The Colorado Rockies are absolutely doing the right thing by shopping talented right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez. They also are doing the right thing by asking for the moon and the sun for him.
On this year's trade market, where no other pitcher even approaches Jimenez in terms of talent, the Rockies' might find a team willing to overpay for him. That seems to be the goal.
The Rockies suggested to the Yankees in conversations Saturday and Sunday that they seek the four prospects generally considered the best in an organization full of good pitching and catching prospects: catcher Jesus Montero plus pitchers Manuel Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Ivan Nova, people familiar with the talks told SI.com. That fits with Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd's comment to the Denver Post that "it would take a Herschel Walker deal" to move Jimenez.
The Yankees countered by suggesting they'd probably be willing to surrender Montero and some other prospects but not any of those three pitchers. So there is a long way to go to bridge that gap.
"The Rockies absolutely will not make a deal where Montero is the centerpiece,'' one person connected to Colorado insisted of the hitting star long considered the Yankees' best prospect. There are serious doubts whether Montero has the tools to be a major league catcher and may have to switch to first base. But one NL scout (not with the Rockies) who loves Montero's hitting ability said, "Jorge Posada was never a great catcher, either, and he's close to a Hall of Famer.'' Montero, 21, has only a .747 OPS at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre, though some scouts insist his only issue is that he looks "bored'' in the minors.
Meanwhile, the Yankees will not include any of those three top pitching prospects in a package with Montero, someone with ties to the team insisted. Last year, the Yankees declined to include Nova with Montero in talks with the Mariners for Cliff Lee, who is much more accomplished than Jimenez but was only under contract for last season. One of Jimenez's best features is a team-friendly contract that goes through 2012 and includes team options for 2013 and 2014.
The Yankees like Jimenez much better than what else is available and they'd love a top-of-the-rotation starter to enhance their rotation, which is somewhat iffy beyond superstar CC Sabathia. But as one person familiar with the Yankees' thinking stressed, "Jimenez is not King Felix.''
Despite the respective teams' early differences of opinion, the Yankees will still be seen as a logical favorite to land Jimenez since they have a stash of fine prospects and perhaps a greater willingness to deal them than some others (even if they want to keep Banuelos, Betances and Nova). In addition to the quartet the Rockies seek, the Yankees also have pitchers Hector Noesi, Andrew Brackman, Tim Norton, David Phelps and Adam Warren, catchers Gary Sanchez, J.R. Murphy and Austin Romine, infielders Eduardo Nunez , Brandon Laird and David Adams and outfielders Raymond Kruml, Slade Heathcott and Jorge Vazquez.
People on both sides are saying the chances for a deal are far less than great, and some folks who have spoken to the Rockies maintain that it's more likely than not they ultimately keep Jimenez. But in the meantime, they will be busy talking to interested teams. No less than 12 teams have checked in regarding Jimenez, according to people familiar with the talks. The Rangers, Tigers, Red Sox and Reds are believed among the teams to have called, but it is said that even some non-contenders have called because Jimenez has a very team friendly contract. The Rangers and Reds, in particular, have many excellent prospects, though both those teams are also looking for relief help (as are the Yankees).
Jimenez isn't pitching anything like the guy who started last year 15-1 but he has pitched well enough to bounce back from an 0-5 start with 5.86 ERA through May to be 5-8 with a 4.08 ERA overall. The Rockies are 9 ½ games out in the National League West, but O'Dowd has always been a guy willing to take chances. Most of all, he's been a guy willing to listen.
While Jimenez's velocity is down from 98 mph last year to 95 this year and the results have fallen much more precipitously than that, if he's available, he would easily be best starting pitcher on the trade market, and the only one who could reasonably be described as a No. 1 or No. 2 starter.
The other starters on the market are mostly No. 3 or even No. 4 or No. 5 starters, and many of them are on bad contracts (even the Yankees are suitably appalled by the Astros' three-year deal with Wandy Rodriguez where the fourth-year club option turns into a player option if he is traded). Jimenez is extremely attractive thanks to his contract that calls for him to make $2.8 million this year and $4.2 million in 2012, followed by two years of club options in 2013 ($5.75 million) and '14 ($8 million), according to Cot's Baseball Contracts (though the last year can be voided by Jimenez is traded).
If Jimenez looks anything like he did at the start of last season, that contract is a joke. Even if he continues to pitch the way he currently is, it's a bargain. Even if both of his options are exercised, the contract expires when he is 30 years old.
Rockies people shot down one report that suggested that earlier this season Jimenez was pouting over the new much bigger contracts given to their everyday stars Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, and Jimenez always has had a very good clubhouse rep. The bigger concern is the lost velocity. One competing exec said he thought it was a "red flag'' that he's even semi-available. A question evaluators have about Jimenez is how long he will last with his distinctive herky-jerky deliver, but regardless, he is the only starting pitcher the market with a realistic chance to make a major impact.
