On the Jordan Zimmermann Non-Trade

Those two tweets basically bookended a flurry of activity from all corners of the Nats twitter world. It was some fun speculation, but, obviously, at this point appears to have come to nothing. Now I don’t know if there was real conversation between the two teams, and if a trade between the two doesn’t happen this season, we may never know. But it highlights what Nats fans probably have to get used to, and that is, taking a step back, Jordan Zimmermann probably won’t be on this team in 2016.

He might make it through 2015, but the chances that he remains beyond that are pretty slim. There is very good reason for this. He will be quite expensive to re-sign, and will ask for, and get from some team, quite a few years. He may be worth it, he may not be. But he’ll be starting this contract at age 30, and there are alot of folks who believe you shouldn’t sign any pitcher not named Kershaw to a long term deal.

Make no mistake, JZimm is great, but how long will he be? At what point past the 1,000 IP mark, which he’ll hit next year, will his 94 mph fastball turn into a 92 or 91? How long will his surgically repaired elbow ligament stay repaired? We don’t know. It’s all rumors and speculation, but signs suggest that the Nats aren’t willing to take those risks. More on that in a minute.

The Nats are in Great Shape

JZimm Fist PumpThe Nats are in great shape, with regards to Jordan Zimmermann, because they really don’t have to trade him. They will be, on paper, somewhere around a 95 win team going in to next season. If they stand pat and don’t make a move, they will probably be the favorite in the NL. Filling the 2B hole with someone besides Danny Espinosa, or getting a platoon partner for him, will shore that up. So they don’t have to do anything, they will have another great shot at the World Series, and could end up with multiple early draft picks in 2016.

The Nats are in great shape, too, though, because they really can trade him. They would certainly be worse without him, but if they were to DFA him today, and fill in that 5th spot with some combination of Blake Treinen, Taylor Jordan and whoever else they can, they’re still a 90+ win team on paper. That’s how good they are. It may be hard to believe that, but it’s true, Zimmermann doesn’t make that much of a difference during the season, and that’s without even mentioning the possibility of signing a free agent to replace him.

Where he does make a difference is with the uncertainty. An injury or two to the starting pitching staff would make them quickly regret getting rid of him. And in the postseason, when they don’t have the luxury of spreading talent around 162 games, they might miss him greatly. So while getting rid of him doesn’t sink them, it would set them up for an easier route to a 2015 disaster.

What They Might Get

That brings us to what they’d get in return. The main rumor I saw was around Addison Russell. This might be a pretty fair deal, assuming the Cubs got years on the back end of Zimmermann’s contract as well, but it wouldn’t help the Nats right now. So they’d still have to fill the second base hole in 2015, in addition to the SP one they’re opening up. When you start your offseason by creating more uncertainty, it can be difficult to catch up. Too many moves and they are risking turning over too many guys and changing the team too much. That being said, if they look at Russell as a stud middle infielder of the future, it still might be worth it.

If they were to do a starting player for starting player swap, that might be worth it. The problem is, even if you were to ignore the years on the contract, Starlin Castro for Jordan isn’t a fair deal. So the Nats would have to get more than that. And getting multiple guys for one star tends to work out in favor of the team getting the star. Ending up with Castro and some middling prospects that don’t do much isn’t in the Nats favor, either. If the Nats could get a truly great young middle infielder, though, as opposed to a young stud prospect, no matter how good that prospect is, the deal becomes more intriguing.

Where This Leaves Us

The fact is, the Nats might not be actively shopping Zimmermann around, but they are more open to offers on him than other players. Whether or not he stays with the team depends on what they can get back for him. But, as a local Washington sports fan, I can tell you one thing I’ve heard over and over again with another big team in the area – it’s better to get rid of guys too early than to hold on to them too long. Or, to put it in DC sports radio parlance, it’s better to be the Steelers than the Redskins.

That’s not to stay Jordan isn’t going to be good next year, or the next 3 years. But he’ll probably get a massive contract that would be very hard for him to live up to in the end. The Nats are probably better off not holding on to him after next year. Not because he isn’t as good as Strasburg (so far he’s been better, even if Stras still flashes a higher ceiling), but because of the realities of the contracts and age.

All that being said, I think the Nats would really have to be blown away to trade him this offseason. He was so great last year, in the postseason and the regular season, and he’ll still just be 29 next year. They can expect a great season from him in 2015, and will be better with him than without him. Looking from this side of the 2015 season, a draft pick is probably enough compensation for the chance to win it all again. So if he does end up going somewhere, know that Rizzo really REALLY likes who they got in exchange.

Jordan Zimmermann certainly has some good years, probably some great years left in him. And there’s a very good chance that he’ll still be here next year – it’s likely what’s best for the Nats in 2015, even it’s not what’s best for them in 2016. But if I were you, I wouldn’t make his my next official jersey purchase.

 

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