Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Case Against...

In America, every criminal is guaranteed the right to a defense, no matter how heinous he is or horrifying his crime. I am about to advocate for the Charles Manson of Washington Nationals' baseball ideas. Don’t extend Ryan Zimmerman’s contract.


While he is a great talent and core member of a franchise approaching the big time, you have to wonder if, given the cost of his contract and the doors it may close, a long-term extension would really benefit the Nationals that much. The extension would likely make Zimmerman a National for an additional 6-8 years, and cost the Nats as much as 20 million a year (this is based on the Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki extensions, as well as Adam Kilgore’s 8 year $175 million projection). That’s a huge financial commitment to a single player, especially considering the players who are coming behind him. Can the Nats extend Zim, then extend Harper, Strasburg, Zimermann, Rendon, Purke, etc? Probably not. Financially, it would be putting a whole lot of eggs in one basket, when there will be younger, perhaps more talented baskets in a few years.

Speaking of those younger guys, Anthony Rendon. There was a lot of post-draft talk about what position Rendon could move to. Why on earth would you do that? Third base is a premium position and he should play there until its clear he can’t or he shows there would be outstanding value at another position. If Rendon develops in time for the 2014 season, he would be ready to step right in if the team lets Zimmerman walk, at a much cheaper price. If Zimmerman continues his current level of play, there would have to be some drop off (both defensively and offensively), but that’s a big if, plus would that drop off be worth 15-20 million a year? It admittedly sounds drastic to let a stalwart of our current line up walk, but by 2014 I’m sure Rizzo is hoping that Werth, Ramos, Espinosa, Desmond and most importantly Bryce Harper, are making bigger offensive impacts. And if Rendon isn’t ready or has shown he can’t play the position, Ryan Zimmerman is a free agent and can be had for market value, which the Nats will have a better idea of.

Ryan Zimmerman plays the game hard and while he cannot be described as fragile, Cal Ripken Jr. he ain’t. He has twice missed significant parts of season and this past season had surgery on his abdomen which also forced him to drastically overhaul his throwing motion. And he is only getting older. What would be worse than losing Zim to free agency and having Rendon flop as his replacement? Extending Zim, who then endures a series of both nagging and serious injuries that keep him sidelined, and then having Rendon be a flop.

Waiting to resign Zim after his current contract expires would allow the Nats time to see

A. what they have in Rendon,

B. how far Zim can take his talent while limiting injuries and

C. what the make-up of the team will be in 2014.

The boulder on a Zimmerman extension seems to be rolling down the hill at a decent clip at this point. Really the only person who could derail it at this point would be Zim’s agent, and it doesn’t seem likely Zim would let that happen. Ryan Zimmerman is a rare player. He is in a small group of players you can look at and say, if they keep it up for another 10 years, they are headed for Cooperstown.

Am I trying to say don’t try to keep Zim in the organization beyond 2013. Not necessarily. If Zimmerman is lights out the next 2 years and the Nats really do want him to finish his career in D.C., all they would have to do is be serious about it and offer a good contract. During the winter of 2013/2014 the Nats will have a much better idea of what the future looks like for the team and what they need going forward. So when you look at the cost, both the amount of his contract and in the limiting of flexibility of the club to sign other stars down the road, as well as his age, injury history, and the fact that the Nationals just drafted a young third-baseman with high upside and a drastically lower salary than Zimmerman, there should be at least some hesitation for Mike Rizzo when it comes to extending Ryan Zimmerman’s contract too far into the future for too much money.

Do you think I’m an idiot, or at least very misguided? Please tell me.


  1. No, not at all. If the club is reluctant to sign a free-agent, high-OBP, league-leding hitting SS because of nagging injuries, the same logic should hold for its 3b-man.

  2. I think that it is interesting that we are at a point in the re-development of the Nats system where such a thing can actually be said without a major outcry. The injuries have worried some people, the throwing motion thing has worried some people and he is getting older. He is still a great guy and a great player but not the only face of the franchise anymore. It used to be that he was the only good thing we had. I still hope he stays with us for a long time,but I would not be hysterical if he left. Several years ago I would have been.

  3. Semi-idiot? I agree that I don't think that there is a real emphasis on getting the contract done NOW - if I were the Nationals I wouldn't do it unless Zimmerman is willing to give a bit of a discount in exchange for certainty/security. He's under contract for two more years - what's the rush? Let Zimmerman put up a full season of health and production, let Rendon prove whether he's healthy and productive (and indicate if he's really on a fast track or not), and then let the chips fall.

    But my crunch time is next offseason. As the Pujols situation demonstrates, letting a marquee player enter a walk year is a big, big story that is going to distract from the team and the player. Remember how the Cardinals and Pujols started the season? If Zimmerman hangs up another 7+ WAR season, sign the man. He's still not entering his peak years (28-32) and wants to be here. It's never bad for a team to hang onto its own talent.

  4. You make some valid points, but hang far too much faith in the initial signing of Rendon as a replacement for the FotF, imo. Rendon has yet to deliver a single professional AB, so nothing can be counted on there, regardless of 'proections'.

    If Rendon's bat plays as expected once he actually starts his career, he'll find a place in the lineup, and the team will adjust; 3B, 2B, LF, RF, or bust. In the meantime, the re-investment in a highly-skilled player prior to him exploring the FA market in his prime years carries a much higher weight than a 'what-if', IMHO.

  5. Not a complete idiot, but i do think your argument isn't too convincing. First, I agree with BinM that you can't seriously assume as of now that rendon is orwill be the equal of z-man. Of the others you mention who'll be lining up for future extenxions, three of them are pitchers- purke's done nothing so far, and stras and znn need to turn in a few healthy seasons before anyone starts handing them 6 year contracts. Harper is a different story - good chance we'll want to sign him long- term in 2016 or so, but he also seems like a guy who'll want to take free agency and see what the yanks will offer.

    So based on all that, i dont see why it's so critical to save up some of the lerner's money by not signing z-man.

    In addition, i think you underestimate the degree to which waiting it out on the team's part means either that it becomes more likely that zim walks, or that they have to pay even more in a bidding war than they would by signing him early.

    If you want to throw out a provocative argument, why not argue that we should trade zim for some top young talent? I dont like that idea either, but i think that one is more defensible from a team building perspective, especially if you believe rendon is the real deal.

  6. Confucious say: Ya don't spit into the wind, and ya don't tantalize your HoF-grade talent.

  7. thanks for all the comments! as to rendon replacing zim I was saying there could be a significant drop off but given the salary difference and the fact that zims o production can be made up by players currently on the way up I.e. espi desi Bryce Ramos. a trade would be a really interesting idea but would be tough to explain to the fanbase mid season. I don't think waiting to sign him would dissuade him from resigning. waiting buys time to evaluate what the nats have.

  8. Zim is a very special player, and I rock solid person. He is the face of the Nats, a very popular player and letting him walk, coupled with a bad season for the Nats could be devastating to the team in terms of attention for years to come.

  9. There isn't any reason to extend Zim right now. There's two years left on his current contract and this year there are a number of free agents at the Nats positions of need (SP,SS), not to mention the best hitter of the last decade. There's also the injury factor; let Zim prove he isn't Scott Rolen or Eric Chavez before giving him 5-6 more years.

  10. Isn't it great that we can even have this type of discussion about the Nats? Either way we win, and its not my pay them all and just win baby!