Jordan Zimmermann Rumors

Poll: Will The Nationals Re-Sign Any Of Their “Big Four” Free Agents?

Tapped by many as the preseason favorites to win the World Series, the Nationals have enough depth on both the Major League and minor league level that their window of contention won’t snap shut if they don’t win it all this year.  That said, there is certainly a sense that the window may never be quite as open as it is now, given that four of Washington’s top players are scheduled to hit free agency this winter.

Assuming that Ian Desmond, Doug Fister, Denard Span and Jordan Zimmermann all post their usual types of seasons in 2015, all will draw a lot of attention on the open market; MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes ranks Desmond and Zimmerman fourth and sixth, respectively, in his 2016 Free Agent Power Rankings.  Between interest from other teams and the Nats’ already-substantial salary commitments (over $84MM committed to just six players on their 2016 roster, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts), we can safely rule out the possibility of the Nationals bringing all four back.  Indeed, some of Washington’s offseason moves seem directed at preparing for a future without some of these players, as I’ll explain momentarily.

The question is, however, will the Nationals bring back any of their free agent quartet?  Let’s look at the options…

* Desmond.  The shortstop reportedly rejected a seven-year, $107MM extension during the 2013-14 offseason, leading the Nats to explore acquiring a young shortstop at last summer’s trade deadline.  Washington got that young shortstop in the form of Trea Turner as part of their three-team deal with the Rays and Padres over the winter, so it’s perhaps not surprising that Desmond and the Nats didn’t engage in significant extension talks, or that Desmond’s name surfaced in trade talks with the Mariners and Mets.

With all this in mind, Desmond’s days in Washington seem numbered, even if the Nationals would be letting perhaps the game’s best offensive shortstop leave.

* Zimmermann.  The right-hander’s name was also linked to those talks with Seattle, and Boston also engaged the Nationals about Zimmermann’s services.  Max Scherzer‘s seven-year, $210MM deal essentially could make Zimmermann expendable, as Washington doesn’t want to ink another starter to another deal in the $200MM range, especially when they’ll also have Stephen Strasburg‘s free agency to deal with after the 2016 season.  (Then again, Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post recently speculated that the Nats may let both Zimmermann and Strasburg go due to concerns that their arms won’t hold up given their Tommy John histories.)

* Fister.  Much of what I wrote about Zimmermann also applies to Fister, though obviously Fister’s free agent price tag will be significantly lower than Zimmerman’s next contract.  The Nationals reportedly haven’t discussed an extension with Fister in about a year, so one would think they’re prepared to move on from the 31-year-old righty.  That said,

* Span.  The team already got a look at life without Span when the veteran outfielder began the season on the DL recovering from core muscle surgery.  Top prospect Michael Taylor filled in as Washington’s center fielder and hit .271/.314/.500 in 51 plate appearances, though his defense left something to be desired.  Still, Taylor performed well enough that the Nats likely feel as if they have a solid replacement on hand if Span isn’t brought back.

* None of them.  As you may notice, I’ve listed several more “won’t be back” reasons than I have reasons for why the Nationals may re-sign any of the quartet.  It’s quite possible Washington simply lets all four players go in order to save future payroll space for Strasburg and/or Bryce Harper‘s future extensions.  The Nats would also get a boost to their minor league system, as they’d receive at least three draft picks back as compensation if their players signed elsewhere — Desmond, Zimmermann and Fister are locks to receive qualifying offers, while Span could potentially get one too if he has a big season.

That said, it would also be somewhat surprising to see a team with such clear designs on winning a championship soon let four big pieces walk.  While Washington has an enviable amount of starting pitching depth, any rotation would suffer in losing two proven arms like Zimmermann or Fister.  Desmond, as noted, would leave a big hole at shortstop, and counting on Taylor to replace Span might be putting a lot of pressure on a youngster.  Re-signing even two of the four could be a tall order, though I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Nationals bring back one of the four.

