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With Zimmermann gone, now what?

Dec 1, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT

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Jordan Zimmermann leaving the Nationals as a free agent was essentially a foregone conclusion, so much so that the team has probably been making long-term plans without him in mind for months. And now that it’s official, the question becomes what is next for their pitching staff. Who will step in to fill Zimmermann’s place in the rotation, and is that player already within the organization?

As of this morning, the Nationals’ 2016 rotation projects like this:

RHP Max Scherzer (14-12, 2.49)
RHP Stephen Strasburg (11-7, 3.46)
LHP Gio Gonzalez (11-8, 3.79)
RHP Joe Ross (5-5, 3.64)
RHP Tanner Roark (4-7, 4.38)

**stats are from 2015 season**

That’s still a pretty good group. It is probably good enough to get the Nationals back to the playoffs as is, barring injuries or something unforeseen.

But ‘good enough’ has not stopped the Nationals in recent years from upgrading their starting staff and doing something unexpected along the way. Remember, the Nationals had the best rotation ERA in 2014 before they forked over $210 million to sign Scherzer, the biggest free agent on the market last winter.

The Nats certainly have that option this year, if they want to dip back into free agency. This year’s class is loaded with David Price, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, John Lackey, Yovani Gallardo and Jeff Samardzija headlining a group that is rare in its depth of star power. That route, however, costs lots of money. Just because Zimmermann signed for five years and $110 million, doesn’t mean others would. Cueto, for instance, is aiming for over $140 million.

If they choose to make a change, they could also try to trade for a starter, as they did for Doug Fister before the 2014 season and Gio before 2012. Both of those trades involved giving up multiple prospects for a proven veteran player under team control beyond one season.

Guys of Fister and Gio’s ilk are not easy to find, but San Diego’s Tyson Ross (Joe’s brother) and Tampa Bay’s Alex Cobb are two examples of excellent starting pitchers who do not hit free agency until after the 2017 season. The 2016 class of starting pitching free agents is not a good one, but the group set for the following year is decent.

There is also the option of promoting from within. Ross and Roark fit that mold and both are capable starters. Ross, in particular, has a very good chance of being in the Nats’ 2016 rotation after taking Fister’s place in 2015.

Roark, though, has no guarantees. If the Nats weren’t convinced in him as a starter after he held a 2.85 ERA in 31 starts in 2014, will they change their tune after he posted a 4.82 ERA in 12 starts in 2015?

Beyond Ross, the Nationals also have super prospect Lucas Giolito waiting in the wings. He could conceivably win a rotation spot out of spring training, or take one midseason after starting in the minors. But he’s only 21 years old and is still building his way back from Tommy John surgery. Last season he threw a career-high of 117 innings.

The Nationals have a fine rotation as it currently stands, but we have also said that before at this time of the year. Will they do something unexpected?

Also, if you can stomach it, here is video of Zimmermann’s introductory press conference held Monday in Detroit:

  1. nats1924 - Dec 1, 2015 at 6:28 AM

    Rizz should deal Stras while his stock is somewhat decent.

    Like JZim, he is gone as soon as he has the chance.

    • unkyd59 - Dec 1, 2015 at 8:16 AM

      Riz should offer Stras something like he gave Max… Having those two anchor the staff for the foreseeable future, and filling it out with what’s in the pipeline (including 4 of the top 60 picks this year), sounds like minimal rotation worries, for quite awhile… Trading Stras now just means signing someone older for sick money, if they want to compete this year…

      • Jay Cee Bullock - Dec 1, 2015 at 12:44 PM

        Strasburg is too injury prone – in the head and in the body – to be offered something long term. The Nationals have one albatross contract (Werth) and another possible one years down the line (Scherzer) so we don’t need one attached to an injury (Strasburg).

  2. ArVAFan - Dec 1, 2015 at 7:50 AM

    Rizzo: expect the unexpected. Which makes the unexpected, expected. So should we be more surprised if he does something, or does nothing? Too Zen: back to the coffee.

    • trfwans - Dec 1, 2015 at 9:32 AM

      Max + Stras + Gio + Ross + Roark = 85% of a full season starting rotation. If Rizzo does nothing to alter that equation, he’s a fool. And I for one don’t think he is.

