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How much is Zimmermann worth?

Jan 9, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT

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A couple of days ago, we examined Ian Desmond’s case for a long-term extension and how much the Nationals might have to pay their shortstop to keep him here for many years to come. (By the way, upon further review, I think I may have low-balled Desmond with my 7-year, $100 million proposal. I probably should have tacked on another $10 million to $20 million.)

Today, we look at the other core player who the Nationals would like to lock up with a new, lengthy contract: Jordan Zimmermann.

As was the case with Desmond, Zimmermann is two years away from becoming a free agent, which makes this winter/spring the target zone for negotiating a new deal. Players who get to within one year of free agency generally like to go ahead and test the open market.

So the time is now for the Nats and Zimmermann to get serious. Before we talk dollar figures, though, let’s talk stats.

Zimmermann’s consistency over the last three years has been remarkable. His ERA has ranged between 2.94 and 3.25. His WHIP has ranged between 1.088 and 1.170. His strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate has ranged between 6.8 and 7.0. His walks-per-nine-innings rate has ranged between 1.7 and 2.0.

Seriously, I don’t need any fancy sabermetrics algorithm to predict Zimmermann’s 2014 stats. He’s going to finish with a 3.00 ERA, a 1.1 WHIP, strike out 7 batters per nine innings and walk just under 2 batters per nine innings.

How do those numbers stack up with the rest of baseball’s top pitchers? Very well. Among all qualifying big-league starters, only Clayton Kershaw, Jered Weaver, Cliff Lee and Justin Verlander own better ERAs. Only those four plus Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, David Price and Madison Bumgarner have put fewer men on base.

The only stat Zimmermann lags behind many is his won-loss record — he’s 39-28 over those last three seasons — but anyone who has followed him closely knows what a victim of poor run support he was in 2011 an 2012.

So, it seems pretty clear Zimmermann has firmly established himself as one of baseball’s best pitchers. Which means he deserves to be paid like one.

How much money do baseball’s best pitchers make? A lot. A whole lot. There are currently 16 starting pitchers earning at least $15 million per season, seven of those earning at least $20 million per season. That’s the kind of company Zimmermann is going to want to keep.

And considering he’s still only 27 with no injury history aside from his full recovery from Tommy John surgery, he can command a whole lot of years on his next contract.

Perhaps the best comp to Zimmermann is Matt Cain, who pitched well but received no run support for several seasons before everything clicked in 2009 and his career took off. After that breakthrough season, the Giants signed Cain to a 3-year, $27.25 million deal, buying out some of his arbitration years. And then in 2012, they inked him to a 6-year, $127.5 million extension, which at the time was the largest contract ever given to a right-hander.

Cain was 27 when he signed that mega-deal.

So there’s your contract proposal for Zimmermann: 6 years and $120 million to $130 million.

That’s the kind of dough you give a No. 1 starter. Trouble is, Zimmermann isn’t the clear-cut No. 1 starter on the Nationals staff. Stephen Strasburg figures to get the ball on Opening Day for the third straight year. And Gio Gonzalez has been every bit as effective as Zimmermann over the last three seasons.

Can the Nats afford a nine-figure contract for a guy who could rank as low as third in their rotation? More importantly, does Zimmermann yearn to be treated like a true No. 1? And if so, would he be willing to go elsewhere to receive that kind of treatment?

There’s the dilemma facing Zimmermann and the Nationals as they prepare to negotiate a tremendously significant contract.

  1. David Proctor - Jan 9, 2014 at 6:05 AM

    Greinke in 2013: 90 FIP-
    JZimm in 2013: 89 FIP-

    (Lower is better). Greinke got 6/$159. Now Greinke was a free agent, had no injury history and had previously won a Cy Young. All those facts are relevant. But Zimmermann will get at least $100M and that’s probably low. If not here, elsewhere.

