Nov 29, 2015, 3:01 PM EDT
Jordan Zimmermann signing away from the Nationals in free agency was not a surprise. And him choosing a team in the midwest, where he is from, is something many had long predicted.
But both the timing of his new contract and the terms he agreed to are perhaps surprising for some. Not only did Zimmermann sign before any of the other top pitchers – despite not being the biggest name available – his deal is only for five years and $110 million. That’s a lot of money, of course, but he was expected to potentially get more.
The $22 million Zimmermann will receive annually is a fair price. That would rank 16th among MLB contracts paid out for the 2015 season and eighth among starters.
Here is a look at the top earning starters from 2015:
1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers – $34.5M
2. Justin Verlander, Tigers – $28M
3. Felix Hernandez, Mariners – $25.8M
4. Jon Lester, Cubs – $25M
5. C.C. Sabathia, Yankees – $25M
6. Cole Hamels, Phillies/Rangers – $23.5M
7. Max Scherzer, Nationals – $22.1M
8. Mashiro Tanaka, Yankees – $22M
9. James Shields, Padres – $21M
10. Matt Cain, Giants – $20.8M
Zimmmermann signing for five years instead of six or seven, though, looks great for the Tigers.
Compare the $110 million committed to Zimmermann to the $210 million the Nats signed Max Scherzer for last winter, and it looks like a bargain. Zimmermann’s contract with Detroit will be up after the 2020 season, while Scherzer will be in Washington through 2021. Scherzer is also two years older than Zimmermann.
Lester’s deal with the Chicago Cubs last offseason was for six years and $155 million. Lester is left-handed and an accomplished playoff pitcher. He also had a better year before leaving in free agency. But his 3.07 ERA in the four seasons before he signed his deal (2011-14) is very similar to Zimmermann’s 3.13 ERA from 2012 through 2015. Both were across 129 starts.
Given the five-year terms for Zimmermann, he is essentially betting on himself to get another significant deal in his mid-30s. He will re-enter free agency at the age of 34. If Zimmermann pitches well through his Tigers deal, he could make a lot of money on a new contract through his late 30s. The Tigers, meanwhile, will get out of Zimmermann’s deal right when most stars begin their career decline.
Zimmermann ironically joins a Tigers team that is looking to replace the void left by Scherzer and Doug Fister, who both joined the Nationals in the last two offseasons. They also traded away David Price in the middle of this season to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Zimmermann will step in as possibly the No. 1 starter in Detroit. Justin Verlander is the biggest name in the Tigers’ rotation and he has the biggest contract. But Zimmermann has been a better pitcher over the last three seasons. Barring a renaissance for Verlander, Zimmermann could be the Tigers’ best starter.
The Tigers’ deal with Zimmermann isn’t a discount in terms of average annual value, but it does look favorable compared to some of the contracts handed out to elite starters in recent years. It will also spark a debate among Nationals fans as to whether the team should have tried harder to retain their homegrown star long-term, now that we know the price.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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