Locking Up the Core

There has been a lot of speculation this winter about the Nats and not
wanting to make too many long term financial commitments out of the fear
of not being able to lock up their young players. With the Michael Morse trade
complete and 24 of the 25 roster spots filled for opening day it may be time
for Rizzo to turn his attention to just that. It was reported yesterday that
Matt Harrison had agreed to a five year $55 million dollar extension. Matt
Harrison is a 27 year old left handed starter for the Texas Rangers with a 4.08
career ERA, but ERAs of 3.39 and 3.29 in the last two seasons.  

Last year the Nationals gave Gio
Gonzalez a contract extension that was reported to be worth $42 million over
five seasons with two $12 million option years for the sixth and seventh years.
Both of these contracts are important in figuring out what Jordan Zimmermann
should get if the Nats decide to extend him in his second year of arbitration.
Thinking about this, with those two contracts as the barometer and considering
that Jordan Zimmermann is a free agent after the 2015 season should lead to a logical idea of what a contract extension for Jordan Zimmermann should
look like.

Unlike Matt Harrison and Gio Gonzalez,
Jordan Zimmermann throws with his right hand and has also only once made over
thirty starts. Harrison has only done it twice, but it is still more times than
Zimmermann. Some money can be taken off of the Harrison deal for those reasons.
The Nats will want to buy up all of Jordan Zimmermann’s arbitration years as
they did with Gio last off-season. The highest that Gio had been prior to his
extension (albeit, without going through arbitration) was $420,000. As Jordan
Zimmermann made $2.3 million in 2012 and is guaranteed more money in
arbitration this season, his deal is going to have to be higher than Gio’s.
  

The Nats will want to keep Jordan
Zimmermann’s price relatively low during his arbitration years so may want to
reach a compromise of something that averages out to $6.5 million a year over the
next three years. The Nats will then want to tack on a year of free agency that
is below market value but still good pay like they did with Gio Gonzalez and
the $11 million he is owed in 2015 and $12 million in 2016. Those are good
values and the Nats may try to simply use them again. Zimmermann is after all
getting more money at the front end of the deal than Gio and wasn’t as good a
pitcher in 2012. With the first three years adding up to $20 million, a $13
million buyout of a free agent year, and two team option years at $14 million
each, a Jordan Zimmermann deal would be at the least a four year $33 million
deal and at most a six year $61 million deal or right in line with what other
first or second year arbitration players are getting.  

Jordan Zimmermann isn’t the only player
the Nats should be looking to lock up as the arbitration season begins. The
other is Ian Desmond, but that could be a dangerous road for the Nationals. Ian
Desmond is coming off a season where he hit better than he ever has in his
career and his value is at a high. If the Nats don’t lock up Desmond though and
he has another season like last season while inching closer to free agency, his
price goes up. Unlike Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond has yet to have an
arbitration year so the Nats have the opportunity to keep those years more
cost controlled than they do with Jordan Zimmermann.  

According to his 2012 numbers Ian
Desmond was the best shortstop in baseball and the best overall player on the
Nationals. The Nationals would not be negotiating from a place of strength
except for the fact that they already control Desmond through the 2015 season
and a five year $48 million deal can be awful tempting to a 27 year old, even
if it is below market value for a shortstop of the caliber Desmond was in 2012.
There is a chance that Desmond and his agent ask for something closer to the
deals that young players like Troy Tulowitzki received recently, 6 years for
$118 million, perhaps asking for a contract in the $70-80 million range. It is
unlikely that the Nationals will go that far with Desmond in his first
extension and it may look much more like what they gave Ryan Zimmerman as he
was approaching his arbitration years, 5 years for $45 million.  

This isn’t necessarily a priority
for the Nationals as the core is together at least through the 2015 season, but
this is a way to control cost as Zimmermann and Desmond go through the
arbitration process towards free agency. Being that Desmond is a shortstop and
was the best in 2012 his demands in arbitration should be high, and if he
repeats his 2012 season then it will only get higher. Buying out those years
now can only help the Nationals if they need to add payroll in 2014 or 2015 to
continue to make a run at the World Series, and buying out the free agent years
will help to keep the core together for an additional year or two. All of this
is important and it would not be surprising to see either Zimmermann, Desmond,
or both extended as Spring Training draws near.  

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