As we approach the New Year, the Washington Nationals have checked off what can easily be considered their top three offseason shopping items: a pitcher, a fourth outfielder and a lefty reliever — doing so without majorly hurting their major league roster and keeping their top prospects intact to boot.
What GM Mike Rizzo can now do is turn his attention to two of the Nationals’ key players: Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann.
Both are due to hit the open market in 2016, so the Nationals have two years of control left via arbitration. Thanks to MLB Trade Rumors’ arbitration predictions, Desmond is could make as much as $6.9 million in arbitration, while Zimmermann is predicted to make as much as $10.5 million.
As we know with arbitration cases, they are all based on performance, and with Desmond winning a second-straight Silver Slugger and being a Gold Glove award candidate, and Zimmermann setting a career-high in wins and finishing seventh in Cy Young award voting, large raises are more of a given for these two players.
As we also know, teams like to extend their players when arbitration starts to get pricey, because it’s basically a one-year contract that gets progressively more expensive. With Zimmermann and Desmond two years away from free agency, it would make a lot of sense for Rizzo to give these two long term extensions. Both are high-level players at premium positions, and both could make a pretty penny on the open market.
Today, the subject will be Zimmermann, so how much could an extension for the pitcher cost the Nationals?
Let’s use Justin Verlander as an example. He signed with the Tigers in March of 2013, just a month after his 30th birthday, and his contract will bring him to age 37 with an option year that could see the deal expire at age 38. Zimmermann will hit the open market at 29, only a few months younger than Verlander was at the time he signed the deal, and would be 30 just a month or two into the new contract he would hypothetically sign.
Verlander’s deal pays him $20 million in 2013 and 2014, then spikes up to $28 million from 2015-2019, and his 2020 option is for $22 million. Statistically, Verlander and Zimmermann match up decently. Through Verlander’s age-27 season –the season Zimmermann just finished — Verlander was 83-52 with a 3.81 ERA. Zimmermann does not have as many wins at 43-35, but he has a markedly lower ERA with a 3.40.
Verlander’s numbers are slightly more inflated than Zimmermann’s due to a 7.15 ERA in his age 22-season and a 4.84 ERA in his age-25 season. Zimmermann, on the other hand, has never had an ERA higher than 4.94. Also unlike Verlander, Zimmermann has steadily won more games every year he has pitched in the majors, while Verlander has fluctuated a bit and is coming off his lowest win total and highest ERA since 2010.
Now, Verlander is still one of baseball’s best pitchers and will continue to prove that. Statistically, he compares pretty decently to Zimmermann, and it would not shock me if his agents ask the Nationals for somewhere in the neighborhood of Verlander’s seven-year, $180 million contract plus a few more years.
The advantage Zimmermann has is that he is two years younger than Verlander was at the time, and Verlander had already signed one extension. My guess for Zimmermann is that his extension, if he signs it this winter, would be somewhere around eight years and $200 million, which would be a $25 million average annual value. I believe Zimmermann would be well worth the money and would actually provide pretty good value throughout the life of the deal.