Is it worth the risk?
That’s the question currently facing the front offices of the Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Browns.
The Indians are heading into the off-season in the surprisingly spot of having to make a tough decision on starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez. The Browns are facing a decision on wide receiver Josh Gordon as well, but for entirely different reasons.
As little as three months ago it seemed incomprehensible that the Indians would actually want Jimenez to remain on the team and that they would simply decline their side of the mutual option and let him become a free agent. If Jimenez wanted to come back on the cheap, the Indians may have listened.
But that all changed after the All-Star break this year. Jimenez suddenly remembered that he is supposed to be a good pitcher and posted an ERA of 1.82 in 84 innings of work while helping the Indians make it to the Wild Card play-in game.
Suddenly the power shifted to Jimenez, who is expected to void the $8 million option in his contract and become a free agent – but this time one who very well could be in high demand. At age 30, Jimenez should still have enough good years in him that some team may be willing to gamble on him.
Which puts the Indians and general manager Chris Antonetti in a tough position.
The Indians can certainly get in on the bidding for Jimenez, but which Jimenez would they be bidding on, exactly?
Is it the pitcher we watched during the second half of the season? Or is the one who posted an ERA of 5.10, lost 17 games in 2012 and has been a mess since coming over from Colorado in a trade in 2011?
If the Indians think it is the former, maybe the step up to the plate with a competitive offer (although some reports put the price tag at $42 million over three years). Maybe they believe that pitching coach Mickey Callaway really did find the key to unlock Jimenez’ talent. (And if that is true, there may still be hope for Trevor Bauer.)
But if they are wrong, and it turns out that the second-half Jimenez was just another example of a player putting up big numbers in a contract year, then signing him to a long-term deal for big money would be a mistake. The Indians can’t afford to make a mistake on any free agent that wants more than a one- or two-year contract,
The risk just feels to high on Jimenez, which is why the Indians should thank him for the half-season of good baseball and then walk away. They can build a solid rotation out of Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McCallister and Danny Salazar. Then they can take some of the money they are saving by not resigning Jimenez and work out a deal with Scott Kazmir, who looks like he’s re-discovered his groove. Kazmir bring’s his own risk, as well, but the price of missing on him is not as burdensome as it would be if the Tribe makes a mistake on Jimenez.
The Browns face just as tough of a decision on Gordon, the second-year wide receiver who has provided as much of a spark (and probably more) to the team’s offense since returning from a two-game suspension than quarterback Brian Hoyer.
Rumors have resurfaced this week that the Browns would be willing to move Gordon for the right price, with possible destinations including San Francisco, which is struggling without the injured Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree, and Atlanta, which may have lost Julio Jones for the season to a foot injury during their loss on Monday night.
Both destinations seem a bit unlikely, though, as the 49ers will be getting their wide receivers back from injury soon and, at 1-4, it’s hard to see the Falcons giving up a lot to try and salvage their season.
Gordon’s talent is not a question, but we can still see why the Browns would be open to trading him as he reportedly faces a one-year suspension if he violates the NFL’s drug policy one more time. The threat of losing what may be their best offensive player to another suspension gives the Browns front office something else to thing about.
If Gordon was clean, it is doubtful that the Browns would even pick up the phone if another team called. But he’s not, which means you have to take the rumors at least a bit seriously.
If the Browns could get something of real value for Gordon – at least a second-round pick (if not more) – we wouldn’t be happy but we would understand if they swung a deal. They know better than anyone what Gordon’s day-to-day situation is like and, if they thing a slip-up is more than a mere possibility, it is probably in the team’s best interest to make a move before it is too late.
But every other team knows about Gordon’s problems as well, so how likely is it that a team would be desperate enough to make the Browns an offer that would be worth their while? After all, if Gordon is in Stage 3 of the NFL’s treatment program, he is in there for the rest of his career, meaning he will carry the suspension threat with him as well.
Gordon’s a risk, but one that is worth taking for the Browns. He has two years left after this season on his rookie contract, which means the financial investment is not that high. Even if he were to get suspended, it won’t hurt the Browns on the salary cap front. If he stays clean between now and when his rookie deal is up, then the Browns have come out on the right side of the deal. If not? Well, that’s a risk we’re willing to see the team take.
Two teams. Two players. Two big risks.
Don’t let anyone tell you that Cleveland sports are ever boring.
(Ubaldo Jimenez photo by Getty Images)
(Josh Gordon photo by The Associated Press)