CLEVELAND -- It took three seasons in Cleveland for Ubaldo Jimenez to turn into the kind of leader the Indians felt he could become for their rotation. Patience was required throughout that process, and it will be needed again now that the pitcher has become a free agent.
The Indians picked up Jimenez's club option for 2014 on Friday, but the pitcher promptly exercised his right to void the final year of his contract in order to hit the open market. Cleveland also declined the club option it held for outfielder Jason Kubel, who is now a free agent as well.
Indians general manager Chris Antonetti met with Jimenez at the end of the season to discuss the possibility of keeping the right-hander in Cleveland.
"We had a great visit with him," Antonetti said. "We had a chance to sit down and talk with him and a number of other guys. Ubaldo was very complimentary of [manager Terry Francona] and his relationship with [pitching coach Mickey Callaway], and how much he valued his time here. And, certainly, that he'd be happy to be back."
Bringing Jimenez back might be easier said than done, though, especially since the pitcher is a candidate for a multiyear contract as one of the top available arms on the free-agent market.
Cleveland is expected to extend a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer to Jimenez prior to Monday's deadline. By doing so, the Indians would secure a compensatory pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft if Jimenez declines the offer and signs with another team. Should Jimenez accept the one-year offer, he would be considered signed and the Tribe would not earn an extra Draft pick.
Friday's news was more procedural than anything else, as the Indians fully expected Jimenez to void his $8 million club option for 2014. That option was included as part of the contract he signed in 2009 with Colorado, which gave him the right to void the '14 option in the event that he was traded. The Rockies dealt the righty to the Indians as part of a blockbuster five-player exchange prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline in '11.
Jimenez and Kubel join starter Scott Kazmir, relievers Joe Smith, Matt Albers and Rich Hill, and catcher Kelly Shoppach as Cleveland's free agents this winter. The Indians have until midnight ET on Monday to sign their own free agents within their exclusive negotiating window. If any qualifying offers are extended, the players must either accept or decline the one-year deal by 5 p.m. ET on Nov. 11.
The possibility exists that Jimenez would accept a qualifying offer from the Tribe, but that is an unlikely scenario.
Still, Jimenez has valued his time with the Indians.
"Definitely, it feels good to be here," Jimenez said at the end of the season. "They did everything possible to help me out. They never gave up on me."
This past season, Jimenez went 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA and 194 strikeouts in 182 2/3 innings, turning in an impressive rebound from his showing in 2012. That year, the right-hander went 9-17 with a 5.40 ERA, leading the American League in losses and giving the Tribe a huge question mark heading into this year.
With his pitch velocity still down from where it stood in his days with the Rockies, who saw him win 19 games and finish third in National League Cy Young Award voting in 2010, Jimenez worked hard on retooling his mechanics and approach. Everything appeared to be in sync by the second half this year, when the starter posted an AL-best 1.82 ERA with 100 strikeouts in his final 84 innings.
In September, as the Indians stormed up the standings to claim the AL's top Wild Card spot, Jimenez led the charge by going 4-0 with a 1.09 ERA, 51 strikeouts and seven walks. He joined Luis Tiant (July 1968) and Pedro Ramos (July 1963) as the only pitchers in team history to have at least 50 strikeouts and fewer than 10 walks in a single calendar month.
During Cleveland's Wild Card-clinching win over the Twins on Sept. 29 -- the team's 10th win in a row to end the regular season -- Jimenez tied a career high with 13 strikeouts.
Needless to say, Jimenez headed into this offseason feeling much better than the previous year.
"It's way different," Jimenez said. "I mean, I've been there before. I've gone into offseasons after a good year, but it definitely feels good to be back. It feels like I'm just going to go home and relax and probably think about the kind of season that I had, instead of worrying about everything going bad. It's definitely different."
In parts of eight seasons in the Majors with the Rockies and Tribe, the 29-year-old Jimenez has gone 82-75 with a 3.92 ERA. In his three seasons with the Indians, the right-hander went 26-30 with a 4.45 ERA in 74 starts, during which he piled up 399 strikeouts and 202 walks in 424 2/3 innings.
Kubel, 31, played in eight games for the Indians after being acquired from Arizona on Aug. 29 for right-hander Matt Langwell. Kubel is a nine-year Major League veteran who spent his first seven seasons with Minnesota. He hit 30 home runs for the D-backs in 2012, and 28, along with 103 RBIs, for the Twins in '09.