Boston Red Sox: Jordan Zimmermann an unlikely target


Ladies, gentlemen and Yankee fans, we have officially entered the agonizingly slow stage of the offseason. Following the Boston Red Sox making major ripples by trading for elite closer Craig Kimbrel, the baseball world has spent the last few days hung-over in bed, recovering. Worry not, it’s all the calm before the storm, as more big moves are expected from Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski and his army of geniuses. How can I be so sure? Well, aside from tentative Cy Young winner Joe Kelly, Boston still lacks its ace, its leader, its number one.

Dombrowski has been candid, to say the least, about the requirement for a staff leader from basically his first day in office. His choices though are largely dedicated by the market. Young, cost-controlled aces with long contracts are everyone’s first choice, because, well, duh. But this holds true for the teams that hold them also, even clubs that are in a period of rebuild such as the Chicago White Sox, would demand a massive, indeed outlandish, return for their ace. So Dombrowski is likely to turn to free agency to find that guy.

Free agency is one of those baseball misnomers, like foul tips or the World Series. Nothing free about them. Particularly the cream of this year’s crop. Top of the order is David Price, a bonafide, proven ace who may well break all records but even conservative estimates indicate will be in line for a deal landing him north of $200 million over 7 years. Price holds sway in an elite echelon that really only one and perhaps two other pitchers in this year’s free agency hang around in. Those being Zack Greinke and, perhaps, Johnny Cueto. Boston certainly wants, if not needs, the best to lead its rotation, but what if the above options aren’t actually options at all? One outlier remains, not quite top tier but not quite the next best either – Jordan Zimmermann.

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Zimmermann has spent his entire professional career in the Washington Nationals organization and has been one of their most consistent starters since his breakout in 2010. His standout campaign surely came in 2014 though, with a shiny ERA of 2.66, basically identical FIP of 2.68 (showing he really was as good as his ERA indicated) and a very respectable K/9 of 8.20 which resulted in a WAR of 5.3 for the year. I’ll have some of that. His 2015 campaign though? Let me think about it some more.

Zimmermann struggled on the year overall, managing an ERA of 3.66, FIP of 3.75 and dismaying K/9 drop to 7.32, around his career norm, which left him with a WAR of 3.0 on the year. For reference, half a season of Clay Buchholz was worth 3.2 WAR, so it’s safe to suggest that going by that performance, the Red Sox may be wary of committing to any expensive deals. Though it’s unfair to fully blame Zimmerman, still only 29, for having a down year, it’s expected that your year before free agency will likely be a clincher for buyers’ interest and how much cash you expect to reel in. Sorry Zimm.

It’s worth noting however, that Boston may never have considered Zimmermann an option to begin with. For a start, his numbers may have been good in previous years and even 2015 wasn’t disastrously (ala Rick Porcello) bad. But here’s the rub, Zimmermann was pitching for the Nationals, in the National League. A move to the American League would see a further drop in Zimmerman’s already dwindling strikeout rate, due to the absence of that easy-out pitcher and all the more so due to the presence of the DH. Now add in that the Red Sox play in the AL East, where 3 of the top 5 hitting teams in baseball play, and you have to wonder.

Zimmermann nearly doubled the amount of long balls he allowed in 2015 from 2014. Imagine him having to pitch several games in homer-friendly AL East ballparks against teams like the Toronto Blue Jays that hit dingers like you and I hit traffic. Yikes. While Price, Greinke and Cueto have shown an ability to perform in the American League, Zimmermann is untested and certainly one has to expect his performance to play down. And that’s not all.

There could be yet more factors that mitigate his coming to Fenway, chief among these are the potential loss of a draft pick, as noted by’s Ian Brown.

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As Zimmermann was offered, and rejected, a qualifying offer by the Nationals, that means that the club who signs him may have to sacrifice their first round pick in the 2016 draft, if it’s unprotected. Boston’s pick, number 12 overall, is unprotected and as such Zimmermann could cost the Red Sox something much more than just sacks of John Henry’s money.

It’s unsurprising that Dombrowski would be hesitant to concede the 12th pick. It’s extremely valuable, particularly with a very strong draft in 2016, and no team in the history of the qualifying offer has ever surrendered a pick that high for anyone. It’s worth noting that Greinke would also cost the pick, but the gulf in quality between Greinke and Zimmermann is so vast that it makes sense they may only consider giving it up in the case of the former. Even that’s not for certain.

In actuality, no choice in this year’s free agency is the perfect fit for Boston. Price has had a very vocal and open rift with eternal face-of-the-franchise David Ortiz and his litany of twitter fans for years. As we discussed recently, it seems he would prefer to pitch in the NL where his star will shine even brighter than ever. Greinke also prefers the NL, as he enjoys the opportunity to hit, and he joins the rest of us in not being the biggest fan of Hanley Ramirez. Cueto carries some very legitimate concerns about the health of his arm and its long term stability, given his uncharacteristic up and down struggles during the 2015 campaign. Now Zimmermann too seems unlikely.

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Perhaps Dombrowski will, contrary to reports, return to trades for the ace that he is so determined to obtain. Indeed, perhaps he will be forced to throw caution, dollars and the draft pick to the wind and pick up Zimmermann after all. For now though, it still seems all too unlikely.