In the first eleven starts of his sixth major league season, Washington Nationals' starter Jordan Zimmermann posted a 4.07 ERA with 13 walks (1.96 BB/9) and 50 Ks (7.54 K/9) in 59 ⅔ IP. Opposing hitters put up a .307/.349/.440 line against the right-hander in March/April and May.
In the eight first-half starts that followed, the 28-year-old right-hander rebounded, holding the opposition to a combined .218/.244/.289 line in 53 ⅓ IP over which he walked seven (1.18 BB/9) and struck out 51 (8.61 K/9) while posting a 1.86 ERA.
"Early on in the season, he was having a little bit of trouble with the slider," Nationals' first-year manager Matt Williams explained before Zimmermann started Game 2 of the NLDS.
"We talked about it a lot," Williams said. "It was not where he wanted to throw it. I think that has gotten better. The ability to throw a change‑up has gotten better. You know, I think that for him, he is an aggressive guy. He will go after hitters. That is the way he pitches. If he can get ahead, he does really well. So, over the last month and a half, that is what he has done really well. He has gotten to the point where he is getting ahead, he is able to use all of his other pitches, too."
Zimmermann's first half ended with the Nats' '07 2nd Round pick (6-5) in 19 starts and 113 IP over which he put up a 3.03 ERA, a 2.76 FIP and a .265/.302/.372 line against, then he went (8-0) in 13 second-half starts, posting a 2.18 ERA and a 2.58 FIP in 86 ⅔ IP with a .211/.241/.329 line against, ending his season with a no-hitter against the Miami Marlins.
"Outside of the no‑hitter, he has been really good in his other outings, too," Williams said. "We hope for the same today. Not necessarily a no‑hitter, but a competitive outing that gives us a chance to win."
The second postseason start of Zimmermann's career, following up on a disappointing three-inning outing against the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012, was an 8 ⅔ inning showing against the San Francisco Giants in which the only run he was charged with scored after he left the mound with two down in the top of the ninth.
The Auburndale, Wisconsin-born, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point educated starter finished the year at (14-5) with a 2.66 ERA, a 2.68 FIP, 29 walks (1.31 BB/9) and 182 Ks (8.20 K/9) in 32 starts and 199 ⅔ IP over which he was worth a career-high +5.2 fWAR.
With one year left on the 2-year/$24M deal Zimmermann signed last winter when a long-term extension couldn't be worked out, the right-hander who has been worth +12.3 fWAR in the last three seasons, tied for third overall amongst Nation League starters behind only the St. Louis Cardinals' Adam Wainwright (+15.0) and the Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (+19.2), has been the subject of trade rumors.
A report which had the Chicago Cubs talking about acquiring Zimmermann was shot down quickly earlier this winter, with Nats' General Manager Mike Rizzo telling reporters, including the Chicago Tribune's Paul Sullivan, the rumors gained enough traction that he felt the need to reach out to the starter.
"'I did reach out to 'Zim' after it came out. When those things happen and there’s no basis for the story, there’s not a lot I can do about it but try and communicate with the parties that are involved and let them know what our thoughts are.'"
Zimmermann told Washington Post reporter James Wagner in a late November interview that he remained open to the possibility of signing on long-term to remain in the nation's capital.
"'If the deal is right, I’ll definitely sign a multi-year deal. I never once said I didn’t want to stay in D.C. But at the end of the day, the deal has to be right and the deal has to be fair and that’s all I’m asking for.'"
"'If we can’t come to common ground,'" Zimmermann said. "'I guess free agency is the next step.'"
Though they've discussed a long-term deal before, the WaPost's Mr. Wagner wrote last month that the two sides haven't picked up the talks "since last winter" when they settled on a two-year deal.
The so-far-fruitless discussions about a multi-year extension led ESPN.com's Jim Bowden to place Zimmermann second on his list of ten free agent pitchers who might be traded at some point this year.
"They really don't want to trade him," Bowden writes of the Nats, "they'd rather take another shot at a championship with him on the mound -- but if they can't extend him, they might consider trading him for a huge prospect package."
But that's only if they are able to bring in another front-end starter first, in Bowden's mind.
In a chat with readers on Monday, veteran Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell discussed the Nationals' options this winter with Zimmermann, Doug Fister, Ian Desmond and others due to hit free agency after this season.
If it comes down a choice between Zimmermann and Desmond, for example, Boswell reasoned when asked that "all things being equal" you, "... usually sign the late-20's everyday player rather than the pitcher to a >$100M contract because they are much more likely to stay healthy and productive past 30."
Besides, he added "[i]n the Nats case, all things are not equal," since the Nationals have pitching prospects like A.J. Cole and Lucas Giolito on the way up and a lack of depth in terms of middle infielders behind Desmond and Danny Espinosa, so, "Desmond would be much harder to replace."
As for all the trade chatter involving Zimmermann, Boswell writes that the, "'rumors' are valid in the limited sense that people are gonna ask and the Nats are gonna listen," but, "any trade for any key Nats player would have to knock Rizzo's jaw open."
The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo wrote this weekend that it was, "[h]ard to tell whether the Nationals are serious about trading Zimmermann because 1) they have the resources to sign him and 2) he’s their best pitcher."
Boswell said the same when it came to the money.
"[The] Nats are far from strapped and more MASN money -- undetermined amount, but plenty of it --will almost certainly come."
Enough to allow the Nationals to make what Zimmermann sees as a "fair" offer that will keep him in the nation's capital?