Max Scherzer and the Washington Nationals agreed to a seven year deal worth more than $180 million in the wee hours of Monday morning. Adding Scherzer gives the Nationals six bonafide MLB starting pitchers, leading many to believe that they will look to deal someone before the start of spring training. The Nationals have several options available for trade. Gio Gonzalez is on a team-friendly deal, Stephen Strasburg's name has been floated around lately, and NOPE NUH UH NOT GOING THERE NO WAY.
Then there is Jordan Zimmermann, who has been the subject of trade rumors all offseason. Zimmermann has one year of club control remaining before free agency, but at just 28 years old, is a bit more enticing than the usual 30-something pitchers hitting the open market.
*2015 Steamer projection
Who is he?
Zimmermann is a 28 year old right-hander from Auburndale, Wisconsin. He was the Nationals' second round pick in the 2007 draft, and made his MLB debut in 2009. He allowed a 4.63 ERA and 3.59 FIP for the Nats in 16 starts that year, but was shut down in July to undergo Tommy John surgery. He made seven starts in late 2010 but did not pitch very well.
Once fully healthy in 2011, Zimmermann took off. He allowed a 3.18 ERA and 3.16 FIP in 161 1/3 innings that year, and was shut down at the end of August due to an innings limit the Nationals imposed on him. With the kid gloves off in 2012, Zimmermann pitched 195 2/3 innings with a 2.94 ERA. He won a career-high 19 games in a career-high 213 1/3 innings in 2013, and had his best season yet with a 2.66 ERA, 2.68 FIP, and 5.2 fWAR in 2014.
Why should we care?
Think "Rick Porcello with strikeouts." The comparison between the two pitchers falls apart quickly, as Zimmermann pitched in college and doesn't have Porcello's high ground ball rate, but it's the impression I've gotten after watching the two closely for several years. Zimmermann has a career 20.2 percent strikeout rate with just a 5.0 percent walk rate, good enough for a career 4.06 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His career ground ball rate is a pedestrian 43.2 percent, but he doesn't allow a lot of solid contact. His defense turned 18 double plays behind him in both 2012 and 2013, and his career BABIP is slightly better than average at .291
The cost is also a plus in Zimmermann's case. He only has one year of club control left before hitting free agency, limiting the return that the Nationals will see on any trade. The addition of Scherzer also puts Nationals GM Mike Rizzo behind the eight ball, as teams know that he will be looking to deal someone before the season begins. Granted, the Tigers don't have the prospects that other teams do, but the past couple years have taught me to just stop wondering how Dave Dombrowski gets these trades done. The price for Zimmermann will still sting -- he's not getting moved for a bag of baseballs -- but the future payoff could be worth it.
Why should we stay away?
There are few reasons to doubt Zimmermann's pitching ability, and questioning how he would transition from the National League to the American League is a stretch. Save for a couple of good years from the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies, Zimmermann has faced a pretty bad group of lineups in the NL East. That said, the lineups in the AL Central are not that much more dangerous. Zimmermann pitches well against both right and left-handed hitters, so the platoon-heavy Indians won't be any more pesky to him than they usually are to Tigers pitching.
If we're going to find a downside to a move like this, it comes in whatever Dombrowski is forced to give up in order to get Zimmermann. With the farm system largely depleted, Dombrowski has turned to offering up major league talent in recent deals. David Price, Yoenis Cespedes, and Alfredo Simon were all acquired at the expense of player that contributed significantly to last year's big league club, and they are all free agents at the end of the season. Zimmermann falls into this boat, and it leaves us to wonder what kind of hole would be created on the roster if Dombrowski pulls the trigger on a deal.
Will he end up in Detroit?
Despite the rumor mongering we have heard surrounding Max Scherzer and James Shields so far this offseason, I think that the Tigers are happy with their rotation heading into 2015. They moved quickly to acquire Simon after making the Cespedes deal, ensuring that they only went minutes without five MLB caliber starters in their rotation. Some could argue whether Simon actually counts as "MLB caliber," but the Tigers clearly view him as a starter and will probably treat him as such heading into 2015. Picking up Zimmermann would be fun, especially considering the "midwestern roots" narrative that would float around if he is acquired, but I don't think the Tigers will be the one to pick up that tab.