Ryan Zimmerman Rumors

Ryan Zimmerman To Miss Four to Six Weeks

TUESDAY: Zimmerman will not need surgery, which is good news for the long term but does not shorten his timetable to return, Dan Kolko of MASNsports.com reports on Twitter

SATURDAY: Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has fractured his right thumb and will miss four to six weeks, Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington.com tweets. Zimmerman left tonight's matchup with the Braves early after injuring the thumb.

The development is a significant blow for the Nationals. Zimmerman was one of the majors' top hitters in the early going, posting a Herculean .355/.382/.613 line in nine games.

Fortunately, the Nats have several talented infielders on hand who should be able to help carry the team in Zimmerman's absence. Anthony Rendon appears likely to shift from second to third, his natural position, as a replacement, while Danny Espinosa could be adequate as a temporary solution at the keystone. Espinosa struggled mightily in 2013, but he's off to a hot start for the Nats this season, triple-slashing .294/.368/.471.

Looking further ahead, the injury may have implications for the third baseman's ability to stay healthy long-term. Zimmerman has managed 145 and 147 games in the previous two seasons, but he's locked into a deal through 2019 and has missed significant time in the past. Zimmerman's shoulder was described as "arthritic," then "degenerative" by manager Matt Williams in recent interviews, and despite 2012 surgery, completing the long throws across the diamond has been a struggle at times. Moving Zimmerman to first base to try and insulate him from nagging injuries could be one solution, but Adam LaRoche occupies that position for the Nationals at present.

The Implications Of Ryan Zimmerman's Shoulder Issue

Ryan Zimmerman's throwing issues have been well documented over the past year or so, and the longtime National underwent an MRI this weekend that revealed no structural damage to his throwing shoulder (via the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore). However, manager Matt Williams said in a radio interview with CBS Sports last night that Zimmerman is dealing with an arthritic shoulder -- hardly good news for the Nationals as Zimmerman plays out the first year of a six-year, $100MM extension.

Mark Zuckerman of CSN Washington looks at what the situation means for Zimmerman's future and what it means for the future of Adam LaRoche, who is off to a hot start in the second year of a two-year, $24MM contract. LaRoche's deal contains a mutual option for a third year, but as Zuckerman points out, Zimmerman's throwing issues essentially preclude the Nationals from being able to exercise that option, regardless of LaRoche's season. Zimmerman already has two throwing errors on the season against six assists throwing the ball to first base, according to Baseball-Reference.com (not exactly an acceptable ratio).

Some might be quick to say that the solution is a trade of LaRoche to open up first base for Zimmerman, but Zuckerman writes that such a move isn't simple for a number of reasons. LaRoche is 34 years old and coming off perhaps the worst full season of his career, and teams know that the Nationals would be highly motivated to trade him, thereby giving GM Mike Rizzo less leverage. On top of that, Zimmerman has little experience at first base, making a smooth transition anything but a safe assumption.

In addition to Zuckerman's rationale (which is sound), LaRoche's $12MM salary and $2MM option buyout would be detrimental in trade talks, and there's also the simple fact that strengthening their defense by trading him could also weaken the lineup and deplete the team's infield depth. In that scenario, Anthony Rendon would likely switch to his natural position of third base, with Danny Espinosa perhaps getting a second chance to prove himself as an everyday second baseman in the Major Leagues. That's an experiment that could pan out, and were the Nationals still a cellar-dwelling entity, it wouldnt be as much of an issue. However, this team is built to contend right now, and such a drastic shuffle of their infield doesn't seem practical with the season underway.

Zuckerman writes that for the remainder of the season, it's difficult to dream up a scenario where Zimmerman doesn't spend the majority of his time at third base. He can be shielded from the field by DHing in American League parks and occasionally spelling LaRoche at first base (I would think that LaRoche could benefit from time away from tough left-handed pitchers). However, the team has less long-term flexibility to build its lineup and could be without a place to put top prospect Matt Skole (Baseball America has pegged his range at third base as inadequate) if Zimmerman is limited to first base duties for the remainder of his contract.

