In a perfect world, Jordan Zimmermann wants to stay in Washington, the only organization he has ever known. But it’s not that simple and the Nationals’ homegrown star understands the position he is in. The Nationals control him for only one more year, the 2015 season, before he is eligible for free agency. The two sides have talked in the past — not since last winter — about a long-term extension to keep him in Washington past 2015 but nothing has materialized.
So it comes as no surprise that Zimmermann’s name has come up in trade rumors — and some, such as one linking him to the Cubs last week, have been exactly that, rumors shot down publicly by Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo. As many as 10 Nationals players, including key cogs such as Zimmermann, Doug Fister and Ian Desmond, could be eligible for free agency after the 2015 season. And the Nationals haven’t shied from admitting that they will listen, if the price is right, for deals for any of their players close to free agency. So what will happen with Zimmermann, the two-time all-star and author of a no-hitter?
“We’re talking baseball and anything can happen,” Zimmermann said by telephone on Thursday afternoon. “Obviously, I’d like to stay with the Nats. I have no complaints about the Nats. It’s a business. I know that. If they feel they want to trade me and get something in return that will help them later down the road, I totally understand. At the end of the day, I love the Nats. I love this city. I love playing there. When I heard the rumors, I was a little shocked. Come to find out it was just a rumor and someone just published something and it just took off.”
So far this winter, the Nationals and Zimmermann’s agent have not picked extension talks back up. The last time both sides discussed a long-term deal was last winter. At the time, Zimmermann said both sides were “too far apart to get that done” so both agreed to a two-year, $24-million deal to cover his final two arbitration years. Zimmermann is owed $16.5 million in 2015, a salary that could make trading him a little more difficult.
Zimmermann declined to elaborate about any past talks but admitted nothing is brewing now.
“I haven’t heard anything this offseason,” he said. “Obviously, we were trying to get a deal done last year and it didn’t work out. But I haven’t heard anything yet this year. … So far, it’s quiet. We’ll see what the next month or so brings.”
A good comparison for Zimmermann is Reds starter Homer Bailey, another right-handed starter who is also 28. Zimmermann, however, is a better pitcher than Bailey. And in February, the Reds inked Bailey to a six-year, $105-million deal when he had one year left before free agency, setting a new benchmark for Zimmermann’s market. (Bailey missed most of the season with a forearm injury.)
“If the deal is right, I’ll definitely sign a multi-year deal,” Zimmermann said. “I never once said I didn’t want to stay in D.C. But at the end of the day, the deal has to be right and the deal has to be fair and that’s all I’m asking for. Just pay me what I’m worth and I’ll be happy to stay. If we can’t come to common ground, I guess free agency is the next step.”
Historically, the Nationals have shied away from making major long-term commitments to pitchers, and in order to re-sign Zimmermann, it would take a team record-setting deal. The biggest contract Rizzo has made with a pitcher is Gio Gonzalez’s $42 million extension in the 2012 winter that could be worth up to $65 million. Pitchers break down and the Nationals know that. And they have a farm system of deep with young arms. These are all factors in Zimmermann’s situation.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times report last week, Zimmermann turned down a five-year, $85-million offer from the Nationals. That number, however, is believed to have been lower.
Zimmermann isn’t alone in his delicate situation. The Nationals have talked to both Fister and Desmond about long-term extensions in the past, and have failed to lock up either of them. Both are key parts of a team that is capable of contending for a World Series if left untouched. Trading any of those players for future pieces could upset the composition of a talented team. In other words, Zimmermann may be more valuable to the Nationals in 2015 as a rotation bedrock on a World Series favorite team than as a trade chip. And it’s not to be overlooked that Zimmermann could net the Nationals a compensatory draft pick if he is offered a qualifying offer after the 2015 season and he rejects it.
“We got five, six guys who are going to be free agents in a year and we’re going to do something,” Zimmermann said. “We’re going to have to lock some guys up and figure out who we’re going to have to let go if we can’t sign everybody. We’re in a tough spot with all these guys becoming free agents. You see the deal [Giancarlo] Stanton got and there are crazy numbers being thrown all around the place. And as far as all of us, we all want to stay together and win a World Series and see what the future brings.”
There is plenty of time for the Nationals and Zimmermann to meet and take up the extension talk again this winter. It is unclear when — and if — that may happen.
“I like D.C.,” Zimmermann said. “I like the ownership. I like the manager, the coaches. I like everything about D.C. It’s just a waiting game right now to see what happens.”