  2. Joe Seamhead - Jan 9, 2014 at 7:17 AM

    There’s no question that Jordan is worth at least $120-130 million on the open market. The real question is whether he’s worth that much to the Nats? Or should they see what they can get in return for him? I like the guy a ton, would like to see him retained, but should they commit to another long term mega-contract? This is where Mike Rizzo earns his money, by making these kinds of calls and justifying them to ownership.

  3. unterp - Jan 9, 2014 at 7:23 AM

    How much is Zimmermann worth?

    At least one wooden dime…

  4. 3on2out - Jan 9, 2014 at 8:22 AM

    I don’t understand Mark’s focus on “No. 1″ vs. “No. 3.” Is it simply who starts opening day? Because after the season gets rolling it simply doesn’t matter. Everybody pitches every fifth game. Everybody gets 30+ starts. The best pitcher is the best pitcher regardless of where he fell in the initial start order. Does this seemingly arbitrary number really matter to Zimmermann? I can’t believe he would prefer to be the so-called “No.1″ on a weaker team for the same money. Of course, last year he was the “No. 1″ starter here. Regardless of who started opening day.

  5. masterfishkeeper - Jan 9, 2014 at 8:48 AM

    Barves just signed the Emperor (Atahualpa Severino) to a minor league deal.

    http://www.baseballamerica.com/minors/minor-league-transactions-dec-21-31-2/

  6. knoxvillenat - Jan 9, 2014 at 8:54 AM

    “By the way, upon further review, I think I may have low-balled Desmond with my 7-year, $100 million proposal. I probably should have tacked on another $10 million to $20 million.)”

    Earlier this week I replied to another poster who asked me if I would be willing to pay JZ the sort of money Matt Cain had signed for, @ $22M year for 5-6 years I think it was. My response was that I thought market for Zimmermann was more in the $17-$18M range for 4-5 years. Well as MZ would say, upon further review…..yeah I probably low-balled Jordan several million bucks. But then that is why I read NI to get the true picture of things and not just what I think.

  7. Hiram Hover - Jan 9, 2014 at 9:08 AM

    For two reasons, I think JZimm has to expect to exceed not merely match Cain’s contract:

    1. inflation; even in two years, the average value of one WAR on the FA market has probably gone from ~$5M to ~$6M.

    2. Cain had only one year left under team control at the time he signed that 6-year deal, and Zimm has 2 arb years left.

    So I wouldn’t be surprised if JZimm and his agent are thinking at least $140M/7, plus signing bonus, options, etc to bring the total up closer to $150M guaranteed, and another $20M or so for an optional 8th year.

    • NatsLady - Jan 9, 2014 at 9:14 AM

      What do you think Tanaka will get?

      Apparently “25″ teams are going out for a meet-and-greet (I suppose will toss a few also).

      • Hiram Hover - Jan 9, 2014 at 9:57 AM

        I don’t really know, but with the posting fee, $120M+ for 6-7 years seems like the floor, no?

    • bowdenball - Jan 9, 2014 at 9:27 AM

      Those are decent reasons to expect Zimmermann’s price tag to exceed Cain’s. Here are two reasons to expect otherwise:

      1. Cain himself. He posted his worst season by far after signing the extension and turned 30 at the end of the season. There’s no doubt the Giants regret the deal at this point. He’s a cautionary tale as much as he is a market setter.

      2. Cain has been the picture of health for his entire career, having thrown 6 straight 200 inning seasons when he signed his deal. Zimmermann is a TJ guy who had the first 200 inning season of his career in 2013. It’s not a huge factor, but it’s certainly a concern.

      • Hiram Hover - Jan 9, 2014 at 9:52 AM

        Good points too.

        I wasn’t saying above that I thought the Nats should agree to those #s (I don’t) – just that they’re probably what JZimm and his agent view as free market value and take as their starting point.

        Another way to look at it: JZimm is projected to make $10-11M in arb this year, and if he has a decent year, will get another raise on that. So from his point of view, he probably starts with at least $23-25M in the bank, and if he hits FA after 2 decent years, he’d probably hope for a deal like what Greinke got from LA, and be disappointed to get what Matt Cain got.

