The recent news regarding the Nats and Jordan Zimmermann is that they have resumed talks on an extension. There are a couple theories floating about on why this has happened at this stage. The first being that the Nationals are going to make an offer that sounds good like a six year $115 million contract that isn’t close to what Jordan Zimmermann can get on the free agent market so that when they do trade him they can at least say they tried to keep him long term. My theory is that Mike Rizzo was shopping Jordan Zimmermann and found that what other teams were willing to pay wasn’t to his liking.
The Jeff Samardzija trade from the A’s to the White Sox gives us some idea of what was being offered for Jordan Zimmermann and just how overvalued control has become in the modern baseball market. Samardzija was worth 4.1 fWAR in 2014 and Jordan Zimmermann, 5.2 so it stands to reason that Jordan Zimmermann could bring back a little more in a trade but not significantly more. Samardzija netted the A’s Marcus Semien a 23 year old shortstop that is likely going to have to move to third base who has an OPS of .673 in 326 major league plate appearances, Chris Bassitt, a 25 year old starting pitcher who had a 3.94 ERA in 29.2 innings in 2014 but has decent numbers in the minor leagues over four seasons, and one more pitching prospect that has yet to be named.
For a pitcher that has been called an Ace it isn’t much of a haul and as much as the spin will be the A’s did it for long term success if they end up with one bench bat or relief pitcher out of the deal they did a good job. The compensation pick the A’s would have received for Samardzija would have given them a better shot at a star player than this trade did, Marcus Semien has shown good power in the minor leagues and is a top 100 prospect, but has only been ranked as high as 91. Marcus Semien is more likely to be an average major league player than a star which makes him a great success as a prospect, but not the return a team should get for an alleged Ace.
This type of return wouldn’t be pleasing to Mike Rizzo and with so little on the table for Jordan Zimmermann extension talks resumed. Don’t discount the other theory though. Someone is going to miss out on Jon Lester, a pitcher without a qualifying offer attached to him, and they’re suddenly going to want a starting pitcher even more. Now not only is the team bidding against other teams that lost out on Jon Lester they’re bidding against the notion that the Nats could workout an extension for Jordan Zimmermann unless they up their offer. The price of an Ace pitcher today is not what it is going to be tomorrow.
Mike Rizzo has proven himself to be a shrewd negotiator in trade talks and Jordan Zimmermann is very likely to get upwards of seven years and $150 million on the open market. Jordan Zimmermann is a free agent next offseason, Stephen Strasburg the offseason after that, and Gio Gonzalez is already signed to a long term deal. Do the Nats have the resources to keep all three? I do not know or presume to know the answer to that. My guess would be no and if a choice has to be made then it should be the pitcher who is younger with better stuff and higher upside and that is Stephen Strasburg.
The only question is will a team step up and offer more than the A’s got for Jeff Samardzija or will the offers remain at a point that allows Mike Rizzo to justify riding out Zimmermann’s contract and letting him walk for an extra first round pick? Or would Jordan Zimmermann be willing to leave $30 million on the table to stay in the organization that drafted, developed, and recovered him? One way or another all these questions and more will be answered by the time pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training.