Jordan Zimmermann's $110M Deal Is Good Move to Kick Off Tigers' Latest Revamp

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistNovember 29, 2015

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann throws to the plate during the first inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Last winter, the Washington Nationals signed a front-line starter away from the Detroit Tigers. On Sunday, the Tigers returned the favorand kicked off their latest revamp in earnest.

Last year it was Max Scherzer who went from the Motor City to the nation's capital. Now, Jordan Zimmermann is leaving D.C. for Detroit after reportedly reaching an agreement for a five-year, $110 million deal, per ESPN:

And so, after weeks of waiting, the first big free-agent domino has fallen. At last, we've got something more than whispers and speculation to fuel the hot stove.

To be fair, this isn't the first move the Tigers have made. The club has already signaled its intent to be active under new general manager Al Avila, swinging trades for reliever Francisco Rodriguez and outfielder Cameron Maybin.

Inking Zimmermann, though, is a clear signal the Tigers intend to restock and take aim at an immediate return to relevance after suffering through their first losing season since 2008.

The 29-year-old right-hander isn't the shiniest pitcher on the market; that title belongs to either David Price or Zack Greinke, depending on your persuasion. But he's an ace-level talent and has been one of the game's most durable, reliable arms in recent years.

Zimmermann's ERA climbed to 3.66 in 2015 from a career-best 2.66 mark in 2014. But he eclipsed 200 innings for the second time in three seasons. Indeed, as ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick noted, he's tossed more frames over the past four seasons than any National League pitcher not named Madison Bumgarner or Clayton Kershaw. 

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And he ended last season on a strong note, pitching at least into the sixth inning in 13 of his final 14 starts, though he did yield six earned runs in two games over that stretch.

Zimmermann has been one of the most durable arms in baseball in recent years.
Zimmermann has been one of the most durable arms in baseball in recent years.Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

In seven seasons, all with the Nats, Zimmermann owns a 3.32 ERA with 903 strikeouts in 1,094 innings and has made two All-Star teams.

Now, he joins a rotation that desperately needed a boost. After losing Scherzer last winter and Price at the July trade deadline, Detroit's starters finished with the worst ERA in the American League last year.

Justin Verlander, whose declining velocity and effectiveness have knocked him off the ace perch, gave the Zimmermann signing his stamp of approval:

Detroit can cross its fingers for a rebound from Verlander and fellow fallen stud Anibal Sanchez and the emergence of young left-hander Daniel Norris (age 22). But Zimmermann adds a needed piece. He alone won't get the Tigers back to the top of the AL Central, a position now owned by the reigning World Series champion Kansas City Royals. But it's a good start.

Assuming the offensive core of Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Victor Martinez has something left in the tank, the Tigers aren't far from relevance. 

And while the Zimmermann deal could well be the biggest splash of the offseason for Detroit, it's reasonable enough to allow for more moves. As CBS Sports' Jon Heyman noted, "Tigers owner Mike Ilitch never has been afraid to spend."

In fact, while still plenty robust, the five years and $110 million Zimmermann got fall short of the six years and $126 million predicted by MLB Trade Rumors' Tim Dierkes. And Dierkes' projection didn't feel like a reach. 

Zimmermann's deal with Detroit fell short of some projections.
Zimmermann's deal with Detroit fell short of some projections.Nick Wass/Associated Press

The biggest worry with Zimmermann, besides his slight dip in performance, is the Tommy John surgery he underwent in 2009. Despite his recent durability, there was concern on Washington's end, as Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post outlined:

The life expectancy of a "second elbow" after Tommy John surgery is thought by some in baseball to be about eight years. One of the teams that believes it, not as dogma but as an important rule of thumb, is the Washington Nationals. ...

[Fear] of "TJS2" is part of why Zimmermann is leaving after 2015. He's starting his sixth season of pitching with his "new" elbow.

It's all guesswork, of course. Injuries are an inexact science. But it's possible questions about his elbow cost Zimmermann that additional year and/or a few million bucks.

Either way, he's signed. He's well-paid. Free-agent season is officially (finally!) in swing. And the Tigers are back on the road to contention. 

"My only regret is that we were not able to bring a championship to the fans of this great city this season," Zimmermann wrote in a farewell message to Nats fans, per Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post.

It won't come easy. It never does. But he'll get another chance in a new locale as the revamp continues in Detroit.

All statistics current as of Nov. 29 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

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