        All of this, in my book, is a long way of saying what we already knew – JZimm will not be a Nat after 2015, so enjoy him while you can.

    • pdowdy83 - Jan 9, 2014 at 9:39 AM

      Wouldn’t the extra year of arbitration make JZimm less expensive? Cain made $7.333mm the year before he signed his extension. That is $2mm more than Jordan last year. Cain was already going to make $15mm in 2012 prior to signing his big extension. To me since Jordan is not a free agent on the open market and has not made nearly what Cain had to this point I don’t think the inflation argument works. I think Jordan has earned a contract that falls in between what Anibal Sanchez signed last offseason (5 year $88mm) and Cain’s extension. I think a 6 year $108mm deal is what I would offer him with room to go higher but I would not go to the $140mm -150mm you are suggesting. Jordan is an excellent pitcher but I do not know if the team can sustain a payroll where he, Werth, Zim and Desmond are all making over $100mm and expect to retain Stras, Ramos and Harper as well.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 9, 2014 at 9:57 AM

        Werth’s remaining dollars: 4/$83 MM
        RZ: 6-7/$90-106 MM
        Desi’s supposed extension: 7/$120 MM
        JZ’s supposed extension: 6/$125 MM

  8. shawndc04 - Jan 9, 2014 at 9:47 AM

    I also agree that the #1 or #2 or #3 designation is meaningless when there is a high quality rotation and the guy in question won 19 last year as “the number three.” What I value about Jordan is the grit and the bulldog mentality. He’s never fazed on the mound, never complains; he just says gimme the ball and let me pitch every five days. That, along with his good stuff qualifies him for a good deal. The only chink in his armor is the Cardinals, but someone always has someone’s number, and I can live with it.

  9. Faraz Shaikh - Jan 9, 2014 at 10:10 AM

    With all this extension talk, I don’t mind if we extend Taylor Jordan to martin perez type extension and rendon to a similar extension. just so we can avoid paying this obscene amount of money later on.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 9, 2014 at 10:23 AM

      Add Ramos to the list of names I want to see extended, despite injury concerns.

  10. scnatsfan - Jan 9, 2014 at 10:11 AM

    Is it just me but JZim seems to always fade as the season wears on; at the All Star break he looks so much better then at the end of the year. Of course I’m too lazy to look up stats but to my untrained eye he just appears to run out of gas as the heat starts to rise.

    • bowdenball - Jan 9, 2014 at 10:17 AM

      Hard to say. He definitely faded in 2013, but he was about the same in the second half of 2012 as the first half. In 2011 he fell apart in the second half, but that was his TJ recovery year, and as everyone (except apparently the national media) saw with Strasburg in 2012, pitchers tend to fall apart in the latter stages of their TJ recovery seasons. I’d say we just don’t have enough data to call it a problem, but it’s a possible concern.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 9, 2014 at 10:21 AM

      2011:
      1st half ERA: 2.66 vs 2nd half ERA: 4.47

      2012:
      2.61 vs 3.38

      2013:
      2.58 vs 4.33

      • bowdenball - Jan 9, 2014 at 11:07 AM

        2012 first half FIP 3.73 xFIP 3.76
        2012 second half FIP 3.22 xFIP 3.79.

        He was fine in the second half of 2012, same guy as the first half, just had some bad luck. Or really, he just had some good luck in the first half, his BABIP jumped from around .260 to around .320.

        He actually saw a similar jump in his BABIP from the first half to the second half of 2013. Maybe the real question we should be asking ourselves is why our defense falters behind him late in the season.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 9, 2014 at 12:02 PM

        It is hard to imagine that a fielding unit falters as season progresses unless fielding unit itself changed. Jump in BABIP can simply be due to JZ’s stuff not being as good in warmer climate than colder weather.

