Where Could Jordan Zimmermann End Up?

After signing Max Scherzer to a long-term contract, the Nationals might be looking to flip Jordan Zimmermann's expiring contract into assets, namely a middle infielder and bullpen help. Who are some potential trade partners?

The Washington Nationals completed a surprising move late Sunday night, signing Max Scherzer to a seven-year contract. After the Scherzer signing, the Nationals find themselves with six starting pitchers, a below-average second baseman, and a thin relief corps.

Perhaps Nationals GM Mike Rizzo will trade one of his hurlers to shore up his ball club’s other needs? Stephen Strasburg seems to be out of the question -- he and Scherzer share agent Scott Boras. Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister are unlikely trade candidates -- the Nats acquired both recently via trade. How could Washington possibly trade Tanner Roark, who’s under club control until the end of the 2019 season?

By process of elimination, Jordan Zimmermann is the pitcher most likely to be traded by the Nationals. Scott Boras is not his agent, and he’s a free agent at the end of the season. Washington could keep Zimmermann and run out the best rotation in baseball this season before getting a compensation draft pick when he signs elsewhere, or the Nationals could trade the young righty to beef up their roster in other areas. Provided option one doesn’t make for an interesting article, and Rizzo can probably find a trade package of more value than a conditional draft pick, let’s assume Washington trades Zimmermann. Where does he fit in?

Seattle Mariners

It’s no secret that the Mariners are trying to win now. They added Robinson Cano last offseason, acquired Austin Jackson at the trade deadline, and brought Nelson Cruz and Seth Smith on board this winter. Zimmermann would at the least give Seattle a dominant arm to team with Felix Hernandez in 2015, and at most would give the team a deadly one-two punch for years to come.

Proposed Trade: Zimmermann for Brad Miller and Danny Hultzen

Miller fits Washington’s immediate need for an infield bat, and he’s an extra in the Emerald City. Seattle can play Chris Taylor at shortstop and wouldn’t miss Miller. Miller isn’t an amazing hitter, but he's a left-handed bat and has experience at second base. Even with his weak batting numbers, Miller’s 98 career OPS+ exceeds current D.C. switch-hitting second baseman Danny Espinosa’s 86 OPS+. Hultzen is not a reliever, but he's a big-time pitching prospect who’s stock has been hurt by Tommy John surgery, and the Nationals have done well enough with Tommy John pitchers recently (Zimmermann, Strasburg, and top prospect Lucas Giolito all underwent the procedure) to justify taking a chance on Hultzen, who played his college ball at Virginia and is from the D.C. area.

Texas Rangers

Texas is not as far away from contention as people think. The Rangers were ravaged by injuries last season, and are on the market for top pitchers. The team has been mentioned as a suitor of Cole Hamels, and is reportedly close to acquiring Milwaukee’s Yovani Gallardo. Most of Texas’ pitching staff is young, injury-prone, or both, so innings-eater Zimmermann would be a welcome addition alongside Yu Darvish and Gallardo. In fact, adding both Zimmermann and Galllardo likely vaults Texas right back into playoff contention.

Proposed Trade: Zimmermann for Jurickson Profar and Tanner Scheppers

Profar is a switch-hitter with experience at second base, and he’s expendable after the emergence of Rougned Odor as the real deal. Profar missed most of 2014 with a shoulder injury, but is prepared to play in 2015. In addition, Profar’s agent is Scott Boras, which means he’s allowed to join the D.C. Scott Boras super-team.

Scheppers is an interesting story, as he has flip-flopped between starter, reliever, and injured during his time with the Rangers. The righty made 76 relief appearances in 2013, posting a 1.88 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. When pretty much every big-league starter for the Rangers was injured at the start of the 2014 season, Scheppers took the ball in the team’s first game of the season, and that opening-day start was the first of his career. Scheppers started four games, then went to the minors, and then came back to the majors for four relief appearances before missing the rest of the season with elbow inflammation. There’s some injury risk involved, but Scheppers could be a solid bullpen arm for Washington.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are trying to get really good really fast, and so far that’s meant signing Jon Lester and Jason Motte, and trading for Miguel Montero. Theo Epstein has to have a big move in him, and Zimmermann would be the type of young ace the Cubs need to solidify their rotation and become a legitimate post-season contender. Zimmermann is a Wisconsin native, so perhaps he’d even be open to signing an extension with the Cubbies. He’s also only 28, so he’d be able to grow up alongside the Cubs’ young hitting prospects.

Proposed Trade: Zimmermann for Starlin Castro and Blake Parker

Eventually, the Cubs are going to have to trade Castro, right? The team acquired top shortstop prospect Addison Russell from Oakland in the Jeff Samardzija trade, and Castro is currently blocking Russell’s ascent to the big-leagues. If the Cubs view Russell and Javier Baez as their double-play combination of the future, they might as well trade Castro for an ace.

Castro fits in Washington because he appears to be willing to move to second base (he said he would move to make room at shortstop for Baez, but he was not asked to). Castro’s career OPS+ of 99 tops Espinosa’s, so he’d be an offensive upgrade. Parker is an arbitration-eligible reliever who made 49 late-inning appearances in 2013, but appears to have lost his role to Motte, Hector Rondon, and Pedro Strop. Parker’s ERA skyrocketed last season (from 2.72 to 5.14), while his FIP increased only moderately (from 2.90 to 3.27), so the righty should be due for a bounce-back 2015.

Milwaukee Brewers

It’s easy to see the proposed Gallardo trade as rebuilding, but that wouldn’t make sense considering the Brewers return pretty much their entire roster from 2014. The Brewers want to give Jimmy Nelson a spot in their rotation, but what if they realize Wily Peralta’s FIP only fell from 4.30 in his 17-loss 2013 season to 4.11 last year? Or what if they realize Mike Fiers might not be able to sustain his 0.879 WHIP over a full season? Why, then Milwaukee would need another starting pitcher, and perhaps Wisconsin native Zimmermann would even agree to a long-term deal.

Proposed trade: Zimmermann for Scooter Gennett and Jeremy Jeffress

It sounds like Luis Sardinas, another member of the Texas Ranger middle infield logjam, might be headed to Milwaukee in the Gallardo trade. In that case, Gennett becomes available, and he’s a young second baseman with a career OPS+ of 114, far better than Espinosa. Jeffress is a young reliever whom the Brewers drafted, traded for Zack Greinke, then rehabilitated after failed stints in Kansas City and Toronto. Jeffress’s stock is high after posting a 1.19 WHIP and 1.88 ERA in 29 appearances out of the Brewer bullpen. Milwaukee can sell high on Jeffress and leave his late-game innings to fellow youngster Brandon Kintzler.