The Rockies know this, which is why their asking price is high. It could come down a bit if Colorado falls further off the pace in the NL West and assumes more of a selling mode. Word is, the Rockies will likely wait to see whether they can close the gap in the division to four games before deciding whether to do real selling (if they did, they have at least closer Huston Street, infielder Ty Wigginton -- whose name also came up in Yankees talks -- and reliever Rafael Betancourt to peddle ). But in the meantime, it's worthwhile for them to see whether the laws of supply and demand will bring them a haul for Jimenez.
• Carlos Beltran's days as a Met appear to be numbered. The Mets don't believe he will pass through waivers since he's the best hitter on the market, so they intend to trade him before the deadline, barring a sudden hot streak by the team. Because he has veto power over trades, they might try to consummate a deal a few days before the deadline, so there won't be any hitches. Among teams that may have an interest, it is believed Beltran would approve at least the Giants, Tigers, Rangers, Red Sox, Phillies and Yankees. The Mets are willing to eat all or most of the $7 million remaining on Beltran's deal if they can get a decent prospect in return.
• The Giants' current thinking is that they do not want to part with any decent prospects for a hitter, which might limit their chances at Beltran. The Giants have seen improvement of late from Cody Ross and even Miguel Tejada, and the return to the field of Pablo Sandoval has helped, as well.
• Incoming Astros owner Jim Crane is said to be asking their baseball people to get their payroll down to $60 million, which has them shopping both Rodriguez and Brett Myers. Both pitchers have undesirable contracts, complicating things. Myers' deal calls for an $11 million salary next year. Rivals believe Houston will keep Hunter Pence, one of the few attractive pieces it has.
• The A's are historically realistic and aggressive, and with Brett Anderson undergoing Tommy John surgery and the Rangers on an 11-game winning streak, they are going to be sellers. Josh Willingham could help several teams in a market where there's a reasonable demand for good-hitting outfielders. The Indians and Pirates (yes, the Indians and Pirates are buyers) are two teams where Willingham would help. The cross-Bay Giants are another.
• With the Rangers winning 11 straight and the Mariners losing nine straight, Seattle is suddenly in a hole. Erik Bedard would make a nice trade chip if he comes back soon. Brandon League might, too, but in a market full of relievers, he might not bring back his true value.
• The Indians are eyeing a starting pitcher as well as a bat, and are in the group that's inquired about the Dodgers' Hiroki Kuroda, along with the Tigers, Red Sox, Rangers and Yankees, according to American League sources. Kuroda has a no-trade clause, complicating matters a bit. But it's interesting that AL teams view him as someone who could make the switch to that league seamlessly.
• The Cubs are telling teams Matt Garza is not for sale, which is no surprise since they gave up top pitching prospect Chris Archer (as well as Sam Fuld and others) to get him from the Rays during the offseason. One rival GM suggested the Cubs should get whatever they could for Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano and a couple others, even if it's 25 cents on the dollar, But that seems improbable. One thing they should do is talk Kerry Wood and Aramis Ramirez into accepting a trade away from the Friendly Confines. They could actually bring something good back for those two players.
• The Phillies and Reds are said to match best with the Padres since both those teams seek a right-handed-hitting outfielder and relief help. The Padres seem of a mind to hear what the Reds might offer since the match is probably best with them, but Cincinnati is more methodical in its dealings than Philly GM Ruben Amaro, who is in the Whitey Herzog school of direct dealing. The Cardinals, Yankees, Angels and White Sox are believed to be the other teams talking to the Padres about bullpen help. San Diego is relief central, with Heath Bell, Mike Adams and Chad Qualls. They also have outfielder Ryan Ludwick, who could help the Giants, Braves, Pirates or Indians as well as the Reds or Phillies. Reds GM Walt Jocketty has ties to Ludwick from St. Louis.
• Texas, which has a lot of good prospects as well, is talking a lot to the Padres about the relievers. The Padres want a very big prospect for Adams if he's dealt and are talking the Rangers, but there is no expectation that Texas would part with 18-year-old shortstop Jurickson Profar, who has more walks than strikeouts (a rarity for a teenager) at Single-A and speaks five languages (an even greater rarity). Seriously, Texas loves him. So he isn't going anywhere.
• The Rays seem willing to talk about B.J. Upton, which adds an interesting name to an outfield market which already includes Beltran, Ryan Ludwick, Willingham and possibly Colby Rasmus. Though one rival GM opined, "I'd be surprised if the Cardinals traded Rasmus with the uncertainty surrounding (Albert) Pujols.''
• Rangers young outfielder Julio Borbon is leaning toward having ankle surgery. He originally broke the ankle while playing for the University of Tennessee in 2007. If he has the surgery, he would miss the rest of the season.
• Orioles manager Buck Showalter is a big fan of J.J. Hardy's and is thus thrilled that the team kept Hardy for three more years (at $22.25 million).