Now that the Indians have picked up Ubaldo Jimenez's option, the next step needs to be fixing him for the 2012 season. When Jimenez came to the team in 2011 it was too late in the year to work on much of anything and he struggled through the end of the year. In 2012, Jimenez struggled again through most of the year, although he did have moments of brilliance. By utilizing his option, the Indians are showing they want to compete now, rather than rebuild again, as he is only signed through 2014 anyway.
If the Indians want to compete in 2013 and 2014, they will need Jiminez to be better than he was during the past season, when he pitched well below replacement level. For him to be better, he will first have to find out what he did wrong.
One major issue Jimenez had last year was control. When he was able to get ahead in the count, he was able to unleash his nasty curveball that gave hitters fits. This was especially evident in those games when he was almost unhittable, like on 5/6 against Texas and on 7/24 against Detroit. One of his biggest issues this year was that he was unable to get ahead in the count consistently. In 2012, Ubaldo went 1-0 to 426 batters and 0-1 to 417 batters (compared to 443 1-0 counts and 474 1-0 counts in his best year, 2010). These control issues, especially early in the season, likely lead to Jimenez throwing easy pitches to lead off at bats, just trying to throw a strike. As a result of this, during the 72 at bats that ended after the first pitch, he gave up a batting average against of .371 compared to a .261 BAA in similar situations in 2010. Interestingly enough, this appears to have continued even if he did throw a good first pitch, as he allowed an average of .424 after a 0-1 count (.215 BAA in 2010). One last note on count situations, once Jimenez gave up the first ball, he often had hard time getting back into the at bat, walking 75 batters after starting off 1-0 and 33 (out of 52 total chances) after getting down 3-0.
Jimenez's struggles have often been blamed on his mental outlook. It has been stated all over the web that he felt dismissed when Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez each signed long-term contracts with the Rockies. Ubaldo felt he was part of the future of the franchise and was slighted by his much smaller contract offer. More likely, the Rockies saw a flash in the pan who far outperformed his expected ability in 2010 and was poised for a fall. The trade further pushed Ubaldo down his current train of thought and instead of striving to prove his old team wrong, he proved them right.
If his problem is mental, maybe he will be able to use his current contract situation to help work it out. At 28, Jimenez has one more shot at a big contract, but if he blows 2013, he won't even get the $8M option he already has offered for 2014. If he pitches like he has in the past next season, he could move back into the elite starter level, make $8M in 2014 and have the potential for much more once he leaves the Indians. If he doesn't pitch well next season, no team will trust him with a long term contract, even if he wins the Cy Young in 2014. If this isn't enough motivation to push Jimenez to his highest potential, then the problem isn't motivation.
If the problem isn't mental at all, but physical, this will be the job of new pitching coach, Mickey Callaway. His main goal should be to focus on Ubaldo's concentration, making sure he works for every pitch, throwing good pitches to start each batter off rather than get-me-over fast balls. If Ubaldo can get this together, he may never be able to be the pitcher he was during the first half of 2010 again, but he still could be a great starter for the Cleveland Indians for the next two seasons making the entire rotation stronger at the same time.
With a strong Ubaldo at the front of the rotation, the Indians would have Justin Masterson, and Jimenez as two strong starters, followed by the mid level Carlos Carrasco and Zach McAllister and whoever else the Indians choose to fill out the rotation. If Ubaldo struggles, the Indians will have no hesitation replacing him in the rotation as his 2014 option is not the deal the 2013 one was. He will be on a much shorter leash in 2013 with Corey Kluber, Eric Berger and others waiting in AAA, who would have been better than the 2012 Ubaldo Jimenez. Since the Indians already need a fifth starter with Ubaldo in the rotation, removing him would push the Indians pitching depth to a point that should be uncomfortable for management. Because of this, fixing Ubaldo needs to be the Indians number one in house priority this offseason.