One more wrinkle: MLBTR’s Jeff Todd recently speculated that the Nats could explore trading Zimmermann or Fister this summer in order to fill any other holes on the roster.  Theoretically, this would open the door for Washington to add talent at midseason to bolster their postseason hopes, and then also allow them to possibly sign either traded pitcher in the offseason.  As Jon Lester and the Red Sox might tell you, however, it’s very rare to see such a scenario play out with the traded ace immediately return to the club that dealt him away.

MLBTR readers, let’s see how you feel about whether or not Desmond, Fister, Span or Zimmermann will be back in the D.C. red in 2016 and beyond…


Quick Hits: Scully, Hendriks, Nationals

Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully is celebrating his 65th anniversary in the booth tonight. His first game was at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park featuring Robin Roberts against Don Newcombe. Incidentally, Roberts is also in the Hall of Fame while Newcombe is often discussed as a snub. Here’s more from around the league.

  • The Blue Jays did little to address an obvious bullpen problem over the offseason, writes Mike Wilner of Sportsnet.ca. However, the club might have lucked into a valuable solution in the form of Liam Hendriks. The 26-year-old is averaging 93 mph with his fastball – up about two mph from his career norm. Through six innings, he’s allowed two hits and one walk while recording nine strikeouts. Before anybody anoints Hendriks the closer, it’s worth noting that he has a low 5.3% swinging strike rate. At some point, that rate will either increase, or his strikeout rate will decrease.
  • The Nationals must learn to thrive under walk year pressure, writes Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. When Jayson Werth entered his walk year with the Phillies, then-manager Charlie Manuel advised him to test free agency (in more colorful language). Now the Nationals have four key players on the road to free agency. Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Denard Span could all leave after the season, which gives 2015 a make-or-break feel for Washington. Werth and Max Scherzer have advice for their new teammates – acknowledge all the sources of pressure.

East Notes: Moncada, Zimmermann, Miller

Yoan Moncada made his debut in a Red Sox uniform yesterday, though it was not as publicized as the one he’ll eventually make in the big leagues. As David Dorsey of News-Press.com reports from extended Spring Training, Moncada’s coaches and teammates have been impressed with his work ethic early on. While literally only one fan was on hand to see it — Mr. Tony Medina of Fort Myers will have a unique story if Moncada lives up to his contract — the young Cuban banged a stand-up triple in his first plate appearance (video available at the above link).

Here’s the latest from the eastern divisions, featuring some other offseason storylines:

  • Nationals GM Mike Rizzo confirmed that he held offseason talks with the Red Sox about starter Jordan Zimmermann, Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald reports. Nothing ever materialized despite what “looks like a reasonable matchup on paper,” said Rizzo, who explained that the teams had serious discussions over realistic scenarios. “I don’t think we laughed away any of [the offers],” Rizzo said. “We took them all serious. We were fortunate to be in a position where we didn’t have to move the player and if we would’ve got the right deal we would’ve. The right deal is in the eye of the beholder and we felt like we needed to get legitimate value for who Zimmermann was, and not the fact that he has one year left of control.”
  • The Orioles never pursued lefty Andrew Miller this offseason beyond a single “touch-base” conversation, Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports. That was, of course, not due to any dissatisfaction with Miller’s services down the stretch, but merely reflected the reality that he was going to (and did) command a significant commitment in free agency. Miller — who discussed his free agent experience on a recent episode of the MLBTR Podcast — has continued to dominate since joining the division-rival Yankees, including a lock-down 1 2/3 inning appearance last night at Baltimore.


Extension Notes: Cueto, Zimmermann, Duda, Melvin

We just heard that the Angels and Huston Street could continue their efforts to find a new deal before he hits the open market, but the same may not be true of several other prominent free agents-to-be. Here’s the latest:

  • Johnny Cueto and the Reds are not expected to reach agreement, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports tweets, confirming the expectations from recent reports. As Cincinnati takes the field, it appears the start of Cueto’s last year with the club.
  • The same holds true of Jordan Zimmermann and the Nationals, who as Morosi tweets never made progress on a new deal that could have kept him in D.C.
  • Mets GM Sandy Alderson says that he does not foresee restarting talks with first baseman Lucas Duda, as Matt Ehalt of the Record tweets. Of course, it seems likely that Alderson is merely referring to the notion that the team will not look to re-open talks during the coming season, not that it sees no future possibility of discussing a longer-term arrangement.
  • Meanwhile, it appears that an extension is all but a formality for the Brewers and GM Doug Melvin, as Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports (Twitter links). Owner Mark Attanasio says that he is still talking about a new deal with Melvin, with the major question being how long the veteran executive wants to stay at the helm.

