Thoughts on how Zimmermann could impact Nats’ offseason plans

While Jordan Zimmermann tied for the National League lead in wins this season and led the majors in ERA at one point about midway through the 2013 campaign, I guess he still has a little ways to go before he starts getting truly appreciated and known by those outside the D.C. area.

For at least the first few hours after the NL Cy Young Award results had been posted on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America Web site last night, Zimmermann’s last name was spelled incorrectly. This despite the fact that he finished seventh in the Cy Young voting.

His last name featured just one “n” on the site, a simple mistake that we’ve all seen made across the Internet at times. But it wasn’t a great look for the BBWAA to misspell one of the names of the top pitchers of the 2013 season on a night that it was honoring the top pitchers of the 2013 season.

The error had been changed by the time I woke up this morning.

As a quick aside, I wanted to take a second to marvel at what Clayton Kershaw has done over the last three seasons. He’s now won two Cy Young awards (2011, 2013) and finished second in the Cy Young voting in 2012.

Since the start of the 2011 season, he has a 2.21 ERA over 99 starts. He’s averaging 232 innings per season in this three-year span, has struck out 9.2 batters per nine innings, has a 4.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a 0.971 WHIP and a 166 ERA+. Oh, and he’s just 25. The guy is something special, and he’ll have a monster contract coming his way sometime soon.

Speaking of contracts, Zimmermann’s name has been tied in to talk of a possible contract extension with the Nationals for more than a year now. The 27-year-old right-hander is currently under contract through the 2015 season, giving the Nats two more years of team control of their 2007 second-round pick. But as we’ve talked about before, this is a prime window for the two sides to start digging in and discussing a multi-year extension that will keep Zimmermann in D.C. until he’s into his 30s.

Both the Nationals and Zimmermann have said they’re open to such a deal, but it will have to make sense for both sides. Zimmermann has indicated that he’s not going to give the Nats a steep hometown discount and wants to be given a contract that he feels is fair. And to this point, such a deal has not been hashed out.

We’ve heard a lot of talk already this offseason about how the Nationals are making a push to add another starter. The names David Price, Max Scherzer and Jeff Samardzija have gotten tossed around as possible trade candidates, and there are a few interesting free agent options, as well (Matt Garza, Masahiro Tanaka, Tim Hudson, etc.).

There are obviously a number of factors that will go into how heavily Nats general manager Mike Rizzo pushes to acquire another starting pitcher, including the cost of a potential trade and the financial terms of a contract for that pitcher. But I think one other factor that might affect Rizzo’s thinking on the matter is how likely he feels it is that the Nats will be able to sign Zimmermann to a contract extension at some point.

If Rizzo thinks a Zimmermann deal is not likely to come together sometime in the next couple of years, then he might see this offseason as a prime chance to not only supplement the Nats rotation with another top-of-the-rotation starter, but also provide some insurance if Zimmermann does indeed leave via free agency after the 2015 season.

Adding a Scherzer or a Samardzija would certainly help in the short term and would give the Nats an incredibly talented, deep starting rotation, but if Zimmermann’s contract demands are too high at this point, then the Nats will have also protected themselves if Zimmermann does bolt for another team in two years. Especially with Stephen Strasburg (a Scott Boras client) unlikely to sign a contract extension before reaching free agency, there’s a lot of long-term uncertainty with the top of the Nats rotation. Bringing in a top-notch starter on a multi-year deal would help provide some stability there.

If Rizzo sees a contract extension with Zimmermann as something that’s well within reach, however, he might be a little less inclined to push for a top-of-the-rotation starter via a trade or free agency this offseason. If you feel like Zimmermann will likely be around for a while, the pressure might not be there to dump a boatload of prospects to secure a Price or a Scherzer long-term.

Yes, Rizzo will think about giving the Nats the best chance to win in 2014. But if you think he isn’t also thinking about how the rotation might look two or three years from now, you don’t know how baseball executives work.

It remains to be seen whether the Nats and Zimmermann will be able to find some common ground and settle on a multi-year extension anytime soon. But Rizzo has been through this process before, and he probably has an idea of how likely it is that the Nats will be able to lock up Zimmermann for a while. That information could end up factoring in when he considers how hard he should push for a big-time starter over the next few months.

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