The Phillies currently have 12 players on their 40-man roster “in flux”. There are four outright free agents, six arbitration eligible players, and a pair of players with options. We will review each of the 12 players starting today, reviewing the case to either re-sign the player, the case to release the player, and the final verdict of what the Phillies should do for the 2015 season.
29-year old Cesar Jimenez became a mainstay of the Phillies bullpen in August. Jimenez started his 2014 with the IronPigs where he posted a 1.45 ERA in 38 appearances before rattling off 14 scoreless innings in the Majors with the Phils. The Venezuelan lefty seemingly jumped over the hump once and for all, improving his control, evident in his steep drop in his BB/9 IP and WHIP with the ‘Pigs.
Jimenez reached the Major Leagues for the first time as a 21-year old in 2006 with the Seattle Mariners and has been more successful specifically against lefties than righties (.310 OPB against lefties, .361 OBP against righties) in his stays in the Majors. Jimenez sits in the high 80s with his fastball but has about a 10 MPH difference between his fastballs and his change-up, his most successful pitch.
Despite making his debut in 2006, Jimenez is finally arbitration eligible after accumulating three years of Major League service time and Matt Swartz projects his arbitration salary at $600 K. At just a few hundred thousand above the MLB minimum, is Jimenez a guy you would bring back for 2015?
The Case For
Jimenez has a number of things going for him. Turning just 30 in November, Jimenez has improved in each of his seasons with the Phillies and their Minor League clubs. Jimenez’s string of fourteen scoreless innings in fourteen-straight appearances to start his 2014 campaign with the Phillies was nothing to sneeze at. Aside from one bad outing, giving up three earned on September 18 against the San Diego Padres, Jimenez was nearly perfect in his Major League stint, giving up just 14 hits and seven walks in 16 IP.
Other than a brief period in the low Minors, Jimenez has never been a big strikeout pitcher and it looks like there has been a clear move away from focusing on strikeouts in exchange for reducing his walks. Jimenez’s 2.72 BB/9 IP in Triple-A in 2014 was a career-low and his 3.94 BB/9 IP in the Majors in 2014 was his lowest since 2008, the year Jimenez looked like he could become a breakout reliever. Has Jimenez turned the corner once and for all? It is tough to know for sure, but he looks like he is on the right track.
Finally, Jimenez, at a projected $600 K, is cheap. Close-to-the-league-minimum cheap. Swartz projects fellow lefty Antonio Bastardo is projected to make $2.8 million in 2015, $2.2 more than Jimenez’s projection. If you believe Jimenez can perform at a high level, he is just a year older than Bastardo and Bastardo is coming off his worst year since 2012 or 2010 after looking like he was on the precipice of greatness as a reliever in both 2011 and 2013. Do you take a chance on a relative unknown quantity for a full season to save over $2 million if you can find a taker for Bastardo or do you take another chance with Bastardo at a high arbitration number, believing his odd-year success will show itself in 2015?
The Case Against
This one should be self-evident. Jimenez has exactly zero full seasons at the Major League level despite making his debut in 2006 and he hasn’t exactly been a roaring success against righties. Jimenez’s value comes strictly as a lefty specialist and Bastardo and Jake Diekman are better options at this point in their careers and Mario Hollands is just about exactly four years younger, got more of a run last season, and is half as expensive at the league minimum.
Verdict: Call me crazy but Jimenez is an easy keep for me. At worst, he is a league-average lefty reliever. On the flip side, the Phillies did pass Jimenez through waivers successfully last off season. I would keep Jimenez and stash him in Lehigh Valley although I anticipate the Phillies may non-tender Jimenez and attempt to sign him on a minor league deal for 2015 as they did last season.