Nationals Notes: Uggla, Janssen, Injuries, Strasburg, Zimmermann

Second baseman Dan Uggla has done enough to make the Opening Day roster, but it’s unclear how he’ll be used, writes Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider. After a couple dismal seasons, Uggla is in camp as a NRI. He’s hit a solid .278/.422/.500 after undergoing a new vision treatment over the offseason.

His lack of defensive versatility makes him difficult to roster. The club intends to use Yunel Escobar  at second base with Danny Espinosa as a utility infielder. Uggla has an opt out, so he’s unlikely to remain with the organization if he’s assigned to the minors. Per Uggla, he wouldn’t feel comfortable in a reserve role. Once Anthony Rendon returns from injury, it’s hard to imagine the Nationals finding a place to keep Uggla.

  • Reliever Casey Janssen will undergo a MRI on his sore pitching shoulder, reports James Wagner of the Washington Post. Manager Matt Williams described the injury as “generally it’s in his lat…it’s not something that’s normal soreness for him.” That’s worrisome because he missed time with a lat injury late last season. He’s also dealt with other shoulder injuries in the past. Janssen signed a one-year, $3.5MM over the winter and is expected to serve as the eighth inning reliever for the Nationals.
  • GM Mike Rizzo won’t be tinkering with the roster much in the coming days. When asked if he could add players before the opener, he told reporters, including Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider (on Twitter), “We’re satisfied.  We like the team we have.” The injury bug has bitten multiple Nats player, including Denard Span and Rendon.
  • The Nationals may allow star pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg to walk via free agency, writes Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. The reason has nothing to do with their performance. Both pitchers received Tommy John surgery in the past. Per Boswell, the “life expectancy” for the reconstructed elbow is eight years. Jeff Zimmerman of FanGraphs estimates that risk of re-injury increases sharply after just 400 to 600 innings. In either event, the injury history may partially explain the club’s willingness to add Max Scherzer over the offseason.

Jordan Zimmermann Says Extension Unlikely

Nationals righty Jordan Zimmermann, one of the team’s proudest homegrown talents, indicated today that a new deal appears rather unlikely, as Mark Zuckerman of CSN Washington reports. Zimmermann made clear again today that he will refuse to discuss a contract during the season, leaving scant time to revive momentum.

Zimmermann, a Relativity Baseball client, is set to become one of the most desirable free agents in next year’s class. “I’m just not going to talk during the season,” said Zimmermann. “If something gets done before then — which is probably pretty rare right now — then it gets done. But it’s not looking good.”

With Max Scherzer now under contract for the foreseeable future, the Nationals seemingly lost interest in trying to convince the 28-year-old Zimmermann to take a deal that was palatable to the club. The same, perhaps, is true of Doug Fister. It remains to be seen, of course, whether the team will ultimately make a run at inking Stephen Strasburg to a long-term deal, though he too may be too close to free agency for that to be a realistic possibility.

As for Zimmermann, even an average season by his standards should make him an easy $100MM+ free agent. If he can repeat or improve upon last year’s effort (2.66 ERA/2.68 FIP over 199 2/3 innings), then he’ll probably be looking to build on the Jon Lester deal.


Zimmermann Not Willing To Talk Extension After Season Starts

Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann is willing to discuss a contract extension during Spring Training, but not during the season, CSNWashington.com’s Mark Zuckerman tweets. Zimmermann’s stance would effectively set a deadline on extension talks, since the pitcher can become eligible for free agency after the season. The two sides have not made progress recently, Zimmermann says.

