Earlier this winter, Jordan Zimmermann became the first post-Tommy John pitcher to get $100M+ in free agency when he signed a 5-year/$110M deal with the Detroit Tigers. Zimmermann, selected by the Nationals out of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the second round of the '07 Draft, debuted in the majors 2009, but the Auburndale, Wisconsin-born righty injured his elbow that summer and after attempts to rehab the injury eventually had to have surgery.
Zimmermann returned to Washington's rotation in 2010 and over the next five seasons put up a 3.14 ERA, 182 walks and 784 Ks in 155 starts and 971 ⅔ innings pitched between 2011-2015 before becoming a free agent after he failed to agree on an extension and after declining the Nationals' 1-year/$15.8M qualifying offer.
If '09 no.1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals can't work out an extension between now and the end of the 2016 campaign, which seems less likely now that season is getting underway, though Nationals' General Manager Mike Rizzo has said they will at some point make a good, market-value offer, Strasburg could follow in Zimmermann's footsteps and enter what's thought to be a weaker free agent pitching class next winter where he could potentially find a similar, if not better, contract.
Strasburg talked this winter about Zimmermann leaving the Nationals via free agency.
"I'm happy for him," he told reporters at Nats WinterFest in December.
"That's a guy that I've played with for a long time. His family and my family are very close, so I'm just happy that he's in a place that he's obviously comfortable with and going to be closer to home."
Asked about Zimmermann becoming the first post-Tommy John pitcher to get $100M+, Strasburg showed little interest in the fact that his now-former teammate set a precedent.
"I really don't think there's much significance to it, to be honest," Strasburg said. "There [are] a variety of ways that guys don't enter the free agent market [coming off] Tommy John, they obviously have it in the middle of a contract or they have it, but then they sign an extension with the same team. So, yeah, I can understand it's great, but there [are] a lot of good pitchers out there who signed good sizable contracts who've had Tommy John, and that's something that's not really an important matter to me."
Losing Zimmermann as part of the Nationals' rotation, however, was significant, though he -- and the Nationals -- said they saw it as a good opportunity for some of the in-house candidates who could replace the right-hander.
"He's definitely got some big shoes to fill," Strasburg said, "but you've just got to look at the guys that we have in the system. Just getting the opportunity to get to know Joe Ross a little bit more -- we've been working out for the last month together in San Diego -- so he's an awesome guy and he's working really hard and hopefully Tanner [Roark] will get an opportunity to pitch in the rotation again, so that's just the way it is, it's a game.
"You can't play this game forever. You're not going play with the same guys forever, so you've just got to enjoy each moment and try to get better."
Zimmermann's first Grapefruit League start for the Tigers will, of course, take place this afternoon when Detroit visits the Nationals' Spring home, Viera, Florida's Space Coast Stadium.
"It’ll be fun," Zimmermann told reporters including Chris McCosky of The Detroit News when asked about facing his former team.
"I am sure they’ll be up there hacking. It’ll be good to go over there and see those guys again and get them out for the first time."
Another former rotation mate in D.C. talked about getting to see Zimmermann in another uniform for the first time this afternoon.
"I think what Jordan did, he's still going to be remembered here," Gio Gonzalez told reporters after his own start against the Miami Marlins on Friday. "He was a great pitcher, competitor, a guy that we loved to talk to."
"It's always great to see a guy who fought on the same battlefield as you," Gonzalez said.
"Happy for him and his family. He deserves it all and just hoping he stays healthy all year.
"It's always great to see Jordan. The guy was part of our organization for such a long time and you wish him nothing but the best, I wish him nothing but the best."
"I think it's going to be weird to see Jordan in different colors, obviously."