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Indians pick up option on right-hander Jimenez

CLEVELAND -- The Indians offered Ubaldo Jimenez a fresh start when the club acquired him in a blockbuster trade with the Rockies two summers ago. Cleveland is now giving the pitcher a second chance.

On Wednesday, the Indians announced that they picked up Jimenez's club option for the 2013 season. The ballclub also declined the club options for veteran designated hitter Travis Hafner and right-hander Roberto Hernandez.

"We've talked about every player extensively," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Obviously, Ubaldo is a huge part of that. We're looking forward to him kind of returning to form -- the reason the Indians traded for him."

Jimenez, who still would have been eligible for arbitration had Cleveland opted to pay a $1 million buyout instead of exercising the option, will earn $5.75 million next year. Given the complicated nature of arbitration, and the rising cost of pitching on the open market, picking up the pitcher's option made sense.

First and foremost, though, Cleveland believes Jimenez is capable of more than he has shown.

Beyond the financial benefit, that is why the Tribe picked up his option.

"It stems from our belief that he will be better moving forward than he was this past season," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "But there was also a buyout associated with the option. So the net value was $4.75 million. Had we declined the option, and tendered him a contract through the arbitration process, he would've earned far more than $4.75 million."

The Indians have an $8 million mutual option for Jimenez for 2014.

In the meantime, there is a lot of work to be done behind the scenes. Both Francona and Antonetti were quick to note that new Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway is scheduled to head to the Dominican Republic this winter to work with Jimenez. The club wants to do everything in its power to make sure the pitcher hits the ground running come Spring Training.

"[We want] to make sure we get this thing started from scratch at the beginning of his throwing program," Francona said. "Getting him in the right frame of mind and proper mechanics and things like that, so we have a better chance of him having success."

Hafner's option was worth $13 million, which was simply too steep a price to pay for a 35-year-old DH with a long history of injury. Cleveland elected instead to pay a $2.75 million buyout included in Hafner's contract. The club might consider bringing Hafner back on a reduced deal, but he will surely explore his options in free agency.

In the wake of Hernandez's legal issues last offseason -- he had been working under the false identity of Fausto Carmona -- Cleveland restructured his contract, reducing his 2013 club option to $6 million from $9 million. This past season, though, Hernandez pitched in only three games (0-3, 7.53 ERA) and saw his season end prematurely with a right ankle injury.

Antonetti said the club will be open minded about re-signing Hafner and Hernandez, but the GM made it sound as if the DH's days in Cleveland were done.

"We remain open to it," Antonetti said. "But I think, especially in Travis' case, we'll have to see how our roster takes shape this winter and he'll obviously have to evaluate his alternatives."

Jimenez, 28, is coming off one of the worst seasons by a starting pitcher in the long history of the franchise. The right-hander went 9-17 with a 5.40 ERA, leading the American League in losses, wild pitches (16) and stolen bases allowed (32). He finished second to Toronto's Ricky Romero in walks issued (95).

Cleveland shut Jimenez down after his start on Sept. 22 because of a right ankle injury.

Jimenez became the first Cleveland pitcher since 2000 (Bartolo Colon and Chuck Finley) to pile up at least 95 walks in a single season. The righty's 5.40 ERA was the fifth-highest single-season mark in team history and the highest since Cliff Lee turned in a 5.43 ERA in 2004.

It marked only the 22nd time in Cleveland history that a pitcher chalked up at least 17 losses and the first time a starter did so with an ERA over 5.00. Jimenez was the first pitcher in the American League to have at least 17 losses with a 5.40 ERA or higher since 2007 (Daniel Cabrera and Jose Contreras).

This was hardly what the Indians had in mind when they sent four prospects -- including prized arms Drew Pomeranz and Alex White -- to Colorado to acquire Jimenez on July 31, 2011. Cleveland hoped it had landed an ace, but Jimenez has gone just 13-21 with a 5.32 ERA across 42 starts since putting on an Indians uniform.

For 2013, Cleveland is hoping Jimenez and sinkerballer Justin Masterson can turn in solid comeback campaigns. Behind that pair, the rotation is wrought with even more uncertainty, making starting pitching a priority in the team's offseason search for roster upgrades.

"With Ubaldo," Antonetti said, "he continues to show that he has the ability to be a successful Major League starter. I think the thing we're all looking for -- and Ubaldo would be the first to tell you -- is just to get a little bit more consistency.

"I know he is determined to have a successful season next year and to contribute to a very successful season with the team."

Cleveland Indians, Travis Hafner, Roberto Hernandez, Ubaldo Jimenez