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.