      • ArVAFan - Dec 1, 2015 at 9:56 AM

        Recent quote from Rizzo: “I feel comfortable sliding Joe (Ross) and Tanner (Roark) into our starting rotation. having said that, you can never have too much starting pitching.” Hmm. I think another starting pitcher is on the holiday menu for Mr. Rizzo.

        Of course if you add Giolito to your equation, you might get 125% of a full season starting rotation, which might just do it.

      • trfwans - Dec 1, 2015 at 10:16 AM

        Anyone who thinks that a rookie pitcher with no big league experience who will be on an innings limit can eat 40% of the starting pitching innings in 2016 really is a fool.

      • ArVAFan - Dec 1, 2015 at 11:25 AM

        Sorry, took a little shortcut there. Each starting pitcher would be expected to cover 20% of the starts. That’s 6 pitchers times 20% or 120%. Add a handful of “short rest” starts (really five day’s rest, but with days off between) you could expect 21% from each (hence 126%) in a perfect world.

        Non-perfect world? Yep. But you don’t have 126% of starts to cover, either. So with DL stints for someone (who knows?), that’s why you only were expecting 85% from the five named starters. Throw in 15% for Giolito, and that gets you to 100%, which is really what you need. I don’t think 15% from Giolito is out of the question.

      • trfwans - Dec 1, 2015 at 12:26 PM

        Giolito will be pitching in the minors. Those innings count against his limit too, so he won’t be available for late season backfill a la Lannan 2012. Likewise, if Ross has pitched all season in the rotation he’ll be petering out by September. That’s why the prudent move is to start the season with Ross or Roark in the bullpen or AAA, and the starter that Rizzo acquires this offseason in the rotation.

      • therealjohnc - Dec 1, 2015 at 10:54 PM

        Or … they could keep Giolito in extended Spring Training for a few weeks to make sure that Giolito is available later in the season.

  3. NatsNut - Dec 1, 2015 at 8:40 AM

    Can’t watch it. Too soon.

    • Doc - Dec 1, 2015 at 8:51 AM

      Yeah me too, NatsNut. Why bother—he’s gone, gone, gone, already!

  4. Whack-A-Mule - Dec 1, 2015 at 8:44 AM

    “good enough . . .”
    “probably good enough . . .”

    These are not words of reassurance from Mr. Hughes.
    When we are discussing a team which, for 3 seasons, had a roster that was top-to-bottom “good enough”,
    yet failed to win anything, to enter 2016 with a lesser roster than before presages inferior results.

    No matter how many times the Nats win (or don’t win) the N.L. East, such a feat is ipso facto valueless without
    the ability to transcend and progress.

    (The late) George Allen put it most aptly:
    “The future is now.”

    • unkyd59 - Dec 1, 2015 at 8:47 AM

      “Lesser roster” is jumping to pessimistic conclusions, prematurely and needlessly.

      • therealjohnc - Dec 1, 2015 at 12:02 PM

        The Nats entered 2015 with an excellent “paper” roster, which was then wiped out by injuries (Werth, Zimmerman, Span, Rendon), underperformance (Desmond, Ramos, most of the pitching staff not named Scherzer, Ross or Rivero), and to an unknown extent, managing (the Nationals underperformed their “Pythagorean” record by six games). It’s quite possible, even likely, that a roster that isn’t as good “on paper” ends up playing much better simply due to better health and better management.

    • therealjohnc - Dec 1, 2015 at 11:57 AM

      Of course, George Allen never won a Super Bowl, and his record in the playoffs was 2-6. So there’s that.

      And year after year, teams go “all in” and end up busting. The most aggressive, sexy teams in the offseason last year? The Marlins, Padres and Red Sox – winners of 71, 74 and 78 games. And yet year after year, we fall for the overwhelming urge to “do SOMETHING!!!!”

    • naterialguy - Dec 1, 2015 at 10:35 PM

      What did George Allen ever win? Control freak kept is from having a chance in super bowl 7 and gutted the team for several years. Thank god we don’t have someone like him running the team.

  5. Doc - Dec 1, 2015 at 8:55 AM

    I give TRoark more credible expectations for a good season ’16 than Chase.

