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The Argument Against Ubaldo

With the trade deadline just a day away, the Boston Red Sox have great interest in Colorado Rockies' ace Ubaldo Jimenez, but there's no shortage of reasons why they should look elsewhere.

I am, in the interest of full disclosure, hoping against hope that this piece isn't rendered moot by the time I'm done writing it. 

And hoping, further, that if it is, it's later rendered un-moot because some over-eager journalist in desperate need of a scoop got a little bit too happy on the Twitters and made a fool of himself in front of a national stage.

Speaking of which, anybody know what Jon Heyman's up to these days?

With the trade deadline just over 26 hours away, the Boston Red Sox are in on a few big names, most of them pitchers. The sudden emergence of Josh Reddick made the need for the now-unavailable Carlos Beltran and Hunter Pence non-existent.

But the continued struggles of Clay Buchholz to recover from what can at best be described as a phantom back injury have created a need for starting pitching, if only so that Red Sox fans don't soon have to see Andrew Miller taking the mound again. 

The biggest name, of course, is the Colorado Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez, a pitcher with Cy Young-type stuff but a proven inability to keep it around for more than a couple months at a time, and an as-yet unproven ability to succeed in the postseason. 

Not to mention the fact that a modicum of Jimenez' success has come against the offensively inept National League West, a division that's traditionally one of the worst in the game, both in terms of offensive production and in terms of pure ability to win - the San Francisco Giants' world championship notwithstanding. 

Since Jimenez became a staple in the Colorado roation in 2008, the NL West has batted an average of 10 points worse than the AL East (not including Boston's lineup, for the purposes of this analysis), has slugged 35 points worse, averaging 187 fewer bases and 125 less at-bats per season. 

They're small numbers, but over the course of time, they manifest themselves in a number of ways, not the least obvious of which is wear and tear on the arm and shoulders of starting pitchers. 

And anyone who's watched the Tampa Bay Rays or New York Yankees work their way into high pitch counts doesn't need to be told how taxing those lineups can be on a starting pitcher. 

Jimenez' numbers against left-handed batters belie those of what you'd expect from a right-handed ace - his 1.87 K/BB ratio against lefties pales in comparison to his 2.43 against right-handers, and in just about the same number of at-bats, he's allowed 52 more bases to righties. 

It's also tough to tell just where Jimenez is heading - in his first season after declaring himself the staff ace, his numbers have dropped markedly, with his ERA rising from 2.88 to 4.20, he's allowed as many home runs in 20 games as he did in 33 in 2010 and he's just nine earned runs away from matching his total from all of last year.

His WAR has dropped from 7.2 to 1.9, and his struggles have been as much a part of the Rockies' troubles as anyone else's. 

But perhaps the most telling number about Jimenez is the one that he put up against the Red Sox last season. 

When Boston came to Denver in late June of 2010, Jimenez was getting anointed as the Cy Young with three weeks until the all-star break. He was 13-1 with an ERA of 1.15, having allowed only six earned runs in his six previous games (with a season-high 3 earned runs allowed to Toronto two weeks prior), and only 13 runs in his 14 starts on the year. He hadn't lasted fewer than six innings in any start, and had gone seven or more innings in nine outings on the year, including seven of his previous eight.

Boston didn't seem to care much for any of that, though, putting the boots to Jimenez, amassing six earned runs on ten hits in 5.2 innings, tying for the most runs Jimenez allowed on the season with a two-inning outing against the Philadelphia Phillies a month later. Colorado eventually won the game 8-6, but Jimenez' ERA wouldn't be close to 1.50 again. 

It's the sort of boot-stomping that Jimenez could expect to receive in the AL East on a pretty regular basis, and it should be a huge red flag for the Boston front office.

Jimenez is a respectable 6-4 with a 4.08 ERA in interleague play, but it merits mention that a good number of those starts were at home where the American League team didn't have the luxury of a designated hitter (sure, he's 3-0 against the AL East, but that's hardly enough to consider). He's also 30-43 when he receives less than six runs of support, and it's not like the American League struggles to generate offense. 

While the numbers don't necessarily make him the best fit in the AL East, Colorado's asking price makes him an even more outlandish prospect - Kyle Weiland and Will Middlebrooks are being asked for, among others, and they're pieces that the Red Sox will need in a couple years if the team hopes to continue to compete at a high level.

Hideki Kuroda might be an option, if he's willing to waive his no-trade clause to allow the Los Angeles Dodgers to move him. Kuroda could be had for a lesser price, it seems, especially since the state of the Dodgers is about as uncertain as it could be. But Kuroda's another NL West pitcher whose numbers may well have been inflated against lesser offensive talent.

The final unknown centers around the play of John Lackey, who's done nothing but struggle all season, but has strung together four straight wins and is keeping opposing teams off the basepaths as well as he's done since signing a five-year, $82.5 million contract with Boston during the winter of 2009. If Lackey's able to regain the form that made him a quality number-two in Los Angeles, then coupled with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, a serviceable Tim Wakefield and a fifth starter-by-committee, the Red Sox may be alright.

But Theo Epstein has never been one for just being alright come late July. A move will be made, if for no other reason than to force the hand of the rival Yankees, but any more at this point will likely require an over-payment by Boston.

So while the thought of Jimenez seems appealing to many, the much better situation would be a healthy Buchholz. But until that becomes a reality (or even just likely), it may be the only option that the Red Sox have.