The MLB offseason is full of strange rumors. More often than not, they have a specific slant to them. If a free agent has “several” suitors but no teams are named? Odds are the player’s agent is trying to drum up business. Sometimes, these “rumors” are nothing more than speculation on the author’s part.
When we read that the Washington Nationals could be interested in a reunion with former pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, something doesn’t smell right. This report, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, indicates that the Nats would be willing to reunite with a pitcher who has been worth 0.5 rWAR in two disastrous seasons with the Detroit Tigers. Money aside, it’s tough to see why a championship contender like the Nats would want a pitcher who has struggled as much as Zimmermann.
And then there’s the money. Zimmermann is owed a whopping $74 million over the next three seasons after allowing a 5.60 ERA in 265 1⁄3 innings with the Tigers. Cafardo indicates that the Tigers would have to kick in money to offload Zimmermann, who will turn 32 next season. However, even if Detroit ate half of the contract, the Nats would still be paying over $12 million per season for an aging pitcher who is dealing with a chronic neck injury.
So, color us skeptical. Let’s play along, though.
Why the Tigers should look to deal Zimmermann
The Tigers have been offloading salary since July, trading their top players for talented young prospects. While Zimmermann won’t fetch the same return as Justin Verlander or J.D. Martinez, he may still net a low-level prospect or two in a trade. The Tigers could control their return, in a way, by eating more of Zimmermann’s contract. Plus, even eating $15 million per season saves Detroit another $29 million over the last three years of his deal. His departure would also open up more innings for a young starter or a reclamation project like Mark Appel.
Why the Tigers should keep Zimmermann
With the team heading nowhere in 2018, Zimmermann may be more valuable than his WAR total suggests. As a veteran starter, he can provide valuable mentorship for a young pitching staff. His input may be a little more valuable than your normal replacement level veteran, as he was very successful for several years in Washington. From pitch grips to pickoff moves to other advice both on and off the field, he could be a useful asset, even if he’s not worth $25 million per season.
Zimmermann will also eat plenty of innings next year, providing insurance against the rash of injuries that usually befalls a young staff. This value can be found cheaper elsewhere on the free agent market. However, the Tigers would likely spend any savings from Zimmermann’s contract on that veteran starter. Zimmermann’s trade value is also at its lowest right now; if he happens to have a bounce-back season (or half-season), a few more teams may eventually come calling.
Is it happening, though?
No. Many journalists will speculate on trades and free agent destination throughout the winter, but Cafardo is one of the most common culprits. Take most of his rumors — this one in particular — with a grain of salt.