Don’t give up on Jimenez yet

Another start. Another underwhelming performance. And thus another sad chapter in the story of Ubaldo Jimenez as a Cleveland Indian.

On Wednesday, Jimenez faced the Kansas City Royals in his fourth start of the 2012 campaign. There was not much to like — the Cleveland right-hander labored throughout, regularly fell behind in the count and served up two two-run home runs while barely making it through six innings of work.

It seemed to be more of the same for Jimenez, who has now seen almost all of his statistics deteriorate since joining the Indians at the 2011 MLB trade deadline. His walks issued (5.25 BB/9), ERA (4.50) and WHIP (1.50) are all up while his velocity and strikeout rate is severely down (4.87 K/9). (Jimenez owns an 8.1 K/9 rate for his career.)

To be clear, this column is not one of the trendy Jimenez roasts that have appeared so frequently since last July. Instead, this column is one last feeble attempt to defend Jimenez, if that is even possible.

As everyone knows, the Indians went to great lengths to bring Jimenez on board this past July. As the Tribe held onto imprudent hopes of competing in the AL Central, the team’s front office made the decision to move top pitching prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White as well as sinkerballer prospect Joe Gardner and utility man Matt McBride to acquire Jimenez from the Colorado Rockies. A steep price indeed.

Obviously, the Indians did not reach the playoffs and since then, Jimenez has drastically underachieved. The team and its front office have endured harsh criticism, with a lot of it surrounding the fact that the Indians chose to trade a potential Major League power lefty in Pomeranz to acquire Jimenez.

However, let’s rewind. Last July, the Indians dealt away a potential power lefty, but what about when they traded away a proven power lefty?

We seem to forget that in July of 2008, the Indians traded away C.C. Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers for a prospect package that was built around a slugging outfielder/first baseman named Matt LaPorta.

It could be argued that the Indians gave up more to acquire LaPorta than Jimenez. A slew of prospects were sent to the Rockies for Jimenez, but prospects are just that — prospects. No one knows whether they will pan out.

But in acquiring LaPorta, the Indians parted with Sabathia, a home grown talent, former Cy Young Award winner and just a straight up horse on the mound.

Like Jimenez, LaPorta has struggled as an Indian. In 1,008 Major League plate appearances, the right-handed hitter has a .238/.304/.397 line with a total of 30 home runs and 115 RBIs. Certainly, some pretty undesirable numbers for what roughly equates to two full seasons of work.

Unlike Jimenez, however, LaPorta has not been subjected to the same immense criticism. Sure, he has his detractors but not the vehement haters that seem to follow Jimenez. In fact, many Tribe fans still attest that the Indians have never really given LaPorta a chance at the Major League level.

LaPorta is currently playing at the Indians’ Class-AAA affiliate in Columbus where he is tearing the cover off the ball. The former Florida Gator is hitting .344/.394/.656, with five home runs and 10 RBIs. Though this should probably be expected considering he has a career .301/.391/.572 line at the minor league level.

As expected, a number of vocal Indians fans have already been clamoring for LaPorta to return to the team’s Major League roster, especially if the Choo injury proves more serious than originally thought.

So, why is there support for LaPorta yet none for Jimenez? Jimenez certainly has the better major league track record as he posted three very good seasons from 2008 to 2010 while LaPorta has shown himself to be a Major League fringe player at best.

Of the two, Jimenez certainly seems to be the more likely candidate to rebound for the Indians. Jimenez still has a track record of success while LaPorta also has a track record of success — but at Class AAA.

Will Jimenez succeed and become the ace that the Indians thought they traded for? There is no easy answer to that question and sadly, the answer right now looks to be no.

Jimenez has looked poor since he came to Northeast Ohio, and he has done little to make anyone believe that brighter days are ahead. But it is still early. His 2012 season is only four starts old, and there is plenty of time to right the ship. As the weather warms up, he is bound to see some significant velocity increases. Who knows, we could be seeing a very different pitcher come July.

After all, it has been almost four years, and many Indians fans are still convinced that LaPorta can develop into the hulking first baseman that the team so desperately lacks. At the very least, we should withhold our judgment until July. One year’s time should be the perfect barometer as to just how successful or unsuccessful the Jimenez deal has been.

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