What Are the Nationals Going to Do About Jordan Zimmermann?

Could Washington trade away their ace right-hander with free agency looming after the 2015 season?

The rumor shot through the world wide googleweb on Tuesday night as if it were blasted from a cannon.

The Chicago Cubs, who are looking to upgrade their starting rotation as it prepares to launch an all-out offensive on the National League this season, had contacted the Washington Nationals about a trade involving the Nats' ace right-hander Jordan Zimmermann.

My thoughts exactly.

Of course, when the report saw the light of day on Wednesday morning, a healthy dose of cold water was dumped on it.

But the rumor in and of itself shines a light on a tenuous situation in the nation's capital. Just what are the Nationals going to do with their ace, who has established himself as one of the 10 or 15 best pitchers in the Majors?


Zimmermann's nERD of 1.85 - meaning over a 27-out game, Zimmermann would have allowed 1.85 fewer runs than a league-average pitcher - was 29th in all of baseball last year. However, Zimmermann became even more dominant in the second half of '14, posting a 2.18 ERA and allowing batters to hit just .211 against him. After the halfway point, he also secured an on-base percentage (OBP) of .241 and a slugging percentage (SLG) of .329, while striking out 24.2% of all batters he faced.

There's no doubt Zimm is one of the best pitchers in the National League. But here's where the rubber meets the road.

He is in the last year of his contract and can become a free agent after the 2015 season. He is slated to make $16.5 million this season, but given his emergence as a true staff ace, he could demand a huge price on the open market. And virtually every Major League player on the ascendancy of his career, especially one who will be just 30 years old in 2016, likes the idea of seeing what he is worth on the open market.

Back in the spring, the Nats opened contract extension negotiations with Zimmermann's agent but so far have had no success in reaching an agreement. You could expect he is seeking a deal similar to those signed recently by Cole Hamels (six years, $144 million) and Homer Bailey (six years, $105 million), and it's possible that, if he has another outstanding season in 2015, he could demand a deal in the neighborhood of what Max Scherzer and Jon Lester are due to receive this off-season.

So, Washington has a decision to make.

If they feel Zimmermann isn't interested in re-signing with the team, should they cut bait and trade him, gaining some high-level prospects in the process? Were they to do that, the Nats could then turn around and attempt to sign Scherzer, Lester or James Shields. They could also wait until the trade deadline to trade him or give him a qualifying offer at the end of the season and pick up a first round draft pick if he leaves for another team.

A Zimmermann extension would require the Nationals to increase their payroll, with free agents Ian Desmond and Doug Fister also in the final years of their contracts. If Washington wants to keep all three, they're going to have to see their budget go over the $144 million it is expected to be next year.

Obviously, the Nats are in win-now mode. If Zimmermann is traded before the start of next season, it would probably have to be done soon so that they could then turn around and sign one of the three "aces" on the free agent market. But Washington cannot go into next season without Zimmermann or a comparable arm to replace him.

The Nationals have some tricky decisions to make regarding their ace right-hander. And while it appears this Zimm-to-the-Cubs rumor doesn't have legs, it's likely not the last time we'll hear Zimmermann's name mentioned in trade talks this year.