Re-signing Jimenez and Kazmir is key for Indians

If you have managed to stir from your AL Wild Card game hangover and muster the energy to watch some postseason baseball, you have seen some thrilling, low-scoring games.

The theme this postseason no doubt is pitching, pitching and more pitching. There have already been seven shutouts – including four 1-0 games – and countless games decided by one run with the winning team scoring three runs or less.

This is important to keep in mind as the Indians get set to embark on an important offseason to build off of a very successful 2013 season where they won 92 games and made the playoffs. While many fans want the Indians to add a bat or two to improve the offense, the absolute number one priority should be to address the questions with the starting rotation by doing what they can to bring back Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir.

Don’t get me wrong, the Indians need help in the lineup, but the search for offensive help will probably be placed on the backburner since the decisions with Jimenez and Kazmir are more pressing and must be answered right away this offseason.

The first salvo in this decision-making process will come within three days of the end of the World Series as the Indians have to officially declare whether they are picking up Jimenez’s $8 million mutual option for next season (they will). He then also has to make a decision within that timeframe on whether to have it picked up (he very likely declines it).

From there the Indians have within five days of the conclusion of the World Series to extend the qualifying offer to Jimenez and Kazmir. The qualifying offer is for one year and $14.1 million, and once a qualifying offer is made the player has seven days to accept or reject it. If the player accepts then he is signed for next season at that amount, but if he rejects it then the Indians get a first round draft pick as compensation once he signs with another team.

By the first week of November we should have a much clearer picture of the status of Jimenez and Kazmir as free agents and the possibility one or both could return to the Indians next season. Depending on what happens on that front, it will shape what the Indians do the rest of the offseason.

From what I have heard the Indians will very likely offer Jimenez the qualifying offer but they fully expect him to decline in order to test free agency and seek out a multi-year deal that should pay him much more money. As for Kazmir, things can change, but it “doesn’t appear likely” that the Indians will extend the qualifying offer to him as he is a borderline guy to extend a qualifying offer to since $14.1 million would be a pretty significant overpay for him for one season should he accept it.

By offering the qualifying offer to Jimenez it helps the Indians chances of retaining him — though does not guarantee he will return. It is important to note that even if he rejects the qualifying offer the Indians can still explore a multi-year deal with him and the prospects of giving up a first round pick to sign him might limit his market. If by chance he were to accept the qualifying offer then the Indians could still work out a long term extension with him.

The market for Jimenez is setting up to be a volatile one this offseason because it is hard to predict how much interest he will generate. He could very well end up one of the top free agents teams seek because clubs may view him as a front of the rotation starter type — something which is worth parting with a first round pick for. He might also scare some teams away because of his inconsistency the past few seasons.

Whether Jimenez ends up with a three-year, $36-40 million deal or a five-year, $85 million deal is anyone’s guess at this point, but you can bet his agent will take his time to try and inflate his market. You can bet that if he is unsigned going into the winter meetings in December that he will be one of the hottest commodities discussed at the meetings as his agent tries to drive up interest and his subsequent price tag.

It just depends on how many teams get into the bidding and how desperate they are for starting pitching. It is hard to see Jimenez getting less than the four-year, $52 million deal that Edwin Jackson signed last offseason, so it will be interesting to see what he ultimately signs for and with whom he signs.

As for Kazmir, the Indians will probably really push hard to try and resign him in advance of free agency. But, in a league starving for pitching and with pitching being the be all and end all these days, it is hard to see him and his agent not testing free agency to see just how much they can get. That presents a problem for the Indians as they don’t have the resources to get into a bidding war for a player in free agency.

Both Jimenez and Kazmir bring risk with any contract they sign. For as good as Jimenez was the last two months of the season he was not very good the first four months and had a dreadful 2012 campaign. For as wonderful as it was to see Kazmir come back this season, it was still one year and there is not enough built up recent history to go by and you wonder how his arm responds next year. And of course, you are always leery about signing a player who had a great season in a free-agent year.

That all said, as much as Jimenez and Kazmir bring risk the Indians have to look at bringing them both back or at the very least one of them. There is no guarantee Justin Masterson sticks around beyond next season and the starting pitching depth is thin after Danny Salazar and Corey Kluber. You need seven to eight starters and having the likes Masterson, Jimenez, and Kazmir as your starting three and then Kluber, Salazar, Zach McAllister and Josh Tomlin can duke it out for the fourth and fifth starter spot with the others in reserve at Triple-A Columbus.

I’d even go a step farther and bring back both Jimenez and Kazmir and look at using Salazar as the closer next season. The Cardinals are a prime example you should keep your best arms in the big leagues even if it means putting a young starting pitcher like Trevor Rosenthal in a bullpen role rather than stuffing him in Triple-A as a reserve starting option.

If I were running the Indians, I would get creative and try to find a way to bring back both Jimenez and Kazmir. Starting pitching is vital and ultimately the separator in baseball, so the Indians need to find a way to keep it at all costs even if it means they are limited by what they can do to upgrade the lineup this offseason.

The starting rotation was the big reason for the Indians turnaround this past season, and is the reason the Red Sox, Tigers, Cardinals and Dodgers are all in the League Championship Series. If the Indians dream of getting there and ultimately reaching and winning a World Series, they need to keep it and take the risk that those starters stay healthy and perform as hoped.