NL Notes: Zimmerman, Morales, Pirates

As the clock ticks down to the start of a new year across North America, here's hoping that all of MLBTR's readers have a safe and happy end to 2013. Here are a few notes from the National League to round out the 2013 hot stove season:

  • Though Ryan Zimmerman will begin to see some time at first base in Spring Training, he remains entrenched at the hot corner, writes MASNsports.com's Pete Kerzel. But Anthony Rendon is the organization's only other current big league option with a real track record at third, and he is widely expected to serve as the club's regular second baseman. In the immediate term, Kerzel says that the Nats may look to trade or claim a player who can back up at third. But looking into the future, the expiration of first baseman Adam LaRoche's deal after 2014 (assuming his mutual option is not exercised) will likely require Washington to make more definitive moves towards settling its infield alignment.
  • Kendrys Morales could make some "theoretical" sense for the Pirates on a "very team-friendly contract," writes ESPN.com's Buster Olney (Insider subscription required). But, says Olney, the club would be loath to part with its first round pick and the slot money that comes with it. I recently took a look at the market for Morales, assuming that an NL team would not be willing to sign him without a DH slot to park his bat. If clubs believe that he could handle a substantial workload at first, however, he may find additional suitors.
  • Olney ranks the Bucs as the tenth best team in baseball entering the new year. With a solid roster already in place, Olney posits that the club may wait until next year to make significant new additions. Of course, one major unresolved situation in Pittsburgh is the status of starter A.J. Burnett, who could still be brought back to provide a major boost to the club's rotation in 2014.

NL East Notes: Bethancourt, Tejada, Zimmerman

The Braves will promote top prospect Christian Bethancourt today, according to Tom Hart of FOX Sports in Atlanta (Twitter link). The 22-year-old catcher hit .277/.305/.436 at Double-A Mississippi this season. While those numbers don't look tremendously impressive, Bethancourt turned it on after a slow start, batting .300/.339/.521 with 11 homers from June 13 on. He currently ranks as the Braves' No. 3 prospect and the fifth-best catching prospect in baseball in the eyes of MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo. Here's more on Bethancourt and the rest of the NL East...

  • MLB.com's Mark Bowman tweets that Bethancourt's promotion will allow him to get acquainted with the Majors, which is a good thing, as it's likely that he or Evan Gattis will be the Braves' starting catcher in 2014. In doing so, Bowman implies that Brian McCann is likely to sign elsewhere as a free agent. That thought has been echoed by others in recent weeks, including David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  • The Mets will stall Ruben Tejada's promotion back to the Majors, writes Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, and in doing so, they will delay his free agency until after the 2017 season instead of the 2016 season. Tejada hasn't exactly torn the cover off the ball of late, as he's batted just .275/.324/.364 from July through Sept. 2 at Triple-A Las Vegas -- one of the most hitter-friendly environments in all of professional baseball.
  • Ryan Zimmerman has regained confidence in his throwing and believes he can continue to play third base for the Nationals, writes Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. Zimmerman concedes that he doubted his future at the hot corner earlier in the season. He tells Kilgore that his shoulder injuries in 2012 wore his right arm down to the point where he couldn't lift it above his head, causing him to develop bad throwing habits. He had surgery to repair the shoulder last October, but breaking those poor habits and rebuilding the strength in his arm has been a slow process, Zimmerman says. Ultimately, the decision on when to move to first won't be Zimmerman's, Kilgore writes. The team could even move Adam LaRoche this winter and make the switch in 2014.

NL East Notes: Nationals, Zimmerman, Halladay, Abreu

While first baseman Freddie Freeman has had an outstanding campaign for the Braves, Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says that shortstop Andrelton Simmons has been the team's most valuable contributor. While Fangraphs values the two at the same level in terms of WAR, notes Bradley, Baseball Reference pegs Simmons as worth over a win more than Freeman. Regardless, the team will control both players at reasonable rates for the foreseeable future, with Freeman set to reach arbitration for the first time next year and Simmons not arb-eligible until 2016. Here are a few notes from around the rest of the National League East:

