Spring Training has essentially started, however a number of high-profile free agents still remain jobless as we enter mid-February. Among them is starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, who is probably the best player still available. Despite a pair of uninspiring performances in 2011 and 2012, he returned to form in 2013, notching a 3.30 ERA (114 ERA+), 9.56 K/9, and 3.2 WAR in 182.1 innings. While any potential suitor will be hoping for a return to his 2010 performance (2.88 ERA, 221.2 IP, 6.5 WAR), odds are those days of dominance are over, and he is now more of a number two or three starter rather than an ace. Still, for a pitcher of his caliber, he should be drawing more attention. Unfortunately his market has been extremely handicapped by the presence of other middle-tier arms such as the recently signed Matt Garza and the similarly comparable (to Jimenez that is) Ervin Santana, as well as a general reluctance to surrender draft picks for non-elite free agents.
So, with the winter winding down, which team will Ubaldo Jimenez be suiting up for this season?
Having already spent an enormous sum this offseason (additions include Robinson Cano, Fernando Rodney, Corey Hart, and Logan Morrison), the Mariners could theoretically be willing to add to a payroll that currently projects to be in the ~$80 million range, especially considering the team had an opening day payroll of $94 million just three years ago (it was $84 million last year) and $100+ million in 2008 and 2009.
Hoping to contend in a crowded AL West, the M's could sorely use another high-quality starter. Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma are locked into rotation spots, but after them, the staff looks rather shaky. Scott Baker pitched in just three games last season, Erasmo Ramirez is coming off a 4.98 ERA season, and both Taijuan Walker and James Paxton face questions surrounding their big-league readiness. Signing Jimenez would go a long way in fortifying their rotation, making them more than just a one-two punch.
Last we heard, the Orioles were interested in signing one from the trio of Bronson Arroyo, Santana, and Jimenez. With Arroyo off the board now, the Orioles figure to make a run at one of the other two options, or go internally to fill their final rotation spot. With Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, and Miguel Gonzalez penciled into starting gigs, that fifth spot is currently projected to go to prospect Kevin Gausman, who is near big-league ready but struggled in his short stint in Baltimore last season (5.66 ERA in 47.2 innings), and could probably use a tad more seasoning in the minors.
While the above group may be impressive in depth, they really don't have a true number one or two option, unless you consider Chris Tillman to be that guy. They could definitely use Jimenez, but you have to wonder if the Orioles may be better off spending their cash on a bat considering their rather sizable holes at DH, second base, and in left field.
Jimenez landing back in Cleveland appears to be a real long shot right now, as there has reportedly been little contact between the two sides. The organization appears set on making a playoff return with a rotation consisting of Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Zach McAllister, and some combination of Carlos Carrasco, Shaun Marcum, Josh Tomlin, or Trevor Bauer. Realistically, that's not really a playoff caliber rotation, and two key components of last year's playoff squad have either already left (Scott Kazmir) or are primed to leave (Jimenez).
Cleveland doesn't necessarily seem financially fit enough to retain Jimenez, and it is likely that management recognizes that it will be hard to recapture the glory of 2013. Still, Cleveland is the only team with the ability to sign Jimenez without having to give up a draft pick, which may make him an appealing option on a short-term deal if he wants to take a high-salary one-year contract and reenter the market next offseason.
It's been evident for a while now that Toronto appears destined to sign either Santana or Jimenez, as they are one of just a small number of teams inclined to give up a draft pick (due to two protected first round picks, they would only have to give up the 49th overall selection) for one of the two. Their interest is quite reasonable, as they're heading into the season with a bleak rotation of RA Dickey, Mark Buehrle, JA Happ, Brandon Morrow, and Kyle Drabek. The Blue Jays are depending a lot on numerous bounceback campaigns, and Jimenez (or Santana) would be a significant upgrade to their currently weak crop.