    I’m hoping that we see the season ’14 Roark.

    • jd - Dec 1, 2015 at 10:22 AM

      Doc,

      There is too much history prior to 2014 to be overly optimistic that 2014 was the real Roark. It could be but I would certainly have a plan B in case it doesn’t work.

      Best case scenario has Giolito in 2016 tracking what Ross did in 2015 but that is still expectation based on hope and I also feel that Ross while having a very positive outlook is also not a sure thing.

      I would have made Fister a QO to cover my ass and I may be inclined to bring someone like Samardja or Leake in for insurance (Unless the cost is ridiculous).

      • virginiascopist - Dec 1, 2015 at 11:36 AM

        I agree with the suggestion that Rizzo bring in another SP and let Roark and Ross fight it out during spring training for the fifth spot (with the “loser” going to the bullpen potentially). I don’t know a whole lot about Leake, but I have always liked Samardzija. Chen would be good as well, but I’d rather stay away from players who would cost us a draft pick.

      • therealjohnc - Dec 1, 2015 at 1:41 PM

        While I am concerned about Roark, I’ll point out that it’s not like 2014 was his only good year. He was really good, in a variety of roles, in 2013 as well.

    • natsfan1a - Dec 1, 2015 at 11:06 AM

      Well, you never know. Chase could report tanned and rested at spring training time and have himself a career year. Oh, wait. You meant Tanner. Never mind.

  6. langleyclub - Dec 1, 2015 at 10:26 AM

    Wei-Yin Chin. Boras client. 3.8 WAR last year; has put up solid numbers each of the last two seasons in the AL. He is a target.

    • jd - Dec 1, 2015 at 10:30 AM

      Would be an excellent addition.

    • Doc - Dec 1, 2015 at 11:39 AM

      Interestingly, only Maxie (6.4) and Gio (3.7) are the only Nats’ pitchers rating in the top 30 MLB WAR pitchers.

      Long gone JZim not to be found on the list. So yeah, Wei-Yin Chin might merit some attention. He would probably come a lot cheaper than Zimmermann

      • TimDz - Dec 1, 2015 at 3:32 PM

        Chin is a fly ball pitcher….that concerns me, especially over the summer days with the ball park playing small and the jet stream rolls out to right center field…

  7. kirbs3256 - Dec 1, 2015 at 12:02 PM

    In my “I would be the greatest GM in the freaking world” world I would:

    1-Either extend Stras now or trade him. I am not going to be left with nothing to show but a pick.
    2-Trade Escobar on the heels of his good offensive year
    3- Sign someone to give TT more minor league time to buy another year of team control. Perhaps a mid level person who can play SS and 2B (or perhaps somebody like Jimmy Rollings (YEAH YEAH I KNOW) – if he was willing to teach – TT on the ins and outs of MI).
    4-Offer Greinke 3 yr/100 Mil.
    5-Sign Steve Pearce for insurance at pretty much ever position there is.
    6-Sign Parra or (depending what it cost) Span for a Lefty/Righty rotation with Werth and Taylor.
    7- RELIEF PITCHING!!!!!

    My roster would pretty much go
    1-Max
    2-Stras (Greinke)/ Other middle of the road starter you can sign (Samardzija or someone equal)
    3-Gio
    4-Roark
    5-Ross
    6-Zimm
    7-Espo
    8-Shortstop that is signed
    9-Rendon
    10-Harpeer
    11-Werth
    12-Taylor
    13-Parra/Span
    14-Pearce
    15-Ramos
    16-Lobo (or whatever is decided for the backup catcher)
    17- I
    18- I
    19- I
    20- I
    21- Bullpen, I’m not even going to go there
    22- I
    23- I
    24- Robinson (Unless he plays himself off of the team, but it doesn’t seem likely)
    25- And your typical 25th man of Den Decker/T. Moore/one of those other random people signed to Minor league deals that really sticks out/extra bullpen guy

    • DaveB - Dec 1, 2015 at 4:16 PM

      I always find it annoying when folks say that we should extend or trade Strasburg (or any similar player), so you’re not left with “nothing to show but a pick”.
      The other thing you are “left with” is a year of pitching by potentially one of the best in baseball. As your bullet #4 implies, that year of usage is worth something like $30M on the open market, so there is no reason to trade him and pay that price for a similar FA unless you can get at least that kind of value in the trade.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Dec 1, 2015 at 11:20 PM

        Just saying. It’s a lot easier to fantasize in print about being a GM than being a player. The details tend to trip folks up a lot faster.

