Jordan Zimmermann went from unofficially gone to officially gone this weekend, signing with the Tigers. It was a 5 year deal for 110 million which is one fewer year but more dollars per year than most people were pegging for ZNN (somewhere in the 6/20 range). That tells us that ZNN probably went to the Tigers for a little less than he might have been able to squeeze out of the market. Why?
Well, the obvious place our minds go is the whole "get to the MidWest" idea. A lot has been made that ZNN, born and raised in rural central Wisconsin, wanted to get back to that area. The four closest teams were the Brewers, Twins and Cubs/White Sox. The Brewers were not looking for a big signing, nor the White Sox, which leaves the Twins and Cubs. The Twins are expected to look for starting pitching, but haven't been linked to any big names and have only one player being paid more than 14 million. ZNN doesn't seem to fit. That leaves the Cubs as the only logical landing place but there seems to be a "Price or nothing" mindset forming in Chicago. They want Price and will try to get him but if they fail they won't spend a ton on starting pitching in free agency, either going for a cheaper deal (Samardjzia back?) or perhaps pursuing a trade instead. With all the driveable cities out it then becomes a question of flying, preferably flying into the local airport, Central Wisconsin Airport in Wausau. That has flights direct to Detroit, making it the next best option for staying "local".
There are also other reasons though. ZNN might have preferred to get a deal sooner rather than later for security reasons. Occasionally a player can wait himself out of a good contract, as all the big money teams commit to others. When this happens players will be forced to take market value deals for one year. You get a year older, add the risk of failing, and have to run through FA all over again. While it's likely that this wouldn't happen for a player as good as ZNN, it's not impossible given the depth of the pitching available. Someone is not going to get paid. He might also want to do it sooner, rather than later, just because that's what he favors. Don't drag it out. Get a fair deal. Take a fair deal. Now he's got all winter to find a place, move his family, get situated. I don't know the guy so this is the randomnest of speculation but it's worth putting out there.
The other thing this tells us is that the Nats initial deal (5/105) was exactly what we thought it was - the lowest end of fair. Coming off his 2014 season, where he went 14-5 with a 2.66 ERA, 1.072 WHIP and the best K and BB numbers of his career the Nats offered him 21 mill a year for 5 years (essentially). Coming off his 2015 season, where he went 13-10 with a 3.66 ERA, 1.205 WHIP and career average K and BB numbers the market valued him at at least 22 mill a year for 5. Coming into 2015 it was likely that ZNN's market value was closer to 6/132 or 5/120. The Nats tried to get a deal. They failed. All ZNN had to do was not collapse and he was better off. He didn't.*
What does this tell us about the Nats other FAs to be? Well, I'd say for most we can expect the same sort of "low end of fair" offers. Stammen might get offered a 3mill for 1 for 2017 if he seems healthy. Ramos might get a 2/8mill year deal if he repeats last year. Maybe they are talking to Gio about locking in 2017 (right now a team option) in return for a team option in 2019 for 15 mill or so. But Strasburg? Bryce? These are Boras clients and the Nats don't "low end fair" Boras clients. They'll either let them walk or pay them what they deserve. For Strasburg I'm thinking walk. For Bryce I'm thinking we'll have to wait.
How is this deal for the Tigers? Pretty good assuming ZNN's arm holds up. That's the big question - how long can you rely on an TJ'd arm? The Nats have an idea that it's about 8 years meaning ZNN has about 3 years left before BOOM. But at that point, age 32, it's not like pitchers without TJ history are completely healthy. I think if the Tigers get 3 years of solid ZNN pitching they'd take it. I think ZNN has the attitude you want. He doesn't seem to be the type to get fat and happy now that he's gotten paid. Plus Comerica tends to udnerplay HRs slightly more than Nats Park and a shift back to average HR/FB rates was a big reason his stats went up. Change of venue could help. Normally I worry about NL -> AL but the AL Central offensively is not particularly powerful and ZNN didn't particularly feast on the NL East this year. I've said it before I'm bullish on ZNN
For the Nats? Losing ZNN matters. That's 200IP that needs to be replaced by Ross, who has never pitched that many** and is a second year question mark or Roark, who did pitch 200 IP a couple years ago but had a legitimately mediocre 2015. Yes he was bounced back and forth and his breif stint in 2013 and full year in 2014 were much better. But it's also true that he's 29 next year and 2009-2012 Roark looks a lot like 2015 Roark. Chances that 2013-14 were Roark's peak are pretty good. The Nats will miss ZNN. Hopefully a little, maybe a lot.
**152 last year most ever, wouldn't be surprised if he was on an unofficial until it becomes official 180 IP limit in 2016