    • JamesFan - Jan 11, 2014 at 1:11 PM

      He didn’t fade in the playoffs.

  11. Section 222 - Jan 9, 2014 at 10:37 AM

    It’s kind of ironic that the question of whether the Nats will re-sign JZnn is posed as “can the Nats afford a nine-figure contract for a guy who could rank as low as third in their rotation?” on the day after Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are voted into the Hall of Fame on their first ballot. In 1996, Glavine was probably the Braves’ third best starter. If the Nats want JZnn in their rotation beyond 2015 they are going to have to pay him like a No. 1, either now or later, regardless of whether he pitches on Opening Day. The question really is how much do they want to keep him.

    In contrast to the Desi situations, the Nats do have other pitching options in the pipeline. Maybe they prefer to try to re-sign Fister after 2015 for much less than JZnn will command. Maybe Gioito or AJ Cole have shown enough, or show enough this year, to move into the rotation in 2016. Do they want those options to slot in as No. 4 or 5 down the road, or have to be our No. 3? These are tough questions. The Lerners can afford to take our payroll right up to the cap. What happens with JZnn will be one of the best indications where they are headed. Do they want to pay for a long term rotation that might rival Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz?

  12. micksback1 - Jan 9, 2014 at 10:42 AM

    How good is Tanaka? I never have seen him and really only heard of him the past few months. I think the Nats are fine without going after him, the monies are better spent on retaining players like JZimm and going after more offense

  13. tcostant - Jan 9, 2014 at 10:47 AM

    Off topic, read this learge story for a hisory of PED’s and the press:

    http://www.grantland.com/print?id=10261642

    Pure gold!

    • Section 222 - Jan 9, 2014 at 12:08 PM

      Thanks for posting this link. Great article!

  14. micksback1 - Jan 9, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    sec 222 has some excellent points. let me add a little off the subject about Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux as it pertains to the Braves and the game in general, the Braves only won one WS during that stretch. They were a perennial playoff team, 90 plus win club, that is all one can ask for as a fan. Nothing is guaranteed, even with a formidable rotation like those Braves had.

  15. Doc - Jan 9, 2014 at 11:02 AM

    Unless he starts to fade, JZim was our #1 SP last year, and will be close to that status for some time. I like his presence on the mound. Sign him up! He’s our bulldog.

    I didn’t get a chance to comment on Mark’s fine, measured, and extensive piece on the HOF. It would be nice if all writers were as fair and even as Mark. But they aren’t. Writers frequently over-use subjective feelings, when stats are in order, such as with Raines and Walker.

    Then, in the past, there were a**h**** who didn’t vote for the Babe, Willie, and Hank. Most outstanding idiot of all time is the clown who didn’t vote for Nolan Ryan because, in his own words, “…I just didn’t want it to be unanimous…”.

  16. ehay2k - Jan 9, 2014 at 11:30 AM

    I want the Nats to sign Jordan. However, everyone here, including MZ, seems to be conveniently forgetting that he has had more health issues than just TJ. He has had neck issues, which really concern me, since they can lead to compensatory motions that can lead to injuries to other body parts, especially the lower back. So, the Nats may take that into account when they decide on the number of years to offer. They may just buy out his 2 arbitration years and get a couple extra years of control, then re-evaluate after that.

    Pitchers are just fragile creatures, and power pitchers are the worst of the bunch. Just food for thought.

    • Section 222 - Jan 9, 2014 at 11:48 AM

      This is good point. Of course, the Nats may make such an offer, but I doubt JZnn will take it. He wants the big bucks and he’s going to get them. From us or someone else.

  17. sjm308 - Jan 9, 2014 at 12:29 PM

    I have, as usual, enjoyed the various points for signing, not signing, both Desmond & JZmmnn. I understand there is at least one person here who is not crazy about my opinion but here it is none the less.

