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Offseason storyline No. 5: Extend Desmond, Zimmermann?

Oct 5, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT

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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.

  1. Faraz Shaikh - Oct 5, 2013 at 7:12 AM

    Desi may sign a discounted contract but JZ does not seem like the type. Just saying!

    Both deserve extension but the contracts should be trade-able.

  2. sjm308 - Oct 5, 2013 at 7:12 AM

    Yes to both.

    I also give Harper the 10 or 12 year deal that his agent has suggested. I get all that done now so there is no drama. I wait on Strasburg and am not sure I ever extend him.

    Go Nats!

  3. nats128 - Oct 5, 2013 at 7:15 AM

    Offseason storyline No. 5: Extend Desmond, Zimmermann?

    Yes and Yes.

  4. sjm308 - Oct 5, 2013 at 7:18 AM

    Just to clarify. I realize that SS is a dominant pitcher. I just don’t think he is truly comfortable on the East Coast and in this market. No proof of that but even Zimmnn with his stoic attitude gives me a better feeling about being here. I also want the money that SS would cost to be put to better use. We have Gio locked up, hopefully Zimmnn will follow and we have enough young pitchers coming that when SS comes time to extend, maybe we can actually trade someone at their peak value and get even more young players. This is what Tampa Bay has done and it seems to work pretty well for them.

    Go Nats!

    • Faraz Shaikh - Oct 5, 2013 at 7:32 AM

      this is what I would like to do but our young pitchers need to develop into respectable #2-#3 before think of trading any of the big 3. I would trade Gio before I trade SS though. We might be able to get more for him given his length of contract (which is pretty friendly).

    • tcostant - Oct 7, 2013 at 11:20 AM

      I agree – you ever notice how SS has something to do at the time of Natsfest? I think he got married and created a charity for no other reason to avoid the East Coast as much as possible. It very important that we lock up Jzimmermann because I think it’s unlikely that SS is here once he hits free agency.

  5. Faraz Shaikh - Oct 5, 2013 at 7:29 AM

    btw I don’t think our window of opportunity is as long as everyone else thinks.

    also I think we should try to lock up Ramos. I know injury-prone and all but we might be able to sign a discounted deal now than later.

  6. Theophilus T.S. - Oct 5, 2013 at 9:30 AM

    Zimmermann is worth whatever it takes to sign him right now. He looks like he’s easily got-six more years of shelf life left. One say with the no. of high-minors prospects the Nats don’t need to look that far in the future. But a couple more years of failing to perform up to his “potential” may lead to trading Strasburg before the rest of MLB sours on him; the Gonzalez of this year might turn out to be the real Gonzalez, and Detwiler is always no ore than a rough ride in a 4×4 from the DL. I’ve said before the 2016 rotation may not include any of these guys. It would be a shame if Zimmermann walked away in his prime.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Oct 5, 2013 at 9:43 AM

      Strasburg, not up to his potential is still better than most pitchers in the league (top 10) so there won’t be much of souring going on. you think a left-handed pitcher like Gio won’t be part of our rotation in 2016, given his numbers (he is under contract via club options for two more seasons after that)? I can agree with you on RD to certain extent but your view of big 3 is just not true.

      I am more concerned about starting lineup. We have had difficulty in developing good hitters first of all and some of our regulars can be considered in their prime now.

    • sjm308 - Oct 5, 2013 at 9:44 AM

      I am actually ok with the Gonzalez of this year. I honestly don’t expect him to be a top 3 Cy Young type pitcher but I do expect him to be a solid #2/3 guy the rest of his contract. I am old but I don’t remember him missing many starts in these last two years. I like his attitude and thing he is good for the clubhouse as well. Of course I would like to see him head more toward 2012 numbers but as long as he doesn’t tumble, I am ok with what he gives us each start.

    • Sonny G 10 - Oct 5, 2013 at 12:08 PM

      Don’t forget Strasburg is only 24 years old, two years younger than Zimmerman and pitchers don’t come into their prime until 27 or 28 years old. Give Stras two more years then compare him to where Zimmernamm is now. I bet everyone will be glad we have him then.

  7. Theophilus T.S. - Oct 5, 2013 at 9:36 AM

    Desmond also worth signing, at a premium if necessary. Not that I am not angered by his swing-at-any pitch style but simply because of how difficult it is and how long it takes to develop a shortstop. Look at the no. of teams w/ mediocre (or worse) SSs (e.g., Pittsburgh) and ask yourself if you want to go through that again.

    • sjm308 - Oct 5, 2013 at 9:48 AM

      Agreed and I think this is why Espinosa just might have some value. I realize how awful this season was but he is an excellent shortstop and if I was a team in need of a shortstop I certainly would kick the tires with the nationals about what they would want for him. I am betting Rizzo can also package him with a couple other pieces and get whatever he things we need. My point is that Espinosa has value even with horrible offensive numbers. It would not bother me, if he can get his attitude to accept it, to have him as a bench player next year. He can play both middle infield positions, had decent speed on the basepaths but I do realize he was almost an automatic out most of last season. Its a gamble maybe worth taking when you look at what Tracy gave us.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Oct 5, 2013 at 9:57 AM

        with his horrible numbers this season, danny is 10th in NL for 2B (2012-2013). among SS, that would rank him 12th. using just his 2012, he would be 4th in both rankings but the huge question is will he even closely resemble those 2012 offensive numbers? also him going to SS, his defense will take some hit. I would still like to package him to get something but has to be good return. why didn’t Nats have surgery for his shoulder last off-season?

      • nats128 - Oct 5, 2013 at 11:25 AM

        Espinosa had a lot of value based on potential. Now based on his AAA season hes looking like damaged goods.

      • JamesFan - Oct 5, 2013 at 12:47 PM

        Espinoza has value. There are a lot of teams who will think they can fix his swing, and maybe they are right. If they can, they get a very good player. I just do not see him in a Nats uniform in the spring.

      • nats128 - Oct 5, 2013 at 3:30 PM

        JamesFan, I could be wrong however I just dont see the Nats getting a “very good player” for Espi. I think they could get another reclamation project.

  8. sjm308 - Oct 5, 2013 at 9:49 AM

    “thinks” not things

  9. JamesFan - Oct 5, 2013 at 12:45 PM

    It’s always a gamble but imagine what Desi and JZ will cost ths time next year if they have all star years in 2014. They are certainly capable of that.

  10. Section 222 - Oct 5, 2013 at 12:59 PM

    I’d love to see Rizzo sign Desi and JZnn to team friendly extensions this winter, if only to take the “we can’t do that, we need to save money to extend Desi and JZnn” argument off the table in here. :-)

    Seems to me Desi is more likely to sign than JZnn. We’ll see.

  11. tcostant - Oct 7, 2013 at 11:14 AM

    I think last off season Zimmermann could have been signed for the 5yr/$75M menitioned. Now the starting point is over $90M for the same 5 years…

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