The Nationals had two potential long-term contract extension candidates entering the offseason. On Friday, they avoided arbitration with both right-handed pitcher Jordan Zimmermann and shortstop Ian Desmond for the next two seasons.
But, for now at least, that’s as far as it goes. Zimmermann signed a two-year deal worth $24 million. Desmond gets a two-year deal worth $17. 5 million. Extensions are still possible for both players, if less likely. Zimmermann and Desmond would be free agents after the 2015 season.
Washington was busy on Friday. It also avoided arbitration with catcher Wilson Ramos ($2.095 million) and relief pitchers Drew Storen ($3.45 million) and Jerry Blevins. On Thursday the Nats agreed to terms with starting pitcher Ross Detwiler ($3 million). All of those contracts were one-year deals. But Zimmermann and Desmond are the more intriguing stories. Both men were due big raises this offseason.
Desmond, 28, has become one of the better shortstops in baseball. He has 45 home runs over the last two seasons, second only to Baltimore’s J.J. Hardy (47) for homers at the position. According to the popular web site Fangraphs.com, Desmond has been worth 10 wins above replacement (WAR) over the past two years. Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus is next at 6.8.
Washington will pay Desmond $6.5 million in 2014 and $11 million in 2015. He made $3.8 million last season. Desmond has won a Silver Slugger each of the past two seasons as the top hitter among National League shortstops and has shown steady improvement defensively since making 34 errors as a rookie in 2010.
For Zimmermann, 27, the Nats were likely hedging against two arbitration losses, which, with another strong season, probably would have pushed their commitment to him over the next two years to over $24 million.
Zimmermann posted a 3.25 ERA in 2013. He was at 2.94 in 2012 and 3.18 in 2011 in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. He will make $7.5 million in 2014 and $16.5 in 2015. That large leap in salary and his status as a one-year rental could limit Zimmermann’s trade value next winter.
But Zimmermann’s stats also compare favorably to pitchers like Zack Greinke (Los Angeles Dodgers) and Cole Hamels (Philadelphia Phillies). Those players signed contract extensions in 2012.
Greinke will make $24 million in 2014 and his deal pays another $118 million total over the next five seasons. Hamels gets $22.5 million in each of the next five seasons. At $16.5 million some team may see Zimmermann as a relative bargain even if for just one season.