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Did Zimmermann sign at a discount?

Nov 29, 2015, 3:01 PM EDT

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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.

  1. oldtownatsfan - Nov 29, 2015 at 3:09 PM

    Seems like it should end the debate, not spark it–he clearly didn’t want to stay in DC, regardless of how hard the Nats tried to keep him. Best of luck to him in Detroit!

  2. unkyd59 - Nov 29, 2015 at 3:16 PM

    $210 mil divided by 7 years= 22.1 mil?

    • philipd763 - Nov 29, 2015 at 3:43 PM

      Scherzer’s contract is $210 million for seven seasons but if my memory serves me correctly, the payout may be over ten years. In other words, some of the contract is deferred.

      • unkyd59 - Nov 29, 2015 at 6:38 PM

        Its paid over 14 seasons, but that’s beside the point, to me. He’s getting $210 mil for 7 seasons work. I don’t see a better way to compare deals, than to say he gets paid $30 per year….. Right?

      • philipd763 - Nov 29, 2015 at 7:23 PM

        Right!

      • therealjohnc - Nov 30, 2015 at 9:19 AM

        Two things: (1) Chase is technically correct; under Scherzer’s contract he is scheduled to make $22.143M/year for each of the next three seasons. You can look it up on any of a number of web sites.
        (2) Although Scherzer’s contract value is listed as 7/$130M, so much of the money in Scherzer’s deal is deferred for so long that it significantly affects the value of the overall deal. The present value figure used by the MLB/MLBPA is $191.4M for the contract, which equates to $27.34M AAV. When compared with Jordan Zimmermann’s 5/$110M ($22M AAV) and discounting a bit for the present value of THAT deal (however it is structured) and the difference between the two contracts in AAV is about $5.5M (or, as we say around here, 1 McLouth).

        For that, the Nationals get a pitcher who is one year older at the time the deals were signed (Scherzer was 30 when he signed his deal; JZim 29) – and who is on his first elbow. That’s at least a push, and might work to the Nationals’ advantage. But you take that back because the Scherzer deal does go those extra two seasons. More importantly, despite what some internet types will tell you, for the extra $5.5M a season the Nats are getting a much better pitcher. Much. It’s not really that close. Scherzer has not only been consistently 1-2 WAR better per season than Zimmermann, but to put it in perspective, Scherzer’s average WAR (however calculated) is better than Zimmermann’s career year of 2014.

      • therealjohnc - Nov 30, 2015 at 9:20 AM

        I meant to say, Scherzer’s average WAR over the past four seasons is better than Zimmermann’s career year.

    • trfwans - Nov 29, 2015 at 3:46 PM

      Backloaded contract with deferred payments. Comparing contracts based on AAV or total price for different years of signing tells you nothing. It’s like real estate prices. This year’s market and last year’s market are completely different things, and the prices are based solely on the market in which they were signed.

  3. langleyclub - Nov 29, 2015 at 3:44 PM

    Surprised that the Brewers and/or Cubs didn’t match that offer (maybe they did), but Zimmerman is a Wisconsin native, and would think that if getting closer to home is important; nothing could be closer than Milwaukee (Chicago is also closer than Detroit; because of Lake Michigan; driving from Michigan to Wisconsin is not that easy). Also, that would allow ZImmerman to stay in the NL (which I would think he would prefer).

    Maybe MLB has injury concerns about JZ. Definitely surprised that the deal is not longer.

    • philipd763 - Nov 29, 2015 at 7:28 PM

      Maybe JZ wanted to pitch in a pitchers’ ballpark with its huge dimensions. Cubs and Brewers ballparks are hitters parks. He can row across Lake Michigan and be home in a jiffy!

  4. NationalAnthem - Nov 29, 2015 at 3:52 PM

    I always got the impression that Znn was a different kind of guy…pretty quiet and following his own drum beat. Perhaps this contract just fits into his master plan for himself: get the one, big payoff then retire (at 34/35). He’d be young enough still to enjoy 100+ million and live where he wants to. I can’t imagine living out of hotel rooms 9 months out of the year is too glamorous; why continue once he’s completed the contract and he’s got more money than he needs for the rest of his life.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Nov 29, 2015 at 4:05 PM

      In general terms, I’d agree, particular re the ‘master plan for himself’ notion. None of us can even pretend to know what the specific elements of each player’s individual free-agent-contract equation are. We make a lot of assumptions about ‘being close to family’ or ‘taking the biggest paycheck’ or whatever, but there’s sure to be multiple factors involved, some personal and some professional. Regardless of whether he might have gotten another year or a bit more money, Mr. Zimmermann has set himself and his family up for the next several generations (at least). Good luck to him.

  5. tcostant - Nov 29, 2015 at 5:01 PM

    I’m glad he is in the AL now.

  6. Sonny G 10 - Nov 29, 2015 at 5:59 PM

    I hope he got more money than we would have gotten here. If he left just because he didn’t like DC or the Nationals, that would piss me off. I put a lot of in for him over his career here and I don’t like to be jilted. I am sad to see him go. On the other hand, if it opens a slot for a better pitcher for us, then I take this all back. 🙂

    • Sonny G 10 - Nov 29, 2015 at 6:00 PM

      “lot of love in for him”

      • NatsLady - Nov 30, 2015 at 8:34 AM

        You can’t make people love you, no matter how much you may do for them, or how dearly you care. The quiet Midwestern “type” (I have a few in my family) will go along their own road. Sometimes it marches with yours, sometimes not.

  7. JamesFan - Nov 29, 2015 at 6:43 PM

    The Tigers got a real bargain in JZnn. He has been the best, toughest and most reliable Nats starter since baseball came back to DC. Others got the hype. JZ did the job. I’m sure he will do well in Detroit.

  8. bigcat492 - Nov 29, 2015 at 6:57 PM

    Who is Zim’s agent. He signed pretty early didn’t he?

    • philipd763 - Nov 29, 2015 at 7:33 PM

      Mark Pieper

  9. momhw - Nov 30, 2015 at 10:11 AM

    Not knowing anything else, but if you had an equal chance to pitch for Detroit or Chicago Cubs, which would you choose? Certainly not the Tigers with little hope of anything but 3rd or 4th place in their division. Tiger stadium may be big but they are a terrible defensive team.

  10. raleighnat - Nov 30, 2015 at 10:28 AM

    Does seem like he didn’t like the fit in DC. I would never have expected him to sign so quickly at this price.

  11. DC_NatFan - Nov 30, 2015 at 8:28 PM

    He wouldn’t give the Nats a discount, and went ahead and signed with Detroit for less that he would had got had he signed with the Nats before the 2015 campaign. I think he thought he was on line for a payout of 140 to 150 millions. Picked a hell of a time to have a good, but not quite a stellar season. I am a sort of an unforgiving fan when it comes to these issues. I hope he gets shelled every time he goes out.

  12. bigcat492 - Dec 1, 2015 at 9:41 AM

    I see Cueto turned down 120 mil for 6 years. He should of grabbed that and ran. He’s on the downside. Can’t believe Dbacks would offer that

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