  • The Esmailyn Gonzalez saga is not yet over for the Nationals, reports the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore. In a lawsuit against the team's insurance company, the Nats have leveled the charge that former big-leaguer Jose Rijo received a $300k kick-back from the ill-fated $1.4MM signing bonus given to the supposedly 16-year-old Gonzalez (who, it was later learned, was actually four years older and named Carlos David Alvarez Lugo).
  • More importantly for the team going forward is the long-term defensive position of third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Once a plus fielder, Zimmerman's throwing has deteriorated to the point that UZR rates him at a troubling 15 runs below average thus far in 2013. With even manager Davey Johnson implying that Zimmerman's "mental" issues could force a move across the diamond, MLB.com's Bill Ladson says he thinks the club could make the shift during the coming off-season. 
  • In addition to dampening the value of Zimmerman's long-term extension, of course, such a move would have wide-ranging considerations and repercussions for the Nats. In addition to raising the question of what would happen with first baseman Adam LaRoche, who is under contract for next season, the team would have to move rookie Anthony Rendon back to his natural position at third. The resulting void at second would presumably be filled by a free agent or one of the team's less-than-certain internal options (including Danny Espinosa, Steve Lombardozzi, and Jeff Kobernus).
  • Roy Halladay could be starting for the Phillies sooner than expected, reports MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. says that, if all goes well, Halladay could only take two rehab starts in the minors before rejoining the big club. With Halladay set to become a free agent, it will be fascinating to see how he bounces back from shoulder surgery (and generally poor results over 2012-13) before hitting the open market.
  • If and when apparent Cuban defector Jose Dariel Abreu is made a free agent, he is expected to command a substantial contract from a MLB club. Based on scouting reports and other contracts given to international free agents, ESPN's Jim Bowden suggests that the big slugger could land a deal in the six-year, $54MM range. (For a detailed discussion of Abreu's prospect value, check out this recent podcast from Baseball America's Ben Badler and John Manuel.)
  • As an "early guess," Bowden places the Marlins atop the list of Abreu pursuers. Reasoning that the club would be willing to overpay for a Cuban star after missing out on Yoenis Cespedes, Bowden writes that Miami is "expected to go all out on Abreu." 
  • In addition to a host of other possible landing spots, Bowden says that the Nationals could also be in on Abreu. He opines that the club would not find it difficult to deal first baseman Adam LaRoche to clear a spot.

Nationals Notes: Harper, Zimmerman, Skole

Earlier this week, we learned that the Nationals' acquisition of Denard Span indirectly stemmed from maneuverings involving the Upton brothers.  Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports explained that the Nats made a strong attempt to deal for Justin Upton early in the offseason and when they realized that they couldn't land him, they refocused on finding a left-handed hitting center fielder who could bat leadoff.  However, they didn't get their man on the open market after B.J. Upton's lucrative five-year, $75MM deal scared them away from free agents.  Here's the latest out of Washington..

  • General Manager Mike Rizzo says it's too soon to discuss a contract extension for Bryce Harper, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter).  Rizzo doesn't feel compelled to work on a new deal for Harper just yet since he is a "zero plus" player, meaning that he has less than one full year of service time under his belt.
  • While Ryan Zimmerman's throwing struggles have led some pundits to ask if the Nationals need to consider other options at third, Rizzo shot that notion down earlier today, writes Amanda Comak of the Washington Times.  “The Nationals do not need a new third baseman,” the GM said. “We’ve got one of the best, if not the best, third basemen in all of baseball. We love the guy. He’s ours. And I’m glad we have him.
  • Rizzo also disclosed that prospect Matt Skole tore the UCL in his left elbow, Comak tweets.  Skole, who is ranked No. 4 in the Nats' system by Baseball America, will undergo Tommy John surgery and his recovery should take 3-4 months (link).

Checking In On The Latest $100MM Contracts

Every year a few players join baseball’s exclusive $100MM club with free agent deals and mega-extensions. Last offseason was no different -- eight players signed nine figure deals. The contracts were all for five years or more, so it’s far too early to call them successes or failures. As the season approaches its halfway point, let’s check in on baseball’s newest $100MM contracts:

  • Albert Pujols, ten-year, $240MM contract - Pujols had a painfully slow start, but he has raised his batting line to a respectable .270/.332/.461. His last 40 games have been legitimately Pujols-like: 11 home runs and an OPS over 1.000.
  • Joey Votto, ten-year, $225MM extension - It's impossible to have a complete discussion about baseball's best hitters without considering Votto. The 28-year-old leads the National League in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, walks, doubles and wOBA, so this deal couldn't be going any better for the Reds.
  • Prince Fielder, nine-year, $214MM contract - Fielder continues to hit at an All-Star level, though he has a relatively modest total of 12 home runs. Unfortunately for Tigers fans Mike Ilitch's bold investment hasn't been enough to keep the team above .500.
  • Matt Kemp, eight-year, $160MM extension - Hamstring issues have sidelined Kemp, who was the best hitter in the National League for the first month of the season.
  • C.C. Sabathia, five-year, $122MM extension - Sabathia, now on the disabled list with a strained groin, is in the midst of yet another tremendous season. He has a 3.45 ERA with 8.8 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in 107 innings.
  • Matt Cain, five-year, $112.5MM extension - Cain's enjoying his best season as a Major Leaguer. He has a career-best ERA (2.27), strikeout rate (9.0 K/9) and walk rate (1.9 BB/9) through 107 innings. The Giants' decision to invest in Cain still looks like a good one.
  • Jose Reyes, six-year, $106MM extension - Reyes' offensive numbers have dropped off across the board this year, no thanks to a 60 point dip in batting average on balls in play.
  • Ryan Zimmerman, six-year, $100MM extension - Zimmerman's off to a slow start at the plate despite two home runs in his past three games. He missed two weeks with shoulder soreness earlier in the year and has just a .235/.297/.350 batting line.

