The Washington Nationals avoided arbitration with right-hander Jordan Zimmermann and left-hander Tom Gorzelanny early Tuesday, agreeing to one-year deals with both. Monetary terms of the deals were not publicly disclosed. CBSSports.com reported that Zimmermann will earn $2.3 million in 2012 and Gorzelanny will make $2.7 million.
Zimmermann, who is getting set to begin his second full season since 2009 Tommy John surgery, was the unquestioned ace of the Nationals’ staff in 2011 despite his season ending after just 161 ⅓ innings.
Barring working out a long-term extension, as a Super Two player, Zimmermann will still face three more years of arbitration before he hits free agency following the 2015 season.
He led the Nationals pitchers in strikeouts (124), their rotation in ERA (3.18), walked just 1.7 batters per nine innings and finished with a misleading 8-11 record — all without starting a single game after Aug. 28 due to an innings limit.
He’ll get the reins loosened on him this season and he’s expected to be without restrictions or constraints with regard to his surgically repaired right elbow. With the addition of Gio Gonzalez, Zimmerman is expected to combine with the left-hander and Stephen Strasburg to form one of the most dominant, young top of the rotations in the league.
Gonzalez, who was also a Super Two this offseason, signed a five-year, $42 million extension on Sunday that covers the rest of his arbitration years, his first year of free agency and options for two more years. If the team exercises both options, Gonzalez stands to make roughly $65 million over the life of his deal.
If the Nationals were interested in extending Zimmermann as well, or at least buying out his arbitration years in a similar fashion, they’ve set the precedent for what it would take at the minimum.
In 2011, Zimmermann and Gonzalez turned in remarkably similar stats — the biggest difference being in the strikeout and walk totals. Gonzalez, who struck out 197, also walked an American League-high 91 batters. Zimmermann, adhering to pitching coach Steve McCatty’s theory of pitching to contact, struck out fewer but also walked just 31 batters all season — 1.7 batters per nine innings, the third-best mark in the National League.
Zimmermann’s also a homegrown talent the Nationals plucked out of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with the supplemental pick from Alfonso Soriano leaving as a free agent. He’s shown significant progress and maturity through his first few major league seasons — even as he endured Tommy John ligament reconstruction surgery and rehab. His injury track record is something he does not share with Gonzalez, so the Nationals could prefer to go through this year with Zimmermann via the arbitration process and explore an extension once he has another full, healthy season under his belt.
As a pre-arbitration-eligible player in 2011, Zimmermann earned $415,000.
Gorzelanny, who came to Washington in a trade last offseason, began the year as the team’s fifth starter but eventually made his way to the bullpen and became a valuable long reliever. That’s the role the Nationals view for him entering 2012 and one that manager Davey Johnson has made clear he believes is paramount for any team that plans on contending.
He made $2.1 million in 2011, a year in which he worked to a 4.03 ERA in 105 innings while starting 15 games and appearing in 15 more as a reliever. As a reliever, Gorzelanny never allowed an inherited runner to score, and seemed to find more comfort in the relief role as time went on. While he made it clear that relieving was not what he’d have preferred to be doing, Gorzelanny acknowledged toward the end of the season that the bullpen was indeed growing on him and what he’d like most is just to have a definitive role — starter or reliever.
With the agreements with Zimmermann and Gorzelanny, the Nationals still have three remaining arbitration-eligible players to come to terms with before today’s noon deadline for the sides to exchange figures: left-hander John Lannan, right-hander Tyler Clippard and slugger Michael Morse.