Indians & Ubaldo Jimenez: Pillow Contract Not an Option


Aug 29, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez (30) throws a pitch against the Atlanta Braves in the first inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Ubaldo Jimenez Can Sign A Pillow Contract, Just Not With Indians

There has been a lot of discussion about a shrinking market for Ubaldo Jimenez due to the draft pick compensation a team would have to give up in order to sign him. As you may recall, the Cleveland Indians made Jimenez a qualifying offer (1-year/$14M) that he and his representatives turned down in order to hit the open market.

This off-season the starting pitching market has been slow to develop. After the initial signings of Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, and Philip Humber, the market stalled as some teams bid on Masahiro Tanaka while other teams waited to see how his eventual landing spot re-shaped the market.

This waiting game left both the pitchers, like Matt Garza, Bronson Arroyo, Ervin Santana, and Ubaldo Jimenez, correctly waiting for the market to pick up and teams needing starting pitching correctly holding a steady line in terms of number of years and AAV when negotiating.

After Tanaka signed, the market cleared up. It was enough for Matt Garza to sign with the Brewers and in the next seven to ten days the remaining free agents, including Ubaldo Jimenez, should either be signed or mulling over offers from multiple teams.

However, there is still one impediment to the pitching market, the eventual landing spot of David Price. Word out of Tampa is that the Price situation will be settled by February 1st and if he isn’t traded by then, he will be named the opening day starter.

Back to the pillow contract for Ubaldo to return to the Indians. This makes no sense for either side really. If Jimenez isn’t satisfied with any of the multi-year offers with other teams the Indians should certainly give him a multi-year offer of their own at a market rate that aligns with their team fiscal direction.

Aug 17, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez (30) returns to the dugout at the end of the fourth inning against the Oakland Athletics at Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

If the Indians were to make him a 1-year pillow contract offer, it has been suggested that the offer would be around the same value of the qualifying offer. That too would be a mistake. By settling on a 1-year deal with him, the Indians lose out on the draft pick compensation (somewhere between first and second round) that would off-set the risk that the club took when extending the qualifying offer.

The Indians certainly could make him a 1-year/$9M offer with incentives to earn more, but that would be as high as the club should go. Either drive him away from the organization to another club on a 1-year deal or give him more incentive to take the multi-year offer made by the club.

Their is risk on Jimenez’s part as well. If he signs a 1-year pillow contract. If he succeeds, he will be offered a qualifying offer again next season, will most likely decline, and will find himself in the same free agent position again but a year older.

If he doesn’t succeed during the 2014 season, he becomes the next Francisco Liriano type contract on the market – somewhere around 1-year/$7m with a club option for a 2nd year.

There have been fan comments in the blogosphere and on social media that have suggested that to avoid this repeat of having a qualifying offer assigned to him that the Indians should agree not to place the offer on him following the completion of the 2014 season. This is strictly prohibited by the collective bargaining agreement.

Article XX – Section B – Part (5)(c)

"A Club and Player (or their designated representatives) shall not enter into any agreement, understanding or contract, or make any representation, promise, or commitment, whether implied or explicit, either orally or in writing, that the Club will not make a Qualifying Offer to a Player, or that a Player will not accept a Qualifying Offer if one is tendered to him. Any Club or Club employee that violates this provision will be subject to discipline by the Commissioner, including the potential forfeiture of draft selections."

Ultimately, Ubaldo Jimenez’s best option will be to take a multi-year deal on the open market right now. There will be several teams that approach him in the next seven to 10 days and with Tanaka and Price off the market true negotiations can begin. The Cleveland Indians should allow this process to unfold and accept their draft pick compensation for him – even if that means Ubaldo Jimenez signs a pillow contract with another organization – which I do not believe he will.