CLEVELAND -- The Indians would have happily welcomed Ubaldo Jimenez back into the fold had the free-agent pitcher agreed to the one-year qualifying contract offered by the ballclub. Cleveland understood all along that was an unlikely scenario.
On Monday, Jimenez officially declined a one-year, $14.1-million offer for the 2014 season, electing instead to seek a multi-year contract on the open market. The Indians will gain a compensatory pick in the June First-Year Player Draft in the event that Jimenez signs with a new team this winter.
Jimenez was one of 13 free-agents to receive a qualifying offer on Nov. 4, and each player within that group rejected the one-year contracts prior to Monday's 5 p.m. ET deadline. As specified in the the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the $14.1 million figure was determined by the average salary of Major League Baseball's 125 highest-paid players.
Jimenez and lefty Scott Kazmir -- key cogs in Cleveland's rotation last season -- are among the team's free agents this offseason.
"If we had our preference -- obviously, that group performed very well -- we'd bring them back," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said at the end of the season. "I think the thing we're encouraged about is the depth we have there. To be able to have Justin [Masterson] back and Corey [Kluber], and the progress he made this year, Danny Salazar for a whole year, Zach McAllister, Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin.
"That's a good foundation from which to build, to be able to have seven or eight guys going into the offseason that we think can be Major League starters, and effective Major League starters. We'll continue to look for opportunities to add to that group, whether it's re-signing some of the guys that are here or adding to it elsewhere."
Last offseason, all nine free agents offered a $13.3-million qualifying offer declined the contracts. Five went on to receive a new deal with a higher average salary than the qualifying offer, and eight within that group inked deals consisting of at least two years. Five of the free agents struck multi-year pacts that included at least three seasons.
With Jimenez and Kazmir both possibly leaving via free agency, Cleveland will be in the market for a middle-of-the-rotation arm this offseason. Manager Terry Francona has already had a preliminary conversation with free-agent veteran Tim Hudson, who will surely be one of many arms targeted by the Indians over the next couple months.
After Jimenez turned in a remarkable comeback campaign, Cleveland was willing to retain the right-hander on the one-year contract. Re-signing Jimenez to a lucrative long-term contract might not be as enticing for the Tribe, which lived through the pitcher's drastic peaks and valleys in the past three seasons.
If Jimenez does find a multi-year contract with a new team, Cleveland will receive a pick in Compensation Round A, which immediately follows the first round in next summer's Draft. The Indians will also have one pick in Competitive Balance Round A, which sits between the first compensation round and the second round of the Draft.
As things currently stand, Cleveland projects to have the 24th selection in the first round and could have as many as three picks within at least the first 50 selections, if Jimenez signs with a new team.
This past season, the 29-year-old Jimenez went 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA and 194 strikeouts in 182 2/3 innings -- one year after going 9-17 with a 5.40 ERA. Jimenez worked hard on altering his approach and refining his mechanics in 2013, and everything fell into place by the second half.
After the All-Star break, Jimenez 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.
The Indians picked up Jimenez's $8 million club option for 2014 on Nov. 1, but the pitcher exercised his right to void that option in order to enter free agency. Jimenez earned that right -- as part of his original contract extension with Colorado -- after being traded by the Rockies to the Indians midway through the 2011 season.
If the Indians are unable to re-sign Jimenez, the club is still confident that it has the makings of a strong rotation in place.
"We know we have Masty coming back," Francona said at the end of the season. "We know we have Danny Salazar for a full year. Corey Kluber had gotten to a point where, for about 12 starts, he was one of the better pitchers in the league. I don't see that going away.
"Zach McAllister want to be the very best pitcher in the league -- probably to a fault. That's part of his development also, is learning how to understand that, but he's still a pretty good pitcher. Then, you start adding in guys like Carrasco. And Trevor Bauer, at some point, is going to make an impact here."