The definition of “sunk cost” is a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered. Long-term Major League Baseball free agent contracts are the very definition of a “sunk cost.” A team agrees to give (hypothetically) a veteran starting pitcher a four-year, $50 million contract and that money is spent the minute the contract is signed. You might as well set the money on fire on the mound at Camden Yards – it’s gone forever and the worst thing a team can do is let the fact that they’re “still paying a lot of money for a player” affect how they use that player.
This brings us to Ubaldo Jimenez.
Jimenez is no longer a capable major league starting pitcher. He hasn’t been since 2011, which was FOUR seasons ago. Oh sure, there was the brief run of 12 starts at the end of the 2013 season that caused teams to think he had “turned the corner” or “figured some things out” but it turns out to have been fool’s gold. It was a statistical anomaly that depended more on facing below average offenses than any uptick in performance. The Orioles, among others, fell for it. The Orioles ended up paying for it.
Four years, $50 million.
The Orioles have, at least, six starting pitchers for five spots this year: Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris, Ubaldo Jimenez. That doesn’t even consider the possibility of Dylan Bundy or a “spring surprise.” Absent a dramatic change in mechanics and/or pitch repertoire Jimenez is the least effective starter of all of those pitchers. He’s proven that over four seasons of work.
Now one of baseball’s truisms is “you can never have too much starting pitching.” Having a Ubaldo Jimenez on your roster just in case injuries or the plague strike your pitching staff isn’t something to be dismissed entirely. That does NOT mean he should be getting starts that could go to better pitcher.
This is the danger of the “we’re paying Ubaldo a lot of money so we should start him” train of thought. Every start Ubaldo Jimenez makes in place of one of the five or six more talented starting pitchers on the Orioles staff is a game they are playing with one armed tied behind their backs. It’s a game they are less likely to win. The Orioles are a good team but they aren’t so overwhelmingly good that they can afford to put five or 10 or more games at risk by starting Ubaldo just because they’re paying him a lot of money.
The Orioles need to field their best lineup every night. Absent injuries Jimenez isn’t a member of any of their best lineups. Giving him starts at the expense of better pitchers because he gets paid a lot of money ignores the reality of a sunk cost. Put him in the bullpen as a long reliever and emergency starter and put the best pitchers in the rotation.