Ubaldo Jiménez will be suiting up for the Rockies again. At least in spring training anyway, as we learned when the Rockies released the non-roster invitee list on Wednesday. When the only Rockie to throw a no-hitter showed up on Colorado’s spring training invite list, it was hard not to be happy. It certainly doesn’t come close to addressing the lack of pitching additions or measure up to the likes of David Price joining the Dodgers, but in a time when Rockies fans will take any good news they can get, this was a refreshing little piece — even if it is just for the nostalgia.
Thomas Harding reports that “the reunion has been in the works since last year” when Colorado’s vice president of international scouting and development Rolando Fernandez, who originally signed a teenage Jiménez with the Rockies in 2001, set the wheels in motion to bring the veteran back. Jiménez hasn’t pitched in two seasons since his contract ended with Baltimore at the end of 2017.
Jiménez told Harding that he’s continued his pitching routine, but that he decided to spend time with his family when his wife, Mariví, was going through a high-risk pregnancy. Mariví and the baby made it through just fine and she’s now expecting again, this time with the couple’s third child.
Harding also reports that Jiménez is coming of a 1-4 performance with a 3.03 ERA in 29 2/3 innings in the Dominican Winter League and can still hit 90-95 mph with his fastball.
Jiménez is undoubtedly one of the best pitchers in Rockies history, but Harding points out that Jimenez is the franchise’s best pitcher ever if you go by WAR, which Baseball Reference lists at 18.9. Aaron Cook comes in second at 17.1, followed by Jorge De La Rosa at 15.2 and Jhoulys Chacin at 14.6.
Thomas Harding focused on the positive in his Ubaldo Jiménez story. Nick Groke focused on the ending of Jiménez’s time as a Rockie: one that ended in a confusing, frustrating, and disgraceful moment in Rockies’s history when they pulled Jiménez mid-game in the first inning of a game against the Padres in 2011 to trade him to Cleveland.
Next time Jiménez saw the Rockies, he plunked Troy Tulowitzki with a pitch in a spring training game in 2012, which lead to a bench-clearing brawl. Eight years has now gone by, and 36-year-old Ubaldo is rejoining the Rockies at spring training.
Groke pitches some interesting maybes into the reasons for this invite: “Maybe his signing is little more than a stunt. Maybe they intend to squeeze him into the bullpen.” Then, comparing the move to other inexpensive, low-risk veteran minor league signings or spring training invites this offseason like Drew Butera, Elias Díaz, Chris Owings, and Mike Gerber, Groke leans more toward this just being the modus operandi for the Rockies.
Groke also ends with a clever connection to Monfort’s 94-win prediction in that Monfort used the success of 2007 being like 2017 and 2018 because the Rockies then plummeted in 2008 and in 2019. They rebounded in 2009 to get back into the playoffs and are hoping the same pattern emerges in 2020. With this invite, the Rockies could actually have a pitcher who was on both the 2009 and 2020 rosters in Jiménez. Does that add credibility to the prediction?
Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in five days (Feb. 11). Everyone else reports Feb. 16. The first spring training game is 16 days away (Feb. 22). This is the time when all baseball fans are supposed to be filled with hope.
Being a kid before the Rockies existed, I was a Cubs fan in the 80s and early 90s, and even then, over 80 years out from a World Series win, there was hope. Even after an offseason with no major additions, but somehow still loaded with tumultuous drama, Rockies fans still need hope. Kyle Newman wrote what would have to happen for that hope (and Dick Monfort’s prophesied 94 wins) to become a reality. Although he does admit that it is an “unlikely turnaround,” he argues that the Rockies’ young relievers are going to be key.
He admits we can’t count on the expensive trio of Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, and Jake McGee, but also knows that Scott Oberg can’t pitch every relief inning. So the ones to bring the Rockies out of the National League’s second-to-last place standing in bullpen ERA from 2019 (5.14) will have to be eight young relievers: Jairo Diaz, Carols Estevez, Yency Almonte, Jesus Tinoco, James Pazos, Phillip Diehl, Tyler Kinley, and the “wild card” of Jeff Hoffman, who has yet to find his footing as a starter or reliever.
Newman acknowledges that it’s a big ask of a young crew, but it could mean the difference between a rebound year and a downward trend. Obviously, the success of the starting rotation, once that is established, is also paramount. If the bullpen is overused, it might be too tall of an order. But just maybe, with the starters being a little more consistent and long-lasting, and a few of the young guns finding their big-league strides, there could be reason for hope.
We all remember the tale of two pitchers from 2019.
For Scott Oberg, it was the best of times. He was the Rockies’ best option in the bullpen and earned the closer role in August.
For Wade Davis, it was the worst of times. He lost the closer spot and ended the season with an 8.65 ERA in 42.2 innings, giving up 41 earned runs, seven homers, and 29 walks.
Entering spring training, the two will be battling for the 2020 closing role. Oberg has the momentum and the new contract, but Davis has the history, the hope-and-see comments of Bud Black, and Davis’s own word that 2019 won’t happen again.
In this editorial, Aaron Hunt makes the case that if Wade Davis is listed as the closer on opening day, we shouldn’t freak out, even though we will probably want to. He backs his case by explaining that if Davis is the ninth-inning man, it means he earned it and he’s back to prior form. He will have regained trust, be better locating his pitches, and be more like the closer that saw him set the club saves record with 43 in 2018.
If he remains the closer well into the season, hopefully it means it’s because the Rockies are winning and things are going in the right direction. If the Rockies aren’t playoff contenders, but Davis is a solid closer, he could also be desirable for teams still in the postseason hunt. Hunt believes it’s a win-win scenario.
It’s a valid point. However, at this point, just thinking of Davis on the mound automatically creates a stress ball of anxiety in my gut. But I’ll try to think of it this way.