Rizz hinted to Chico Harlan yesterday that Jordan Zimmermann might be on his way back to Syracuse to start the season. I can understand fans wanting to see Flash Jordan on day one, but there are good reasons to want to hold him back.
First and foremost, there's the arbitration clock. The minute Zimmermann is put on the big squad, the clock starts ticking: three years to arbitration, six years to free agency. He turns 23 on May 23, so, assuming he sticks (and if he doesn't, this is all kind of moot), then he'll be hitting free agency for his age 28-29 season, right in his prime.
However, under the arcane rules of arbitration, if the Nationals wait until around May 23 or so to bring him up his arb and free agent eligibility will be pushed back a full year. So for the price of about 11 starts, maybe 65 innings, we get a full additional year of team control later on. Think of it as a trade with your future self. Would you trade 11 starts at age 22 for 30 at age 28-29? Methinks I would.
Some might say, "hey, it's just money! Who are you, Uncle Teddy's accountant?" But the reality is that even if the team ups payroll to $120 million a year, there's still a limit on how much to spend. I'm all for more spending, but not dumb spending, and it's dumb to spend in effect several million dollars to get 10-11 stars from a 22-year-old.
Second, there's the issue of his innings jump and injury risk. Last year he threw 134 innings. If we start him in the rotation from day one, he's going to be on track to throw over 160-170, assuming he pitches well. That's a dangerously large jump. But if you hold him back a bit you can bring him up around the time his arb date would push back and keep his innings jump to a less risky 20 innings or so.
Add in the fact that Jordan Zimmermann could be the Cy Young award winner, and we'd still be nowhere near sniffing the playoffs, and the value of 10-11 starts this spring is even less.
Rizz is thinking long term. The temptation would be to make a splash in the short-term and screw the long-term. But that's how we got in the situation we're in now. I'm glad that we now have a GM who, even though he's operating with no job security on an interim basis, is thinking about the long-term health of the team, not just tomorrow's headline.