Often when a major free agent signs a new contract, fans complain that he got too much and agents complain that he should have gotten more.
Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann’s five-year, $110 million agreement with the Tigers, pending a physical, seems reasonable enough. But after FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi reported the terms, some agents and even some players wondered why Zimmermann cut his deal before left-hander David Price and righty Zack Greinke established the top of the market.
Price figures to get a seven-year deal worth at least $210 million — nearly twice that of Zimmermann’s total package. But is he twice the pitcher, considering that both are entering their age 30 seasons?
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Of course not.
There is one major difference between the two, however — Zimmermann underwent Tommy John surgery in August 2009, potentially compromising his free-agent value. His agents at Relativity Baseball, perhaps sensing hesitation in the marketplace, chose to act sooner rather than later — knowing, as well, that Zimmermann’s 3.66 ERA and 3.75 FIP in ‘15 were the highest of any of his five full seasons.
The general rule for a pitcher who undergoes Tommy John surgery is that his reconstructed ligament will last eight to 12 years, though exceptions occur on both sides of that range. Zimmermann, according to that time frame, will be most vulnerable from August 2017 to August 2021. His new deal will run from 2016 to ’20.
The Tigers intend to take the leap regardless, but in the view of some in the industry, they are more comfortable with medical risk than most clubs. Owner Mike Ilitch, 86, badly wants to bring Detroit its first World Series champion since 1984, and isn’t necessarily as concerned with the back end of a contract.
The bottom line: The Tigers landed the third-best starting pitcher on the open market, depending upon one’s view of Johnny Cueto. Zimmermann landed a deal that will pay him quite handsomely, and — assuming he passes his physical — assure that the condition of his arm will not become a point of discussion on the open market.
In theory, Zimmermann’s failure to land say, a six-year, $130 million contract could hurt other pitchers who figured to fall in line behind him — Mike Leake, Jeff Samardzija, maybe even Cueto. But each case is different; Samardzija’s medical records are so clean, his arm looks like it is “right out of the womb,” one executive told me in September.
Zimmermann is the first pitcher to sign a contract of at least $100 million after undergoing Tommy John surgery. That alone is an accomplishment, no matter how much more money — if any — he could have scored.
The Cardinals’ new 15-year deal with Fox Sports Midwest reportedly will boost their annual local TV revenue by at least $20 million starting in 2018. The first-year number of about $55 million will grow to about $95 million by the end of the deal, and the team also will gain a 30 percent equity stake in FSM, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
By contrast, the Cubs’ current deal with Comcast Sports Net Chicago runs through ’19, and no new agreement is in place. The team earns a reported $60 million to $70 million annually in local TV revenue — more than the Cardinals presently — but also faces debt and tax issues. So, the Cardinals hold an advantage not only over the Cubs, but also the three other NL Central teams that compete in smaller markets.
How this affects the current free-agent landscape remains to be seen, but the belief among some in the industry is that the Cardinals are in a flexible enough position to add a pitcher such as Price and a hitter such as free-agent right fielder Jason Heyward or first baseman Chris Davis.
Whether the Cardinals make any of those moves remain to be seen — they could get outbid for Price, are unlikely to pay top dollar for Heyward and might be reluctant to commit to Davis.
The Cubs, though, likely can pull off only one major acquisition; their payroll figures to be $130 million to $140 million for the foreseeable future, sources say, and their contractual and arbitration commitments for 2016 already project to be in the $120 million range, according to published reports.
Among the Cubs’ options:
● Signing Price, assuming that he is willing to take less than what the Red Sox might offer.
● Trading for a pitcher such as Braves righty Shelby Miller or Indians righty Carlos Carrasco (the Cubs pushed hard for Carrasco before the July 31 non-waiver deadline).
● Signing a second-tier starter such as Samardzija or John Lackey, or maybe even two such pitchers if bargains emerge later in the offseason.
● Trading right fielder Jorge Soler for a young starter and clearing a spot for Heyward or fellow free agent Alex Gordon — the Cubs broke the NL record for strikeouts last season, and might simply decide to piece their staff together with affordable pieces again.
Considering that the Dodgers are expected to spend more than $80 million on unproven international free agents, including a 100 percent tax on every dollar they commit above their allotted pool of $2.02 million, what is to stop them from signing both Price and Greinke?
Club officials have discussed the idea, but it’s highly doubtful they will bring it to fruition, sources say. Long-term contracts for pitchers in their 30s often backfire. The Dodgers already have one pitcher earning more than $30 million annually — Clayton Kershaw. Signing both Price and Greinke at similar levels would be a considerable, if not outright foolish, risk.
The Dodgers’ investment in international free agents, meanwhile, essentially will be spread over three years — they will be unable to sign any such players for more than $300,000 in either of the next two signing periods. Club officials know that some of those players will fail, but that the ones who succeed will help restock the team’s farm system and balance future payrolls.
As it stands, the Dodgers will open next season with an all-prospect rotation at Triple-A, featuring lefty Julio Urias and righties Jose De Leon and Chris Anderson. They clearly need help at the major-league level, be it Price or Greinke and perhaps a second-tier type. But they are deeper overall than they were last season, and getting deeper all the time.
The Athletics, after re-acquiring infielder Jed Lowrie from the Astros, are likely to trade either Brett Lawrie or Danny Valencia, as first reported by Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Both Lawrie, 25, and Valencia, 31, are under club control for two more seasons; Lawrie projects to earn $3.9 million in arbitration, according to MLBTradeRumors.com, Valencia $3.4 million.
Lowrie, meanwhile, could wind up at second or third base; the Astros, who viewed him as a $7.5 million backup corner infielder for the next two seasons, figure that they could make better use of that money.
The Athletics’ pitchers weren’t thrilled with Lowrie at shortstop in 2013 and ’14, sources said, and he has played more than 135 games only twice in his career due to injuries. But club officials like his offense, and had interest in retaining him before he signed a three-year, $23 million free-agent contract with the Astros last December.
One other thing to watch with the A’s as their offseason evolves: How they address their team chemistry, something that general manager David Forst publicly acknowledged was a factor last season.
Right-hander Jesse Chavez, sent to the Blue Jays for reliever Liam Hendriks, was one of the team’s most well-liked players. Lowrie, at least for the pitchers, was something of an issue, though he now figures to be at a less taxing position defensively.
● The Blue Jays’ signing of free-agent left-hander J.A. Happ to a three-year, $36 million contract only will increase the leverage of teams such as the Indians and Rays that are willing to trade affordable starting pitching.
As one exec put it, “Mediocre pitching is $30 million minimum. Zimmermann is good and costs an extra zero.” Both the Indians and Rays could trade starters for offensive help; the Indians, in particular, need outfielders.
● The Diamondbacks’ pursuit of Cueto stems in part from the fact that he is not attached to a draft pick; Cueto, after getting traded at midseason, was ineligible to receive a qualifying offer (Price, Leake and Scott Kazmir also are unrestricted for the same reason).
The D-backs will select 13th, outside the range of the top-10 protected picks. They value that selection, particularly as their core players grow more expensive, and do not want to part with it for a lesser starter.
● Could this be the week that the Reds finally move closer Aroldis Chapman and possibly right fielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Brandon Phillips?
Well, the team will hold RedsFest on Friday and Saturday in Cincinnati, and the presence of such players at the annual fan convention could prove awkward while the Reds are trying to trade them.