Can we now make corny jokes about the hot-stove boiling up? On Sunday morning the Detroit Tigers made the first big splash of free agency, landing 29-year old righty, and ex-Washington National, Jordan Zimmermann on a five-year $110 million deal. Here’s three takeaways from the deal:
Zimmermann gets out in front
Zimmermann’s free agency was deemed as a big crossroads moment for the consistent starter. After having Tommy John surgery in 2009, Zimmermann has bounced back to good health and has been a reliably strong pitcher up until the 2015 campaign.
In 2015 Zimmermann’s velocity dipped, his fastball went from being a huge pro, to being somewhat of a con. Zimmermann’s four-seam exit velocity fell from a 91.55 mph average in 2014 to 89.5mph this past year. He began to walk more hitters – 1.31 BB/9 in 2014, 1.74 BB/9 in 2015 – and had to rely more on his off-speed stuff, leading to a lower whiff rate – 8.20 K/9 in 2014, 7.32 K/9 in 2015. His worsening fastball led to a rising ERA; up from 2.66 in 2014 to 3.66 in 2015 and seemingly cost himself a mega-contract, though Jon Heyman reports the deal will be “in the neighborhood of $100m”
Despite Zimmermann’s down year he represents a great value for money pickup. Though it appears (due to the dip in fastball velocity) that he could be entering a decline phase, it is worth noting that he is still just 29-years old, a three win player and still lodged 164 strikeouts in 2015.
With a loaded starting pitching class, Zimmermann smartly got out in front, penning a deal with the Tigers now rather than wait it out and be the guy without a chair when the music stops.
If Zimmermann returns to his 2014-self it will be a bargain pickup for the Tigers and Zimmermann will have sold himself, slightly, short.
The pitching market shrinks
The market just lost one of its, potential, ‘best value’ assets. Zimmermann is a solid, mid-rotation pitcher, coming of a down year, who is sub-30 with top-two starter upside.
The starting pitcher market now shrinks for those chasing the high-end starters. The likes of the Red Sox, Giants, Cubs and Dodgers, who are making noises about adding, not one, but two upper rotation arms just lost a potential fallback or complimentary option if the Price or Greinke negotiations do not go their way. The likes of Jeff Samardzija, Wei-Yin Chen and Ian Kennedy all shuffle up a place on teams free-agent boards.
Nationals lose talent
When the Nationals added Max Scherzer this past offseason it was a moved that appeared to give Washington the best rotation in the big leagues. As it turned out the Nationals didn’t even have the strongest rotation in their own division. With Zimmermann leaving and the potential losses of; Doug Fister, Ian Desmond and Denard Span, the Nationals are losing talented players who underperformed in 2015. They will have to dip into free agency, or their farm system, to find the collective 6.3 WAR that is set to leave the building. Financially, it all makes perfect sense, paying a combined $200 million for six wins is not smart. But as an organization that wants to win now, they need to replace the talent somehow.