We talked about this yesterday on twitter but for those on the blog I wanted to reiterate. It's been noted that Zimmermann is available in trade and the question is why. By results Zimmermann has been the best pitcher on the Nats over the past few seasons. He's younger (29 in May), healthy (hasn't missed a start since coming back from Tommy John and has thrown over 600IP the past 3 years), and is willing to re-sign. Of course the answer is pretty easy. He wants a fair market contract and that means he wants to get paid. The Nats have to weigh that type of contract carefully, especially considering they have other players who might be up for big paydays themselves (Fister and Ian after 2015, Stras, Storen, and Ramos after 2016),
But it could be more than that. It could be an organizational philosophy against signing ANY pitchers long-term. Let's look at the long term contracts that have been signed under Mike Rizzo's tenure. These do not include option years because as far as I know there isn't a player option in there.
Zimm 09-13 5/45
Stras 09-12 4/15.1
Bryce 11-15 5/9.9
Burnett 11-12 2/3.95
Rendon 11-14 4/7.2
Purke 11-14 4/4.15
Stammen 13-14 2/2.25
ZNN 14-15 2/24
Desmond 14-15 2/17.5
These can be ignored. These aren't market deals. They are buying out arbitration years by definition they are undermarket.
What we're left with is 11 mutli-year market deals (10 made, Span's traded for). Out of the 11, eight are for batters. Instead of money and the exact years, I'll show the contract length and age at the end of the deal.
Pudge 2yrs 39
Werth 7yrs 38
LaRoche 2yrs 32
Zimm 6yrs 34
Morse 2yrs 30
LaRoche 2yrs 34
Span 2 yrs 30
McLouth 2 yrs 33
Marquis 2yrs 32
Maya 4yrs 31
Soriano 2yrs 34
It's hard not to see a pattern here. Rizzo really doesn't like long term deals (who does?) or being locked into older players (again) but is willing to do so for offensive players on occasion. You kind of get the understanding why a Jeff Baker deal never happened. Two years for a guy that would be 34 at the end... that's not a deal Rizzo likes to make, certainly not for a non-starter.
For a pitcher it's even worse. Just 3 market deals and it's very questionable how much Rizzo himself wanted that Soriano deal.
This isn't necessarily a bad strategy. Just look at the Nats record. You are not tying yourself down to players giving the team great flexibility to adjust plans if not yearly than at least every other year. You are relying on players in their peak performance years, and years where they are still relatively low injury risks. It's a great plan, in fact, when you have a lot of young cheap talent to fill in the gaps.
The issue with the Nats is that young cheap talent is about to roll over into not young, far more expensive talent. Let's imagine the contract Zimmermann would get. Homer Bailey got 6/105 last year and that included a year of arbitration bought out. Consider that a starting point. Let's say... 6/120. 20 million a year. Zimmerman would be 36 by the end of it. That is a Werth/Zimm deal and nothing like any deal Rizzo has given to a pitcher in DC. Could it happen? Sure, but look at how the Nats allegedly approached him last year. Supposedly it was 5/85, buying out 2 arbitration years. That deal is undermarket, only paying for 3 FA years, and would have cut him loose after age 33. It's not at all the same as the deal he could get.
This is the beginning of the story of the Nats from now until the 2017 season starts. There doesn't seem to be enough young talent in the system to replace what could leave. No SS for Ian, no catcher for Wilson, no closer for Storen, not enough SP to cover ZNN, Fister, and Stras. Are the Nats going to turn a new page and try to lock up this talent through say age 35, a decent stopping point for the most productive players? Or do they stick with they strategy they have now?
This is part of the reason I could see Strasburg and Ramos get the big deals this year not ZNN, Fister or Desmond. Ramos (27 next year) and Stras (26) could be signed to 5-6 year deals at close to market value (think Bailey's deal). You wouldn't have to kill yourself matching the market because you'd buy out a couple arbitration years and you'd be letting them go the the wind in their early 30s sticking to the current plan. But we'll see. I still think Desmond has a chance to be back based on Rizzo's patterns up until now and the dearth of decent SS replacements in house and out there. But ZNN and Fister (when's the last time you heard anything about Fister?) I think they are as good as gone.
*Where is Gio's deal? It only covered one FA year so it doesn't fit my definition. It was a classic well under market, slightly over arbitration deal.