    I am going way outside the box with this but if I was GM & I had the confidence of my owners I would extend Desmond and my second piece to this off season would be to totally break the bank and sign Harper to a 10 year deal for whatever can be worked out. If its 200 million, so be it. If more, I might have to take a step back but it would be my emphasis. Once that is worked out you don’t have the specter of what to do about Bryce hanging over other extensions. He would be under team control until age 31 which is still in his prime.

    Sure, I want to sign the pitchers but look what Rizzo has done. We have quite a few arms that seem to be impressing people. I realize that Zimmermann has done it on the major league level but even if he is not signed, you can’t tell me that we won’t get a ton of prospects for him if he pitches for us this year and we do what the Rays have done with several of their stars, I feel the same way about Strasburg. To me, the position players are the key since we have what appear to be excellent pitchers working their way up. Once Bryce is signed, you can now establish your budget to work on the pitching staff because the next extension of a position player would be a few years away with Rendon or Ramos and the jury is still out on each due to age and injury factors.

    Just my thoughts and I, as always, am open for criticism.

    Go Nats!!

    • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 9, 2014 at 12:31 PM

      I like the idea (not sure how I feel about the numbers) but Boras is very unlikely to do that, no?

      • sjm308 - Jan 9, 2014 at 12:56 PM

        Boras will want Harpers deal to be a record breaker

      • Faraz Shaikh - Jan 9, 2014 at 12:58 PM

        Exactly and I don’t think 10/$200 MM is that.

  18. Eugene in Oregon - Jan 9, 2014 at 1:20 PM

    Perhaps another way to answer this question — not that I have the answer, mind you — is what would Jordan Zimmermann be worth a year from now in trade terms? Assume he has the season that Mark Zuckerman predicts (3.00 ERA, 1.1 WHIP, 7/2 SO/BB per 9 innings). Assume the Nats do well in 2014 and his stats include a fair number of Ws. If the Nats younger pitchers continue to develop, is Mr. Zimmermann’s long-term value perhaps greater in trade terms? Just wondering.

    • David Proctor - Jan 9, 2014 at 6:11 PM

      Doubtful. Max Scherzer was coming off a Cy Young award and apparently the Tigers were underwhelmed with what teams were offering for him because he only had one year of team control left.

  19. letswin3 - Jan 9, 2014 at 3:10 PM

    It sure sounds as though we have a lot of big contract guys that will have to be paid…..soon. So, can we stay within the cap and still sign J Zimm, Desmond, Strass, Harper and Ramos to long-term monster deals? Maybe we should be out there with our ear to the ground listening for interest in either Strass or J Zimm……can we really afford both of those guys while remaining a playoff squad. The near future also calls for a replacement at first base, signing Spann to an extension and maybe even considering a longer term deal for Rendon, although that’s probably premature. I guess what I’m thinking is that maybe we can’t afford all those big contracts…and maybe a well-timed trade for either Strass or J Zimm could garner a quality starting position player and chest full of cheaper promise. I still feel that a key everyday starter (like a Desmond or a Harper) is more valuable than a starting pitcher who delivers only once every 5 days or so when allocating dollars. So, if you have limited dollars, maybe the key position players are given preferential consideration in order to “balance” the payroll. The calming factor in such a move rests with the knowledge that the Nat pipeline seems to be filling nicely with starting pitchers. Having said all of that, I still wouldn’t want to be known as the guy who traded either of those guys. Is Rizzo’s contract big enough…..maybe THAT ought to be the question.

  20. dcsportsfan2727 - Jan 9, 2014 at 4:04 PM

    The Nat’s have big decisions galore but as to JZimm, if he is set on 140-150mil then we would be wise to see what we could get in return via trade! I am quite sure that we could get a big return for him. Rizzo cannot keep everyone happy and I think Desi is more important than JZimm simply because we have some good arms coming up soon and the infielder pipeline is not as strong as the pitching. Having said that, I would hate for JZimm to leave but his value may never be as high as it is now!

    34 days and counting! Go Nat’s!

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