KANSAS CITY -- It was the trade that proved the Indians were all in. After putting a suffering fan base through another rebuilding period, Cleveland seized an opportunity to show that the time had come to make a push for the postseason.
In a shocking twist, the team that had traded away American League Cy Young Award winners CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee in consecutive seasons was going to turn the tables and reel in a Cy Young Award contender. Monday marked the one-year anniversary of the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, a deal that served as a strong statement about Cleveland's desire to contend.
"The guys were really excited, because the team did everything to get me," Jimenez said. "They were trying to do everything to win."
Things do not always go as planned.
Instead of giving the Indians an ace, Jimenez has given the coaching staff a continuous project. He has danced between dominance and disaster, and Cleveland's showing in the standings has followed his lead. On the eve of this summer's non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Tribe sit in third place in the AL Central.
Jimenez feels responsible.
"Definitely," said the pitcher. "I think that's the way everybody feels, each guy in the clubhouse, but especially me."
Jimenez did not officially become Cleveland's property until July 31 last season, but the news of the deal broke one day earlier. On July 30, Jimenez actually pitched an inning against the Padres after already learning that he had been dealt to the Tribe. It was an emotionally draining experience that concluded his rocky tenure with Colorado.
In order to land Jimenez, who is under Cleveland's control through next season, the Indians shipped off a pair of prized pitching prospects in lefty Drew Pomeranz (selected fifth overall in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft) and right-hander Alex White (15th overall in '09), along with Minor League pitcher Joe Gardner and first baseman Matt McBride.
Parting with two potential pitching cornerstones made one thing very clear.
"This team is not just thinking about the future," Jimenez said. "They're thinking about winning now."
It was impossible to declare a winner or loser for the trade when both clubs pulled the trigger. One year later, it is still hard to say whether one organization came out on top in the deal. Jimenez has not lived up to the hype, and the Indians are stuck in neutral. Pomeranz and White have struggled on the big league stage, and the Rockies reside in the National League West cellar.
Combined, Pomeranz and White have gone 7-17 with a 6.33 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP in the Majors since being acquired by Colorado. Gardner, 24, has gone 4-7 with a 4.83 ERA in 21 appearances at Double-A this season, while the 27-year-old McBride has hit .356 with 10 homers and 75 RBIs in 88 games at hitter-friendly Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Given the fact that Pomeranz and White are both just 23 years old, time is still on Colorado's side.
As for the Indians, their immediate fate rests largely in the palm of Jimenez's right hand. Granted, he has hardly been alone in his struggles -- Cleveland starters Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin and Derek Lowe have also been inconsistent this season -- but Jimenez was brought to Cleveland to give the club a shot at postseason play this year and next.
"I think we have everything we need with the guys that we have," Jimenez said. "We just need to be more consistent."
Since joining the Indians, the 28-year-old Jimenez has gone 12-14 with a 5.08 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP across 32 outings. Over 187 2/3 innings in that time period, the right-hander has given up 191 hits, issued 99 walks and allowed 25 home runs, while piling up 156 strikeouts.
This season, Jimenez has posted an 8-10 record with a 5.08 ERA in 21 starts, during which he has struck out 94 and walked 72. The right-hander actually leads the AL in walks issued, stolen bases allowed (22) and wild pitches thrown (11). When Cleveland acquired Jimenez, that was not the kind of Triple Crown the club had in mind.
Indians manager Manny Acta said there has been progress within the subpar results.
"This year, his stuff has been there," Acta said. "What hasn't been there consistently has been the command at times. Last year, we had to answer a ton of questions to you guys, go to the video room every five days, and were just looking for answers all the time because of the velocity.
"It wasn't there at all. Everybody was just trying to find an answer. His stuff has been there the whole season. He's not throwing 97-99 mph like he used [to], but it's been pretty good. So that's something that has helped him."
In his most recent start on Sunday against the Twins, Jimenez topped out at 96.2 mph and was consistently around 93-94 mph throughout the outing. On the season, however, his average velocity is 92.5 mph, which is down from 93.5 in 2011 and 96.1 mph in 2010, when he won 19 games and finished third in voting for the NL Cy Young Award.
More to Acta's point, though, what Jimenez has really lacked is command. His rate of 5.3 walks per nine innings is the highest average of his career. The righty has walked at least five batters in a start six times this year after doing so eight times in the past two seasons combined. Jimenez is throwing fewer fastballs and more offspeed pitches this season, and the results have been erratic.
Asked if Indians fans have seen him at his best yet, Jimenez shrugged.
"Probably a couple games," he replied. "I know the fans got really excited with some of the games that I've had, but I definitely have to be more consistent."
Jimenez turned in six shutout innings in a critical game against the Tigers on July 24, held the reigning World Series champion Cardinals to one run over seven innings on June 10 and blanked the Rangers' potent lineup for seven frames on May 6. From June 5-July 7, Jimenez fashioned a 2.93 ERA over seven starts, teasing fans into thinking he had turned in a corner.
Jimenez believes he has turned a corner, at least in terms of fixing his delivery.
"This year has been about putting my mechanics together," Jimenez said. "I'm pitching with confidence, because I don't have any kind of pain in my body."
It was a different story last year.
"That was a tough year for me," Jimenez said. "I had to deal with a lot of things health-wise, and then getting traded. It was an unbelievable trip."
Jimenez's journey is far from over, though.