CLEVELAND, OH: Starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez #30 of the Cleveland Indians pitches during the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Progressive Field. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
The Red Sox and Rockies made a trade over the weekend, but here's why the Cleveland Indians should be a little weirded out by it.
It's an odd headline. And it's a bit of leap in logic, not unlike a shoddily crafted conspiracy theory. But hear me out.
The Colorado Rockies, without checking my numbers, have committed to both Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki for a combined $500 million through 2078. Those two might not be Rockies for life, but that's not going to be because of a lack of ownership effort. And while there's value in keeping Tulowitzki and Gonzalez around for the next five to ten years, the biggest chunk of their value should come now. They're good now. Paying them to be centerpieces in 2017 would be a great way to wake up with a couple of banged-up, expensive 30-year-olds and thinking, "Gee, we sure did this backwards."
This is why it seemed especially bizarre for the Rockies to trade Ubaldo Jimenez before the trade deadline last season. That's not to speak ill of the prospects they received back -- an Alex White/Drew Pomeranz combo is about a good of a package as one pitcher will bring back. But they had Tulowitzki and Gonzalez in their peak years, locked up for good. It was an odd time to throw their hands up and concede the next couple of seasons.
But the Rockies weren't rebuilding. Certainly not in any traditional sense, even after trading away Huston Street as well. Earlier in the offseason, they signed Michael Cuddyer to a three-year deal. They got spooked at the idea of D.J. LeMahieu being a one-man depth chart at third base, and they brought in Casey Blake. They re-signed Rafael Betancourt for two years with a team option. And when they were in need of a second baseman, they took a player off the hands of a team that wanted to save money. Marco Scutaro went to the Rockies because they were willing to pay for his 2012 salary.
Nothing up there directly contradicts the idea that the Rockies were rebuilding. But all of it together makes it pretty clear that the Rockies don't have any interest in filling their roster with young raffle tickets, cycling through dozens of permutations and hoping to find the next good young Rockies. They're attempting to build a competitive team just a few months after trading their ace for two prospects. A team that's willing to pay Marco Scutaro's full salary is a team that's playing for the present.
Ubaldo was locked up through 2014 for a total of $18 million. He can void the 2014 option now that he's been traded, but with the Rockies he was locked up for three years at about 33 percent of what he'd make on the open market.
The Rockies didn't trade Ubaldo because of financial problems. They've already spent those savings -- and more -- on Cuddyer.
The Rockies didn't trade Ubaldo because they were scared of getting stuck with a huge contract for an injured pitcher. We know that because a) it wasn't a huge contract, and b) even if his labrum turned into a fine mist and escaped through his nose, both 2013 and 2014 were team options. The Rockies would have been on the hook for just a $1 million option in the event of an apocalyptic injury scenario.
The Rockies didn't trade Ubaldo because they were rebuilding. Scutaro, Cuddyer, and Blake are evidence of that. The plan was never to defer to a youth movement.
If I were an Indians fan, I'd be scared as all heck that the Rockies traded Ubaldo because they looked at him and, for whatever reason, decided that July, 2011 was their chance to get the most value out of Ubaldo Jimenez that they could possibly get. They did this even though he was reasonably priced, and even though they were mostly set up for the short term.
I'm not suggesting that somewhere in the bowels of Coors Field, there's a moist room with secret files about Ubaldo Jimenez's deteriorating velocity and declining health. And if there's something to cheer up Indians fans, it's a note that Dan O'Dowd might have thought he was rebuilding last July. The guy sort of changes out his organizational philosophies like they have the shelf life of open avocados. Don't mind me.
The Rockies weren't completely broke, and that they weren't conceding the short-term. Based on that description, they sure seem like a team that would really, really like to have a cheap Ubaldo Jimenez around. Instead, they took the prospects and figured that they'd find someone out of the gross of fifth-starter candidates that they bought directly from the supplier to help them contend in the meantime.
It's either a curious strategy, or a sign that they hit the eject button right when they had to. The Indians would be right to be nervous over the Scutaro trade, and all the other signs that the Rockies aren't rebuilding after all. Well, that, and his velocity dips from 2011 combining with an ERA spiking over 5.00 once he got to the American League. But also the Scutaro trade!