Free Agent Faceoff: Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana?
Thursday, November 14, 2013 | by Ian Hunter
In a perfect world, the Toronto Blue Jays would sign two high-calibre starting pitchers to solidify their starting rotation this offseason. For a multitude of reasons, the reality is they may only get an opportunity to sign one.
Two of the most sought-after free agent starting pitchers on the market are Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. But if the Blue Jays only have enough resources to go after one of them, which would be the better candidate?
When a player has a comeback season like Ubaldo Jimenez did in 2013, people look for a clear-cut reason as to why it happened. Luckily, there is one.
Ubaldo's renaissance can be linked to an extensive delivery and timing overhaul with Cleveland Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway. According to Jeff Passan at Yahoo, they slowed down Jimenez' delivery by one second, in addition to adjusting his posture.
While Ervin Santana is arguably the biggest free agent pitcher out on the market, I don't think he's a good fit for the Blue Jays; predominately because the asking price for Santana will be astronomical.
The other thing that frightens me about Ervin Santana his he's prone to the longball. The past three seasons, Santana has surrendered 91 home runs total; which is the second most in MLB. He averages around 26 home runs given up per season.
My fear is that Santana would suffer a similar fate as R.A. Dickey did in the first half of 2013; that his home run numbers would skyrocket if he pitches in a home run-prone park like the Rogers Centre.
Ubaldo Jimenez doesn't come without his faults, either; control tends to be an issue as his BB/9 is 4 for his career. But on the flipside, Ubaldo tends to miss a lot of bats and strikes out quite a few batters as well.
Ervin Santana had a slightly better ERA and surrendered fewer walks than Ubaldo Jimenez in 2013, but other than that, Ubaldo bested Santana in every other category this past season. And yet for some reason, Ervin Santana is the belle of the ball.
Compare the two starters over the past three seasons, and they're quite alike, but Jimenez and Santana do have some subtle differences as well.
Ubaldo Jimenez might actually be the better buy for the Blue Jays on the free agent market, and he would likely come for less dollars and less years than Ervin Santana would command.
Tim Dierkes of MLBTR has Ubaldo fetching somewhere in the neighbourhood of a four year/$52 million dollar deal, which works out to roughly $13 million dollars per season. That actually seems quite palatable for the Blue Jays.
Compare that with the $14.3 million the Blue Jays stood to pay Josh Johnson with a qualifying offer or the $18 million Mark Buerhle stands to make in 2014, and $13 million for Ubaldo Jimenez seems like a bargain.
A four year/$52 million dollar contract for a 29 year old starting pitcher with over 200 starts under his belt? Heck, money's been spent more frivolously than that; even throughout the history of the Blue Jays franchise.
Ervin Santana is seeking nearly twice that amount on the open market, and wants five years instead of four. Not that he'll necessarily get it, but the Blue Jays really can't afford to delve out a $100 million dollar contract to another starting pitcher.
Both starters appear to be extremely durable and chew up a lot of innings, but Ubaldo Jimenez has posted six straight seasons of 30-plus starts, and you really can't find a much better track record than that.
Of the entire starting pitcher free agent crop, Ubaldo Jimenez has made the third most starts the past three seasons at 95 total ... lo and behold, the same amount as Ervin Santana.
Alex Anthopoulos himself noted the Blue Jays would attempt to minimize risk this offseason by targeting players with less of an injury history. Aside from the consummate picture of health like Mark Buehrle, you really can't get much more durable than Ubaldo Jimenez.
He has just one DL stint to his name his entire big league career and Ubaldo Jimenez never suffered an arm or an elbow injury. Not very many pitchers on the Blue Jays roster can say the same.
I may be a little biased here, but to me Ervin Santana's 2013 season seems like more of an outlier than Ubaldo Jimenez'. With Ubaldo, at least there's an indication changes were made mechanically, and that's partially why he enjoyed renewed success in Cleveland.
However with Ervin Santana, I think it's just more the fact that he was so bad the previous season, that it in comparison it makes his 2013 campaign appear that much better. I don't get the feeling that Santana has turned the corner like Ubaldo has.
2012 was equally horrible for Jimenez, but he has four really good sub-4 FIP seasons under his belt (2009/2010/2011/2013), whereas Santana really only has two (2008/2013). Let's not forget that three of those four years for Ubaldo were at Coors Field.
For my money, the Blue Jays would be better off investing their free agent spending in Ubaldo Jimenez rather than Ervin Santana. Not that either one is a bad choice, but in my eyes, Jimenez is the starter who would not only come cheaper, but who also offers a little more upside.
And that stability combined with some upside could be exactly what the Blue Jays need to help push them over their proverbial playoff hump.
Data via FanGraphs