When the Nationals signed Gio Gonzalez to a five-year contract extension in January, they touched off something of a trend. Between then and now, four more starting pitchers with between one and three years of service time have signed extensions lasting at least four years. Monday, Madison Bumgarner became the latest, signing a five-year, $35 million deal with the San Francisco Giants.
The strategy of locking up an accomplished, young pitcher at a controlled price, before his salary has the chance to skyrocket through arbitration, could soon circle back to the Nationals.
The Nationals have dabbled in preliminary conversations with the agent for right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, a person with knowledge of the situation said. The conversations have not reached Zimmermann, but he would be open to a long-term deal.
“I haven’t talked to the Nationals about it,” Zimmermann said. “I’d be interested. I’ll just play it out and see what happens. I’m just going to go out and pitch the way I can pitch. Everything will take care of itself.”
Zimmermann is represented by SFX, the same agency that negotiated Bumgarner’s deal with the Giants. SFX also represents Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz, who last year signed a four-year, $29.95 million extension with Boston.
Zimmermann, like Gonzalez, qualified as a Super Two player, which means he became eligible for salary arbitration despite accruing less than three years of service time. He and the Nationals agreed on a one-year, $2.3 million contract this offseason to avoid an arbitration hearing.
Gonzalez had also just become eligible for arbitration for the first time before he signed a five-year, $42 million extension with two team options. The comparison isn’t perfect, though, because Zimmermann spent one full season on the disabled list. Gonzalez has pitched roughly 550 innings; Zimmermann has thrown 297. Before his extension, Gonzalez and the Nationals had agreed on a one-year, $3.5 million deal.
Bumgarner also isn’t a perfect match, because he has one-plus years of service time. Texas Rangers left-hander Derek Holland signed a five-year, $28.5 million extension March 20 with two-plus years of service time, but he was not a Super Two player and not eligible for arbitration. Also, during the season’s first week the Mets signed lefty Jon Niese, also a two-plus player, to a five-year, $25.5 million extension.
Zimmermann, 25, has become one of the best young starters in baseball despite missing a full year because of Tommy John surgery. Zimmermann has a 3.03 ERA since the start of 2011, eighth in the National League. Over that span he has essentially the same Wins Above Replacement, per FanGraphs.com, as Gonzalez – 3.8 compared to 4.0.
Zimmermann, who will make his third start of the year Wednesday, has twice allowed one earned run over seven innings this season. His lack of run support has prevented him from winning either start.