The Washington Nationals came into the offseason with a long list of chores, most of which were taken care of by early December. The team added a top of the line starter in Doug Fister, bolstered the bench with Nate McLouth, and added a much-needed left handed specialist in Jerry Blevins. Clearly, it has been a busy and successful offseason for Mike Rizzo and the Nationals, but the team has still failed to accomplish their most import goal: extending the contracts of Jordan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond.
The Nationals signed Zimmermann and Desmond to two-year deals on Friday, buying out the remaining two years of arbitration for both players. Considering that for the last month or so the team’s number one priority has been to extend these young stars, the news came as no surprise to many. The Nationals may have avoided arbitration with these two players, but the fact still remains that both could be gone after 2015.
So, #Nationals addressed two big contractual questions – Desmond and Zimmermann – by buying out their arb years. Both still free after ’16.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 17, 2014
The Nats wanted to do long-term deals for Zimmermann and Desmond. At least for now, they settled for smaller pacts with both.
— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) January 17, 2014
Zimmermann, the team’s second round pick in the 2007 First Year Player Draft, has quietly become one of the best pitchers in the game. The 27-year-old righthander led the National League with 19 wins last season (along with the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright), and was selected to his first All-Star Game. Zimmermann boasts a 3.10 ERA over the last two seasons, and was undoubtedly the best starter for the Nationals last season.
Desmond had a career-year himself in 2013, batting .280 with 20 home runs and 80 RBI. The 28-year-old shortstop also stole 21 bases, becoming the first player in team history to have two consecutive 20/20 seasons. Desmond’s phenomenal performance earned him his second consecutive Silver Slugger Award, and an All-Star game selection. In the last two years, Desmond has established himself as one of the best shortstops in the game, both offensively and defensively. In Desmond, the Nationals not only have a weapon on the field, but they also have a leader in the clubhouse. Whether he’s calming down a pitcher on the mound, or letting players know that they can be better, Desmond is a true captain, an invaluable asset for a young team like the Washington Nationals.
Zimmermann and Desmond have been key players for the Nationals the last few seasons, and they should be a key part of the team’s future as well. For the last few years, the Nationals have done everything they can to establish a young team that is capable of contending for a long time. With Friday’s “extensions” to Zimmermann and Desmond however, the team took a major step backwards. Sure, the Nationals bought out the last two years of arbitration and ensured themselves two more seasons of Desmond and Zimmerman at a reasonable price. ($17.5 million and $24 million respectively). But in doing so, the team not only closed the door on signing either to a long-term deal this offseason, but they also made it very difficult to extend them next offseason. It’s one thing to try to extend players when they are two years away from free agency, but it is a much tougher sell to extend them when they are just one year away, and that is the only option the Nationals now have.
That being said, a two-year deal is better than nothing, as Zimmermann and Desmond likely would have been much more expensive with two years of arbitration. Not only that, but the Nationals accomplished both deals while keeping an amicable relationship with both players- something that will come in handy if the Nationals want to negotiate with either next offseason.
“They’ve been honest the whole time,” Zimmermann said. “There was never any hard feelings or anything like that. They were respectful and honest, told us what they wanted. And we were honest and told them what we wanted. It just didn’t work out. I’m staying in D.C. for another two years. I’m happy about that, and hopefully we can win a World Series.” -Zimmermann on his two-year extension to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post.
Zimmermann added that his two-year deal will ensure that there won’t be any contract-related distractions during Spring Training, and that it does not necessarily close the door on a potential contract extension next season.
“If a year down the road or after this season if there’s a long-term deal that works out for both sides, we’d be happy and willing to do it,” Zimmermann said. “This is just a small little deal that takes us away from the arbitration. Now I can focus on baseball and not have to worry about the other stuff.”
Signing Zimmerman and Desmond to two-year contract extensions has its benefits, but it is definitely not what the team, the players, or the fans wanted. While long-term extensions to one or both of them would be expensive for the Nationals, it is a price they should be willing to pay for two players that have given them so much over the years. However, the Nationals have still managed to keep a positive relationship with both Desmond and Zimmermann, so a deal could still get done next season. It also doesn’t hurt that the Lerners have very deep pockets, and when pressed to act next offseason, they may fork over enough money for both players.
It’s still possible that Zimmermann and Desmond will spend the rest of their careers in Washington. Unfortunately, Friday’s news made that possibility much more unlikely.