Rockies sign Jimenez to four-year deal

Rockies sign Jimenez to four-year deal

DENVER -- Ubaldo Jimenez picked up his running shoes, shook them and made a mess in front of his locker at Coors Field. "Brought some sand from the beach," he said, smiling.

It's hard to imagine him having spent much time taking in sun and fun back home in the Dominican Republic this winter. After last season, during which he went from prospect to dependable member of the Rockies' rotation, Jimenez quickly began working out at Coors. Then he joined Licey in the Dominican Winter League and posted a 2-0 record and league-leading 2.13 ERA in five postseason starts.

The work won't stop. Jimenez is on the provisional roster for the Dominican Republic for the World Baseball Classic. But what's driving Jimenez is the trust the Rockies have shown in him.

Jimenez, 25, went 12-12 with a 3.99 ERA in 34 starts last season, his first full year in the bigs, with his team-leading 172 strikeouts and 11-5 record and 3.39 ERA over his last 19 starts convincing the Rockies he could be a big part of their future.

The club put its money behind that thought on Tuesday, signing him to a four-year contract that guarantees $10 million, with club options for 2013 and '14 that could bring his total earnings to $22 million.

He will receive $750,000 in 2009, $1.25 million in 2010, $2.8 million in 2011 and $4.2 million in 2012. The club options are for $5.75 million in 2013 and $8 million in 2014. There is a $1 million buyout on the options.

"That means a lot, that they've put a lot of trust in me, and I'm not going to let them down," Jimenez said.

In recent offseasons, the Rockies have signed deals with pitchers Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis and Manuel Corpas, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Brad Hawpe. All of them were structured so it's possible that the player would remain with the Rockies even after his free agency years began.

"We like the type of kid he is," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd siad. "He's got tremendous character and integrity. I think he's bought into everything we're all about.

Hot Stove

"I think he has a chance to be an ace with his ability, but he has some areas he needs to improve on before he's able to do that."

Considered a top prospect throughout his time in the Minors, Jimenez, 25, made his impact in 2007 when he was called up for 15 starts (4-4, 4.28 ERA) plus three postseason starts (0-1, 2.25 ERA) as the Rockies made it to the World Series.

In 2008, he joined Aaron Cook as the only starters in franchise history to reach double figures in wins and finish with an ERA lower than 4.00 in the same season. In addition, Jimenez has the lowest ERA at Coors Field, 3.45, of any pitcher with at least 130 innings pitched. Jimenez's strikeout total was the highest for a Rockies pitcher since Pedro Astacio fanned 193 in 2000.

Jimenez was at his best in July, when he went 5-1 with a 1.74 ERA and a complete game -- a four-hitter over the Dodgers in a 10-1 victory on July 22.

"I think he's underrated but, after seeing what he did last year people are going to know about him," Rockies second baseman Clint Barmes said. "I really believe he's going to have an impact."

The word is already out, if Jimenez's selection to the Dominican team for the Classic is any indication.

"I've met a lot of their guys -- Pedro Martinez, Vladimir Guerrero -- and it's an honor," Jimenez said. "Even if I don't make the final squad, just being one of the 45 is an honor. Whether I go or not, I'm going to be ready, and I'll be ready for the season with the Rockies."

Jimenez is part of the core of the 2009 Rockies' rotation, which also consists of Cook, right-hander Jason Marquis and left-hander Jeff Francis. However, Francis is battling shoulder problems that marred last season and could delay the start of his 2009 campaign.

Also vying for starts are lefty Jorge De La Rosa, who went 10-8 with a 4.92 ERA in starting and relief roles; lefty Greg Smith, obtained from the Athletics as part of the trade that sent All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday to Oakland; non-roster veteran lefty Glendon Rusch, whose ability to come out of the bullpen gives him an inside track for a roster spot; young right-handers Jason Hirsh and Greg Reynolds, who both had shoulder issues last season but are expected to be healthy; and non-roster right-hander Matt Belisle, formerly with the Reds.

O'Dowd acknowledged that the Rockies are in talks with several free-agent pitchers -- righties Josh Fogg and Kris Benson among them -- some possibly to compete for jobs, some for protection in case of injuries. He said it's also possible the Rockies will not sign anyone else.

"You never have eough pitching, but we're in better shape than we were this time three years ago, two years ago and last year," O'Dowd said. "Jeff's case is one that's a problem, but it's not going to be the only thing that will happen to us. You know there are going to be some issues."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.