  8. edbrinkman - Dec 1, 2015 at 12:04 PM

    Boz had some interesting insights on JZ in his ‘chat’ yesterday. Worth the read.

  9. Eugene in Oregon - Dec 1, 2015 at 4:18 PM

    No offense to anyone, but after five straight Jordan Zimmermann posts can we move on to something else?

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Dec 1, 2015 at 11:30 PM

      It’s December. No offense, but what do you suggest?

  10. Section 222 - Dec 1, 2015 at 5:18 PM

    Price to Boston — 7 yrs/$217 million. Nothing deferred like Max. Wow.

    • Doc - Dec 1, 2015 at 5:23 PM

      Price and Max will be pitching in rockers at the ends of their contract, albeit very expensive rockers!

      I guess there is no end to baseball money.

      • senators5 - Dec 2, 2015 at 12:17 PM

        As long as fans keep paying astronomical amounts for tickets, $9+ for 50c amt of beer, etc,. etc,. and more and more TV ads making games last 3+ hours baseball will be just fine with all of its millionaires.

    • langleyclub - Dec 1, 2015 at 5:49 PM

      Which team will get more value out of the deal? Scherzer and Price were both 30 when the Nats and Red Sox committed to them for 7 years. So much risk flows from a long term deal for a pitcher.

    • jd - Dec 1, 2015 at 5:57 PM

      I read where Dombrowski was prepared to go $30 mil over the highest bidder for Price. They were going to get him regardless. This really sets up Greinke because he is the last pitcher of this caliber left and there are a bunch of clubs desperate for ace level pitching.

      Cueto is also very smart (IMO) for refusing the 1st offer. He’ll get a bundle also.

    • ehay2k - Dec 2, 2015 at 7:11 AM

      Sooooo, I wonder what Jordan could have earned if he’d waited until after Price signed? He still may have gone to the Tigers, but for quite a bit more. Every percentage point is a Million dollars! Sure, he probably can’t spend it all, but that is not entirely the point. He may have given up something for nothing.

      I thought the telling point was he said it was important that he was the Tigers’ top choice. Seems like he wanted to be someone’s number one option. Were the years of living in Stras’ shadow, then Scherzer’s, a factor in his decision? He may never have truly felt the love from the Nats, despite being an all-star and an opening day starter. Perhaps, after he retires, we’ll learn more about his (and his agent’s) relationship with the Nats front office. But since it’s Zimmermann, probably not, lol. His epitaph is likely to be something like: “This spot seemed as good as any.”

      • therealjohnc - Dec 2, 2015 at 8:59 AM

        I hesitate to engage in mind reading – it’s just as likely that he was simply referring to the free agency process. I’ll note that, even in Detroit, he’s not going to be the Opening Day starter unless Verlander gets hurt.

      • DaveB - Dec 2, 2015 at 9:27 AM

        It seemed to me that his comments were more along the lines that because he was Detroit’s top choice he could get this done quickly, so that he could get on with moving his family, settling in to his offseason program, etc.. without having to wait through other teams determining whether they could sign their first choices. Given the “no trade” clause he insisted on, it seems like the “rumours” that he really wanted to get back to the midwest probably had some truth to them, and if he had a pretty limited list of teams he wanted to consider, I can see that it may have made sense for him to try to get one of those teams to lock in quickly.

      • ehay2k - Dec 2, 2015 at 11:41 AM

        DaveB, that seems pretty plausible to me.

  11. natsred4dndc - Dec 2, 2015 at 1:05 PM

    Interesting article at BP on just how risky signing JZimm long term really was, from an objective perspective:
    http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=27970
    I’ve heard that the Nats believe that the life of a rebuilt elbow is around 7 years, give or take. Even allowing for a large variability there, letting him walk may very well reflect an organizational decision not to take the risk of signing him through his post-surgery year 10.
    Which, barring a trade, may tell us how the Strasburg case will be handled as well.

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