8/7c after the Olympics. Cool. Coolcoolcool.