When I talk about the loaded free agent class after the 2015 season, one of the top arms that’s always on my mind is Washington Nationals righty Jordan Zimmermann. He might be my favorite arm in that entire class, even ahead of David Price.
Maybe the Cubs feel the same way? And maybe they don’t feel like waiting until after 2015 to get him?
Gordon Wittenmyer just dropped a shocker of a report: the Cubs are in talks with the Nationals to acquire Zimmermann, according to sources. One of the sources with whom Wittenmyer spoke said he expected a deal to get done.
If the Cubs pick up Zimmermann, you can expect that it’s going to come at a steep price – perhaps involving one of the Cubs’ top middle infield types (the Nationals are known to be looking for a second baseman). Then again, to part with such a steep price (Javier Baez? Arismendy Alcantara? Not Addison Russell, right? Even Baez seems like too much for just one year of Zimmermann), the Cubs would likely want a chance to extend Zimmermann. Currently, he’s under control for only 2015 at $16.5 million. That has a lot of value, to be sure. But one year of even a great pitcher at $16.5 million is probably not worth an elite prospect.
One thing’s sure: grabbing Zimmermann would be an even more clear signal that the Cubs plan to be competitive in 2015.
Zimmermann, who has been excellent for four years running, is coming off of his best year: 2.66 ERA, 2.68 FIP, 3.10 xFIP in 199.2 innings (5.2 WAR), with a 22.8% K rate and a ridiculous 3.6% BB rate. Zimmerman doesn’t turn 29 until next year.
You can expect to hear a whole lot more about this one. Again I say: whoa. Let’s try to keep our heads about us for now. Things can happen, but it’s early in the offseason, and there are many options on the table yet.
UPDATE: Some additional info to wrap your head around Zimmermann’s possible value to the Cubs. Steamer projects him at just 2.9 WAR in 2015, stepping back majorly from 2014. If a win is worth about $7 million, then Zimmermann’s surplus value would be only around $5 million. That wouldn’t net the Nats much in trade. If, however, Zimmermann were closer to 5 WAR, as he was last year, then his surplus value in 2015 is closer to $18 million. That would net a very nice prospect in trade. My early take, though, is that it would be hard to see the Cubs parting with Javy Baez (just as a middle infield example) in a straight-up deal for Zimmermann. I don’t want to give anyone any illusions here: Zimmermann would cost, and is worth, a considerable prospect return. But Baez, even after his struggles, is worth a ton. Too much, I’d think, for just one year of Zimmermann at $16.5 million.
UPDATE 2: In an expanded deal, I suppose it’s conceivable that Starlin Castro could be involved (the Nats have been previously connected to him), but he’s definitely got far more value (with his contract) than Zimmermann right now, and I’m also not convinced that the Cubs are ready to let him go for 2015 and roll the dice with the youngsters. If Castro were involved, you’d see other players involved as well. I’d be very surprised, however, if Castro were involved seriously in these talks.
UPDATE 3: Now that I’ve had a second to absorb the Zimmermann stuff, I should give you another reason to read Wittenmyer’s piece – it has a whole bunch of other stuff on the Cubs’ offseason, including rumors about a one-year, bounce-back deal with Justin Masterson, continuing interest in Brett Anderson, and the possibility of picking up Jon Lester even after getting Zimmermann. Try to stay calm. I’m mostly talking to myself.
UPDATE 4: Just a small bit from the Washington side:
Asked today about trading players with 1 yr left (such as Fister, Desmond & Zimmermann), Rizzo wasn't opposed: "The return has to be right."
— James Wagner (@ByJamesWagner) November 12, 2014
For what it's worth, nothing is being discussed between the Nats and Zimmermann about any long-term extension talks, per a source.
— James Wagner (@ByJamesWagner) November 12, 2014
UPDATE 5: Always guard yourself with at least a moment of cynicism when these things are exploding. Why is this rumor getting out? Does it apply pressure on various free agents? Does it disrupt the market in some other way that is beneficial to the Cubs or the Nats or maybe even another team? None of this is to say that the rumor is bogus (I buy it completely) or that talks aren’t serious – but you always have to reserve a little bit of circumspection during rumor season.
UPDATE 6: Dave Kaplan has chimed in, seeming to confirm not only the Cubs’ interest, but also the probability of an extension IF a deal were consummated:
Cubs as @GDubCub reported are interested in Nats P Jordan Zimmerman. Has 1 yr left on his deal. Extension would be north of 100 million.
— David Kaplan (@thekapman) November 12, 2014
I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself and start breaking down an extension, but you’ve got to believe Homer Bailey’s deal with the Reds would be a starting point. That one was six years and $105 million, but included an arbitration year in which Bailey was going to make about $10 million. So the AAV on the free agent years was actually about $19 million. For Zimmermann, if you had the same kind of extension, given his $16.5 million salary in 2015, a six-year deal (including 2015) would be for $112.5 million. He could probably get a whole lot more in free agency if he was healthy and productive in 2015, so he may prefer to wait (and Zimmermann is pretty clearly better now than Bailey was then).
In fact, right now, Zimmermann may prefer to wait until after a top arm or two signs this offseason so that he can use those deals as a benchmark.
UPDATE 7: And the other side of the rumor coin:
Source says Cubs not getting Zimmermann from Nats and haven't exchanged names, as rumored.
— Paul Sullivan (@PWSullivan) November 12, 2014
I’m not sure if that means the Cubs aren’t getting Zimmermann “soon” or the Cubs aren’t getting Zimmermann “at all.” Probably the former (and then eventually the latter, since most trade rumors die on the vine after a while). Remember: different sources have different agendas for saying the things they do, and seemingly conflicting statements can actually both be true. And sometimes wires get crossed. And sometimes info is just wrong. I tend to buy that talks on Zimmermann had taken place, and I also tend to buy that they may not be super close to any kind of completion. As I said before any updates: it’s so very early in the offseason.
UPDATE 8: For good measure, Mooney and Rogers join in:
— Patrick Mooney (@CSNMooney) November 12, 2014
Anyway, been told nothing going on with Nats and I don't believe there is so back to chasing R. Martin. Now that's for real
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) November 12, 2014
I doubt we’ve heard the last of this, but there may not be much more to discuss on the matter right now. That was a fun couple hours.