In December, the Nationals were reportedly planning to try to extend Zimmermann, but he was the subject of trade rumors later in the offseason. The Nats also signed Max Scherzer to a huge seven-year deal, possibly reducing both their ability to pay Zimmermann and their need to keep him long-term. If the Nationals don’t sign Zimmermann, he’ll join a loaded 2015-16 class of free-agent pitchers that also could include David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Rick Porcello along with Zimmermann’s fellow Nationals starter Doug Fister and possibly Zack Greinke. Zimmermann currently ranks sixth (behind Price and Cueto) in Tim Dierkes’ 2016 Free Agent Power Rankings.


AL Notes: Red Sox, Cabrera, Capuano, Mariners

Commisoner Rob Manfred tops the 50 most fascinating figures in baseball, according to the New York Post’s Joel Sherman. Manfred has been pro-active during the first month of his tenure, Sherman opines, by already engaging the MLBPA over issues such as keeping the batter in the box between pitches and being ready to ignite play quicker after half-inning breaks while continuing the pitch clock experiment in the minors with an impetus to have them in MLB by next season. Rounding out Sherman’s top five are: Alex Rodriguez, Matt Harvey, Giancarlo Stanton, and Joe Maddon.

Here’s the latest news and notes from the American League:


Pitching Notes: Brewers, Gallardo, Relief Market, Gregg

  • The Brewers and Nationals seemed intriguing trade partners after their most recent moves, but Milwaukee did not ship out Yovani Gallardo with intentions of dealing for local product Jordan Zimmermann, according to a report from Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. Instead, the club will trust young righty Jimmy Nelson with a rotation spot for the coming year.
  • Meanwhile, the Rangers added Gallardo with hopes that he will throw well enough to warrant a longer-term relationship or, at least, a qualifying offer, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal tweets. It remains to be seen whether Gallardo will warrant a qualifying offer after the season, but he seems reasonably likely to receive and reject one. After all, the Brewers picked up his option this year at close to the QO rate and he will surely be looking for a long-term deal entering his age-30 season.
  • Much of the free agent market has been resolved, but right-handed relief remains an area with several options, including not only several former closers but also sturdy middle relief options such as Burke Badenhop. Among the teams with interest in building out their bullpens are the Red SoxDodgersBlue JaysNationals, and Brewers, Rosenthal notes on Twitter.
  • Righty Kevin Gregg will put on a showcase today for around half of the league’s teams, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports on Twitter. Gregg, 36, had elbow chips removed in August but reportedly feels good and is hoping to sign soon. The 12-year MLB veteran was hit hard in just a dozen outings last year, but managed a 3.48 ERA over 62 frames in 2013 with the Cubs.

More Reactions To The Max Scherzer Deal

Here are a few more reactions to Max Scherzer‘s massive new deal with the Nationals:

  • Scherzer’s contract represents another win for Scott Boras, Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes. The market for Scherzer seemed, on the outside, to be rather quiet, with few clear candidates to provide the money Boras was seeking, but he managed to get a huge sum anyway. Boras’ close relationship with the Nationals and their 89-year-old owner, Ted Lerner, likely helped.
  • Sherman also adds that he hears the Nationals intend to keep Jordan Zimmermann, who’s eligible for free agency after the season.
  • Scherzer, clearly one of the game’s best pitchers, is worth $210MM, Dan Szymborski writes for ESPN Insider. Szymborski also writes that the Nationals’ rotation projects to rank among the best of any team so far this century, behind only the 2013 Tigers, the 2002 Diamondbacks, the 2011 Phillies, the 2001 Yankees and the 2004 Red Sox.
  • Scherzer is a great pitcher, but he’s less of an immediate upgrade than one might think, because the Nationals’ rotation was already so good last season, Rob Neyer of FOX Sports writes. The Nationals were already a 96-win team with exceptional starting pitching, and it’s hard to do much better than that, although adding Scherzer now does improve the Nats’ chances of winning the NL East in years beyond 2015. If the Nationals are to get better in the short term, the best way for them to do it might be to add another second baseman.
  • Now that the Nationals have Scherzer in the fold, they have a variety of options available, Anthony Castrovince of Sports On Earth writes. One obvious possibility would be to trade Zimmermann or Doug Fister, with the recent trade of Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox helping define the market for a strong starting pitcher with one year of control remaining.