Officials with the Cubs denied in the strongest possible terms Tuesday night that they were pursuing a trade for Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann.
Here’s why such a deal would make little sense:
Zimmermann is entering his free-agent year. The Cubs would not trade young talent for such a pitcher unless they could sign him to a contract extension immediately. And even then, they probably would not do it. Teams rarely part with elite young talent and pay out a huge contract. Generally, it’s one or the other.
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The smart move for the Cubs is to explore the top of this year’s free-agent market (Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, James Shields), knowing that if the prices get too steep, they always could wait for next year’s free-agent market (Zimmermann, David Price, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija are among the pitchers eligible).
If the Cubs were to trade one of their prized young shortstops, they likely would do it for a young pitcher of similar promise. For shortstop Starlin Castro, they also would want a player under comparable club control. They’ve got Castro under an absurdly club-friendly deal — $43 million for the next five seasons, plus a $16 million option or $1 million buyout for 2020.
As for the Nationals, it’s true that they likely will listen on Zimmermann and others entering their free-agent years – shortstop Ian Desmond, right-hander Doug Fister, reliever Tyler Clippard.
Such players, though, generally don’t yield returns as significant as players under greater control. And as talented as the Nationals are, they will be careful about reducing their chances of winning the World Series next season. They can always try to re-sign Zimmermann, Desmond and Co. before they hit the open market.
Frankly, it’s difficult to see how any trade of Zimmermann would advance their cause.