Stop me if you heard this one before, but the Washington Nationals may be looking to acquire a front-of-the-line starting pitcher before the MLB trade deadline. According to ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark, the Nats are likely one of the few National League teams in the hunt to land Colorado Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez.
“An executive of one club involved in these talks says he was told that two National League teams, yet to be identified, are working on this deal (for Jimenez), as well. Other clubs are conjecturing that one of them almost certainly is Washington.”
Jimenez, you may remember, took the majors by storm last season posting a 19-8 overall record with a 2.88 ERA and 214 strikeouts in 221 innings pitched. His scorching fastball sat at a constant 96.1 MPH and often times reached up to 100 MPH, and the young 25-year-old was considered one of the most unhittable pitchers in the game.
Fast forward to 2011 and things are far less certain. In 20 games this year Jimenez has posted a modest 6-9 record with a 4.20 ERA. His strikeout rate remains the same, but many across the league have been worried by his confusing velocity drop on all of his pitches. His fastball’s average speed is down 3 MPH and sitting at 93.4 MPH, and his hard cutting slider is down 3 MPH to 83.4 MPH as well. At times Jimenez will look like the pitcher of 2010, absolutely dominating opposing lineups, and other times he looks like he did Sunday night, giving up five earned runs on eight hits in five innings pitched.
To me, that’s a little bit scary, especially when you consider what a potential price tag would be for a hurler who finished top three in the Cy Young Award voting last year. If the Nationals wanted to commit to get him, they would have to give up major pieces in their farm system, and likely a few at the major league level. The upside in the deal would be that they acquire a 28-year-old Cy Young candidate who is having his first down year in four seasons, and could potentially pair with Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann to instantly create one of the most formidable young rotations in the game. The downside would be that they trade away key future pieces for a player who has something hidden wrong with him, or who has simply seen his better days behind him.
Rizzo has worked extremely hard in the past two seasons to acquire via free agency or trade a pitcher who he could consider front-of-the-line, but has been stymied time in and time out. You’ll remember names like Zack Greinke, Matt Garza, Jorge de la Rosa, Cliff Lee, Rich Harden, Brandon Webb and even Justin Duscherer. Ubaldo Jimenez then is Mike Rizzo’s white whale. I think this may be the Nats GM’s best chance to swoop in and finally try to land a pitcher who can instantly help change the future of the team.
We have seen in the past the Rizzo likes to “buy low” in free-agency and trades. Jonny Gomes was a prime example, as well are his potential deadline targets of B.J. Upton and Dernard Span. The real issue in all of these deals is whether the Nationals can negotiate a price based on these players current performance, or whether the negotiations will revolve around their career accomplishments.