We’re all well aware by now that if the Nationals are not able to reach contract extensions with Jordan Zimmermann or Doug Fister by the end of the 2015 season, those two will be set to hit the free agent market.
That would leave the Nats in a bit of a tough spot - two of their top starting pitchers would then be in a position where they could negotiate with all 30 major league teams. And barring some type of major injury or monster dropoff in production this season, both Zimmermann and Fister would be in line for a huge payday.
Yes, the Nationals have a couple of very promising young pitching prospects working their way through the minor league system, and it’s possible that both of them - I’m talking, of course, about Lucas Giolito and A.J. Cole - could be ready to slide into the big league rotation in 2016. (The Nats might still choose to take things slowly with Giolito, however, who will only turn 21 in July and is still just two and a half years removed from Tommy John surgery.)
And yes, it’s certainly possible that even if Zimmermann and Fister reach free agency, that the Nats are still able to bring back one of them on a long-term contract. Just because a player becomes a free agent, doesn’t mean he’s a goner, as we might see with Max Scherzer and the Tigers at some point later on this winter (or spring).
But if the Nats don’t re-sign Zimmermann and Fister, and if they feel that they would rather not start the 2016 season by replacing those two with two significantly younger, less-experienced hurlers from the minor league ranks, there are still likely to be many starting pitching options out there for general manager Mike Rizzo to mull over.
Take a look at some of the starters who as of right now are either set to become free agents next offseason, or who could end up hitting the open market, either because of an opt-out or if their option for 2016 is not picked up. This is only the top-tier of starters who could reach free agency next winter, but the list is still very impressive.
Hat tip to MLBTradeRumors.com for compiling the contractual info:
Clay Buchholz (31) - $13 million club option for 2016
Johnny Cueto (30)
Doug Fister (32)
Yovani Gallardo (30)
Zack Greinke (32) - can opt out of remaining three years/$71 million
Hisashi Iwakuma (35)
Mat Latos (28)
Rick Porcello (27)
David Price (30)
Jeff Samardzija (31)
Alfredo Simon (35)
Jordan Zimmermann (30)
I mean, come on. And that doesn’t even include guys like Wei-Yin Chen, John Lackey, Scott Kazmir, Ian Kennedy, Tim Hudson, Jhoulys Chacin and others who are solid major league starters that could land solid contract offers.
In essence, there will be lots of options next offseason.
The Nats might keep both Zimmermann and Fister around through 2015, choosing to make a full run at a World Series even without a contract extension in place with one of those two pending free agents. But even if both Zimmermann and Fister hit free agency, the Nationals don’t need to panic. They have a couple of high-upside arms working their way through the minor league ranks, and the free agent market will be stocked with established starters next winter.