During the broadcast of Saturday’s spring training game against the Cardinals, Nationals commentator F.P. Santangelo on MASN mentioned that the number one discussion on the street, the topic that the most people had asked him about, was who the starter should be for Opening Day.
It’s a fair question. After all, the Washington Nationals likely boasted one of the top rotations even before they handed out $215 million dollars for Max Scherzer. Now they have at least three pitchers who would be obvious choices for the staff ace for most other franchises. It makes sense that fans and analysts alike would look at that rotation and debate who should get the nod to face the Mets on April 6.
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Some people might argue for Stephen Strasburg. After all, he is one of the players people seen as the foundation of the franchise moving forward and he did start Game 1 of the NLDS last season. Others, like our own Ricky Keeler, could make a case for Jordan Zimmermann. It’s also possible, though less likely, that you could make a case for Gio Gonzalez or Doug Fister.
True, you can make the case for almost any of the Nationals five starters, but when you really get down to it, the argument is really between two pitchers: Nats former second round draftee Jordan Zimmermann, or their big free agent signing, Max Scherzer. It’s a tough argument, and to be honest, there’s almost no real wrong answer. Either way, the Nats will be trotting out an elite pitcher on Opening Day.
If I had to make my choice, though, I’d have to take the $210 million dollar man.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t have anything against Jordan Zimmermann. He’s been the best Nationals starter over the past two seasons and his performance in Game 2 of the NLDS last season was nothing short of spectacular, even in spite of the fact that the Nationals could not capitalize on his performance. Zimmermann has done nothing that could be looked down upon. That being said, Scherzer still deserves the nod over him.
For one, you don’t pay a player $210 million and almost immediately show him that he’s second fiddle. Sure, you could explain to Scherzer why you were starting someone else over him (assuming, of course, that you had a good reason), but actions speak louder than words. No matter the logic, giving the start to Zimmermann too easily looks like he’s valued over Scherzer.
It could also cause issues in the very near future due to the fact that Jordan Zimmermann is up for a new contract. It’s highly likely that Zimmermann’s agent, Mark Pieper, will look to use the Scherzer deal as leverage for his client. After all, that’s what agents do: they take recent players of the same position and talent level and attempt to add money to it. When free agency hits next year, the Scherzer deal could easily become a baseline for Pieper and Zimmermann.
If the Nationals give Zimmermann the nod, what they’re essentially saying is that they value Zimmermann even more than Scherzer. All that does is hand Zimmermann’s people more leverage in their negotiations. If the Nats hope to keep Jordan, they can’t shoot themselves in the foot by driving up his asking price. It’ll be hard enough for them to match his price tag without adding fuel to the fire.
While it’s true that both Zimmermann and Scherzer are elite pitchers and the Nationals can’t really go wrong by starting either one, it really behooves them to go with the man they’re paying the big money to. After all, if you aren’t going to give him the Opening Day start, as you would your true ace, why’d you pay him the big money in the first place?