No More Personal Service Deals & Milestone Bonuses

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have agreed to put an end to personal service deals and milestone bonus clauses, ESPN.com's Jayson Stark reports. Existing contracts with these deals or bonuses won’t be affected by the changes, which were agreed to this month.

Albert Pujols and Ryan Zimmerman recently signed long-term contracts which include personal services provisions and Alex Rodriguez has milestone bonuses associated with his contract. However, MLB and the union say these bonuses violate baseball’s collective bargaining agreement. The sides have agreed that the CBA doesn’t allow players to agree to deals that include obligations beyond their playing careers.

MLB is trying to prevent teams from finding loopholes that enable them to evade the luxury tax, Stark reports. Personal service deals and milestone bonuses aren’t considered guaranteed money and therefore don’t count against the luxury tax.

Nationals Links: Zimmerman, Rizzo, Harper

The Nationals signed franchise cornerstone Ryan Zimmerman to a six-year, $100MM extension over the weekend, and can now turn their full attention to Spring Training. Here are some links from the nation's capitol, starting with notes on baseball's newest $100MM man...

  • ESPN.com's Keith Law argues that Zimmerman should have had to prove his ability to stay healthy before obtaining such a large guarantee from the Nationals, who have promising third base prospect Anthony Rendon in their system.
  • Matt Swartz of FanGraphs compares Zimmerman to players who signed long-term deals at similar stages in their careers and concludes that comparable agreements have been worthwhile for teams in recent years.
  • Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington.com has the year-by-year breakdown of Zimmerman's extension. The third baseman will earn $12MM in 2012, $14MM each year from 2013-2018, and $18MM in 2019. The $18MM option for 2020 comes with a $2MM buyout. Zuckerman explains how the personal services contract and escalator payments fit into the deal.
  • Amanda Comak of The Washington Times notes (on Twitter) that a $10MM "personal services" provision raises the value of the new extension to exactly $100MM.
  • “It feels good,” said GM Mike Rizzo to Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post in the wake of the signing. “You have payroll certainty. You have control of players ... And there’s a lot of comfort to the fact these guys are going to be together for a long time ... And now we’re ready to take off.
  • Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports predicts that Bryce Harper will be with the Nationals early in the season, but not before April 25th. He notes that the outfielder must spend at least 20 days in the minors to delay his free agency by a year.

Ben Nicholson-Smith contributed to this post.

Zimmerman Extension Notes And Reactions

Ryan Zimmerman became the second $100MM player on the Nationals' payroll earlier today when he inked a six-year, $100MM extension with a full no-trade clause and a $24MM option for a seventh year. Here's some notes and reactions from around the baseball universe:

  • Dave Cameron of FanGraphs examines some comparables and calls the extension a "fair price" for a "valuable skill set." The Nationals won't save a ton of money on this deal, according to Cameron, but Zimmerman will earn the value of the deal barring lingering injury issues.
  • Jon Heyman of CBS Sports writes that the Nationals spent a lot of money for a player with Zimmerman's injury history, especially with Anthony Rendon waiting in the wings. One competing executive told Heyman, "Seems like they have two $100-million contracts but no $100-million players.''
  • The no-trade clause doesn't come into effect until 2014, but Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington.com tweets a quote from GM Mike Rizzo explicitly stating Zimmerman "will not be traded the next two years."
  • Getting that no-trade clause in place was the final hurdle in the deal, tweets MLB.com's Bill Ladson.
  • Amanda Comak of the Washington Times observes that Zimmerman joins Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Prince Fielder, and Albert Pujols as the only players under contract through 2019 (Twitter link).
  • Zimmerman's deal won't impact any contract negotiations between David Wright and the Mets, according to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News (Twitter link).
  • Wright recognizes that his situation is different from Zimmerman's, according to ESPN's Adam Rubin. Wright also expressed that he's happy for Zimmerman, who is a close friend.

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