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Keeping stars will cost Nats

Ian Desmond Jordan Zimmerman
Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann are candidates for contract extensions.
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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

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All of the new money in baseball will not simply be redirected to free agents. The Nationals are a classic example of a team that needs to take care of its own — specifically, right-hander Jordan Zimmermann and shortstop Ian Desmond.

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Both players are candidates for contract extensions this offseason — and rather large contract extensions at that, given that each is only two years away from free agency.

Zimmermann, 27, is ninth in the majors in ERA and 13th in ERA-plus over the past three seasons. Desmond, 28, has produced 10.0 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) the past two seasons, the most of any major league shortstop, according to Fangraphs.com, and 3.2 ahead of Elvis Andrus, the next-closest player at the position.

Ah, Andrus. He is three years younger than Desmond and a better defender, but a significantly lesser hitter. His eight-year, $120 million contract extension begins in 2015, and includes a provision that enables him to opt out after ’18 or ’19.

Is Desmond worth that? Maybe not, because of the age difference. But how would you compare him to Jose Reyes, who signed the last big free-agent deal by a shortstop, $106 million over six years? Pretty favorably, right?

Desmond is far more durable than Reyes, having averaged 149 games in his four full seasons. He has won back-to-back Silver Slugger Awards and was a Gold Glove finalist last season. (Some advanced defensive metrics rate him average defensively; others put him above-average). He is a leader and homegrown talent, certainly not the kind of player the Nationals want to lose.

The same goes for Zimmermann. For all the talk of Stephen Strasburg, Zimmermann essentially has done for three seasons what Strasburg has done for the past two.

Strasburg, 2012-13 3.08 ERA 126 ERA-plus, 342-1/3 IP

Zimmermann, 2011-13 3.12 ERA, 124 ERA-plus, 570-1/3 IP.

Both pitchers underwent Tommy John surgery early in their careers — the Nationals, in fact, patterned Strasburg’s recovery after Zimmermann’s. But questions persist about Strasburg’s durability; he underwent surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow at the end of last season. Zimmermann, on the other hand, finished strong, working a career-high 213-1/3 innings.

So, what is Zimmermann worth? Well, Justin Verlander signed for five years and $80 million and Felix Hernandez five years and $78 million when each had two years of arbitration left entering the 2010 season.

Zimmermann actually is ahead of where both were in the salary structure at the time — he had enough service time to qualify for an extra year of arbitration. And when you account for inflation, and the new TV money, and . . .

Let’s just say that with both Desmond and Zimmermann, the Nationals have some work to do.

Phillies are fixated on Bourjos – again

The Phillies’ public position, after signing free-agent outfielder Marlon Byrd to a two-year, $16 million contract, is that they want one more outfielder, a reserve who could protect them against injury and provide above-average defense.

The AngelsPeter Bourjos fits that description perfectly. The Phillies long have coveted him. Indeed, given the Phils’ perennial interest in the speedy center fielder, a deal probably would have happened by now if a match existed between the teams.

It doesn’t.

The Angels want young, affordable starting pitching, and the Phillies are notably thin in that regard. The one starter the Phils probably could trade, righty Kyle Kendrick, is one year away from free agency and projected to earn $6.6 million in 2014, according to Matt Swartz of MLBTradeRumors.com. Not the kind of pitcher the Angels would want for Bourjos, if they trade him at all.

To get Bourjos, the Phillies likely would need to be creative and involve a third team. Of course, they also can target other players. Rival clubs say the Phillies are willing to move Domonic Brown, possibly to create an opening for another free-agent outfielder. And the team also could pursue other candidates for a reserve role.

One such possibility: Free agent Grady Sizemore, who has not played since 2011 because of knee injuries but intends to resume his career in ‘14.

One way to get kids

The Yankees, according to rival international scouts, are planning to splurge on foreign amateurs during the 2013-14 signing period. They already have surpassed their bonus pool allotment of $1,877,000, and rival clubs expect them to possibly incur the maximum penalties for exceeding the spending limit.

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The Yankees’ strategy should not come as a surprise, considering the depleted state of their farm system. The Cubs and Rangers went over the limit in 2012-13, knowing the penalties would not be as severe as they will be if baseball ever adopts an international draft.

As it stands, the Yankees already have signed Dominican center fielder Leonardo Molina for $1.4 million and Dominican shortstop Yonauris Rodriguez for $550,000, according to reports. The signing period began last July 2, and will continue into next summer.

The penalties kick in once a team goes 5 percent over its limit; the Yankees’ two signings put them at 3.8 percent. A team that exceeds it by 15 percent or more pays a 100-percent tax and cannot spend more than $250,000 on a player in the next signing period.

Apparently the Yankees believe this class of international players is stronger than the next one. Or, they are simply eager to amass talent as quickly as possible.

The Mariners’ vampire diaries

New Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon not only showed his sense of humor several times during his introductory news conference on Nov. 7, but also cracked up team employees with a story he told them in a separate meeting.

The story was about the driver who picked up McClendon at the airport after he arrived in Seattle. A Mariners employee told me about it, and I asked McClendon to recount it at the general managers’ meetings.

“He was the most charming guy you will ever meet,” McClendon said of the driver. “I said, ‘I apologize for you having to come out so late to pick me up at the airport.’ He said, ‘Oh no, I’m a night person.’

“He had to be about 70-75. He said he had no family here. He said his family had all gone back to their (original) country. I asked him where he was from. He said, ‘Romania.’ I said, ‘Romania?’ He said, ‘You know, Dracula.’

“And it was dark in this car. It was raining. It was dark. He was taking me downtown the back way. I couldn’t see anything.

“I said, ‘Can you turn the light on back here?’”

McClendon survived without even a scratch on his neck. Now he just needs to deal with us bloodsuckers in the media, and he’ll be fine.

Tagged: Angels, Yankees, Mariners, Rangers, Nationals, Phillies, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond, Peter Bourjos

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