Oct 5, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT
The Nationals are transitioning into offseason mode, and so are we. Over these first five days, we’ll run through the five biggest storylines of the winter for this club, concluding today with the No. 5 storyline: Attempting to sign Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann to long-term contract extensions. …
One reason the Nationals weren’t devastated by their early exit from the postseason in 2012 or their failure to reach the postseason in 2013 was the understanding they’d have several more opportunities to reach October in future seasons, thanks to a young roster full of core players under team control for several more years.
But not every core player is locked up long-term. In fact, two of the Nationals’ very best players could become free agents in as few as two years: Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann.
Which is why Mike Rizzo would very much like to lock up both Desmond and Zimmermann to long-term extensions before either takes the field in 2014.
“Desi is one of our core players,” Rizzo said. “He’s one of our leaders on the team. If there’s a deal out there that we can get done that keeps him here for the long-term, it would be certainly up there on the priority list.”
The Nationals GM feels the same way about Zimmermann.
“Yeah, he’s one of our own,” Rizzo said. “We drafted, developed and signed him. He’s one of the really good pitchers in the league. We’d certainly like to keep him on our team.”
The Nationals held preliminary contract talks with both Desmond and Zimmermann last winter and spring, but neither progressed very far. Not because either player is motivated to leave Washington. But because each realized his value was likely to increase after another strong performance in 2013.
They were right. Desmond picked up right where he left off during his All-Star campaign in 2012, hitting .280 with 20 homers, 80 RBI and 21 stolen bases. He’s only the seventh shortstop in MLB history with at least two 20-20 seasons in his career, joining a list that includes the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Barry Larkin, Jimmy Rollins, Hanley Ramirez and Alan Trammell.
Desmond’s first 20-20 season earned him a $3.8 million payday this year, and that figure is only going to increase when he undergoes the arbitration process again this winter, and then again next winter in his final year of arbitration-eligibility. Which is why the Nationals would be wise to try to lock up Desmond now, preventing his contract numbers from growing to a point they may no longer be able to afford him.
What would a Desmond long-term deal look like? Well, consider that top-tier, young shortstops these days make $15 million a year. That’s what Troy Tulowitzki gets from the Rockies, and it’s what Elvis Andrus gets from the Rangers. And if you don’t believe Desmond deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as those two elite shortstops … well, you haven’t been playing enough attention the last two seasons.
How about Zimmermann? Consider the company he keeps. Over the last three seasons, only four qualifying starting pitchers own ERAs better than his 3.12 mark: Clayton Kershaw, Jered Waver, Cliff Lee and Justin Verlander.
Zimmermann earned $5.35 million last winter via arbitration. That number will again go up following his 19-win, 213 1/3-inning, All-Star season. On the open market, he might well be offered $75 million over five years.
Which explains why the Nationals would love to get the right-hander to sign his name to a long-term contract right now. Like Desmond, Zimmermann is under no obligation or pressure to do so yet. But if the Nationals want to ensure their championship window extends beyond 2015, they’re going to have to figure out a way to convince both young stars to commit to the organization sometime soon.
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
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