Storen and Zimmerman have the same agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, who met with General Manager Mike Rizzo on Wednesday to talk about Storen. When will they deal with Zimmerman? Or will they get serious at all? Put out an APB on Van Wagenen’s car. If an agent leaves town just before a well-known deadline, that always means exactly what you think it means: major breakdown, potential long-term trouble, call the marriage counselors.
None of that aggravation is necessary, if everybody’s reasonable.
“Coming off an injury and playing third, not shortstop, you’re worth about 85 percent of Tulo, right? You’re a $17-to-$18-million-a-year player now. But next year, maybe more,” I teased Zimmerman on Wednesday.
“Maybe a lot more,” he said, laughing.
“I really want to stay here,” he said. “It might even be good that I’m coming off an injury year. It makes the price lower and a deal easier, you’d think. Whatever happens, it’s more than I can ever spend. So I don’t want to be greedy. You want to be happy. I saw what happened to Adam Dunn last year. You never know the impact when you change teams.
“But there’s a market [value] in this game. You can’t ignore that.”
In light of Werth, ownership appreciates the dangers of long-term contracts intensely. And they also see what looks like an accidental windfall in the way third baseman Anthony Rendon fell to them at sixth overall in last June’s draft when every board had him rated No. 1 or 2. Suddenly, a possible .300-hitting Zim replacement might arrive by 2014. Save $100 million, plug in a prospect and (maybe) spend the cash elsewhere. It’s always tempting to see prospect and think star. It seldom works so easily.
There’s also a certain element of old-fashioned common-sense shame that should be at work here. FanGraphs.com estimates that Zimmerman has been worth $125.6 million to the Nats in his career, based on wins above replacement; thus far, he’s been paid $19.5 million. So, maybe, the Lerners are already $106.1 million ahead of Zim. And they’ve got him signed well under market value for two more years. Maybe that’s how you become a billionaire, but that math might embarrass most people.
For me, the resolution should be simple. When you have first-rate baseball experts, leave decisions to them — even $100 million ones. What do the Nats’ “baseball people” — not one person, but their collective wisdom — have to do to persuade ownership to let them have the lion’s share of responsibility when the journey gets especially scary?
It’s not just that the Nats’ front office has, in three years, rebuilt the farm system from a joke to No. 1-rated or swung trades like Michael Morse for Ryan Langerhans and Ramos for Matt Capps. It’s also the past deals that were all teed up and, according to former Nats, got nixed, like a trade of Dunn for the Rays’ Matt Moore, now the game’s best lefty prospect.
Ted Lerner trusts his gut. And it has helped make him billions. But he has a builder’s gut, proven over decades in his business career. It’s not a baseball lifer’s gut instinct. Stop seeing Werth in your nightmares. Look at all the other decisions in the last three years that have been correct. Then do what D.C. fans of other pro teams so often want to scream, “Let the people that you were smart enough to hire make the calls.”
That doesn’t mean they’ll be right. It means that the process of making the decision was correct. That, terrifying as it may be, is the best you can do.
For Thomas Boswell’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.