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Blue Jays Free Agent Target: Jordan Zimmermann

matgermain
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The Toronto Blue Jays are going to add more pitching. I don’t think you’ll find anyone that will tell you otherwise. And there are so many choices out there that it’s hard to settle on free agent target that the Blue Jays may covet more than any other. Only Tony LaCava and Mark Shapiro know exactly where things stand now, but we’d like to take some shots at what may make sense for the team going forward as the free agent and trade markets go forward towards the 2016 season.

There’s one pitcher that intrigues me more than any other when it comes to helping the Blue Jays out in 2016, and it’s Jordan Zimmermann. The pedigree, the cost, the makeup, but most of all, I believe the Nationals have misused him and it has resulted in a drop off in performance that the Blue Jays can capitalize on.

In order to assess each one, I’ll separate them with the first item examined being the expected cost and possible contract implications it would have on the Blue Jays going forward. Then we’ll examine why Zimmermann may consider Toronto at all and look at his makeup. And finally, the repertoire and its recent issues will be detailed for an argument to be made that we may not have seen the best out of him. To do this, I’ll be taking a long hard look at his repertoire on a yearly basis with help from Fangraphs.

The ceiling is still higher and it’s up to teams sitting on the sidelines to assess whether or not they can get that out of him at a cost that makes sense.

EXPECTED COST AND IMPLICATIONS FOR THE BLUE JAYS

It’s interesting that MLBTR predicted Zimmermann would sign with the Blue Jays at a cost of $126 million over 6 years. That’s a valid guess, but I’d argue that the it will be slightly less, that the 6th season may be a team option – not a guarantee (due to his Tommy John history), and that it may be slightly backloaded.

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Something like this may be more accurate:

  • 2016: $16m (30 yrs old)
  • 2017: $22m (31 yrs old)
  • 2018: $24m (32 yrs old)
  • 2019: $24m (33 yrs old)
  • 2020: $22m (34 yrs old)
  • 2021: $18m *team (or mutual) option with a $2m buyout

That would be a total of $110 million guaranteed with the buyout and would be the first time a TJ survivor received more than $100 million from a free agent contract.

The implications for the Blue Jays in 2016 is that it would take their budget to just under $135 million, giving them room to make one or two more additions to the roster if the “at least” $140 million budget is a reality. The assumptions made here are that the Cot’s figures are correct, that MLBTR arbitration predictions are correct and that the Blue Jays don’t make significant trades. If so, we now know the Jays can likely afford to add him and still have some room to manoeuvre.

The rotation would settle in with Marcus Stroman and Jordan Zimmermann at the top, Marco Estrada in the third position, Dickey in the 4th, and Drew Hutchison and Aaron Sanchez competing for the final spot in the rotation. The Blue Jays would likely add some veteran or minors free agent depth to compete with them as well.

WHY JORDAN ZIMMERMANN WOULD CONSIDER THE BLUE JAYS

Jordan Zimmermann was born in Auburndale, Wisconsin. For anyone who doesn’t know much about Wisconsin winters, think Winnipeg. In short, weather and the issues associated with dealing with the cold will not be an issue for Zimmermann.

Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

He’s described as an outdoorsman and his family still lives in Wisconsin, making Toronto a fairly short commute for them to go back-and-forth. Obviously Toronto isn’t the great outdoors, but those are pretty close at hand when you head North.

On a professional level, just under 30 years old, Zimmermann can look at the Blue Jays team and wonder how his performance would impact their chances of winning the World Series.

He can sit back and wonder: with me in their rotation in 2015, would they have been closer to winning the World Series? And going forward with the same team, plus the addition of experience for all players involved AND Devon Travis and Michael Saunders, are they on the same road as the Kansas City Royals? If so, do I want to watch them win a championship on T.V. next year, or do I want to join them and get my first World Series ring?

I know the 2017-and-beyond Blue Jays are a bit of a mystery and that a lot of work will have to be done to continue their current success. However, if Zimmermann wants to compete for a World Series ring in 2016, the Blue Jays are a very enticing destination filled with superstars and some up-and-coming talents.

He also knows that he would likely be pitching to one of the best two-way catchers in the game in Russell Martin. After the lesser options that called his game in Washington, there’s a pretty good chance that pitching to Martin would be enticing. Being a pitcher that puts a lot of emphasis on playing his position well, and knowing that Martin threw out a league leading 44% of would-be base stealers, he may be attracted the Blue Jays. Add in the stellar defensive capabilities of the entire infield, the play and range of Pillar and Revere in the OF and the cannon of an arm Bautista has in RF, and there’s a lot to like about pitching in Toronto.

The Blue Jays have the money to pay him, he gets to be close to home, he gets to be a part of a great team for 2016, and he gets the chance to lead a pitching staff that will rely on his pedigree and experience to lead them. There’s something to be said about knowing Marcus Stroman will be at the top of the rotation with you and that Roberto Osuna and Aaron Sanchez could be protecting your leads when you get them for the entire length of your contract.

JORDAN “THE BULLDOG” ZIMMERMANN REPERTOIRE

There is an article that is a MUST READ if you have any interest in the possible Blue Jays acquisition of Zimmermann here from MLBTR’s Jeff Todd. It’s an outstanding layout of exactly what he is all about and how we can view him going forward.

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I’d like to point to some of the things he wrote about and add a few things that I believe may help him regain his dominance as seen in 2013. The highlights from the article in point form are as follows:

  • Longevity: he has pitched at least 32 starts and 810.1 innings over the last 4 years
  • Contact: some describe him as pitching to contact, but he has shown K ability
  • LHB and RHB: handles both very well, so splits are good
  • Cons: the inability to get Ks is pointed to (but I think something was missed here)
  • Match: Almost every A.L. team is a match for his services, aside from the Rays

In essence, he’s a younger Mark Buehrle with more velocity and the ability to go longer into games, which is what makes him front-of-the-rotation worthy.

The thing I believe was missed and applies directly to making Jordan Zimmermann dominant in the American League is the use of his change-up. As we saw with Marco Estrada, a great change-up can baffle and frustrate hitters who continuously try to time each pitch. Look at this page from Fangraphs and the drop off in change up use for Zimmermann from 2013 to 2015.

Simultaneously, his fastball velocity dropped ever so slightly, his Slider velocity increased slightly, and most importantly his Curveball velocity jumped almost 10 MHP over the 2013-2015 period. That brought all of his pitches (aside from the mostly dormant change-up) to within 7-9 MPH on average. That difference isn’t enough to throw off MLB hitters who then only have to worry about location, for the most part.

The fact that Zimmermann’s change-up was almost non-existent in 2015 allowed hitters to time his pitches more accurately. That resulted in fewer Ks (-18), more hits (+19), and more walks (+10) despite pitching close to the same number of innings from 2014 to 2015. It limited his chances to pitch to contact for outs, and increased his Whip from 1.072 to 1.205. The reason I think he went away from it is that hitters managed a .419 average (used 91 times) against it in 2014. But when you consider the fact that they managed only a .234 average (used 144 times) against it in 2013, you get a feeling that the potential is there to bring it back into the fold in an effort to make him dominant again. In particular, it seems that the more he uses it, the more effective it is.

Next: Toronto Blue Jays vs A.L. East Teams as of 15 Nov

If Zimmermann’s going to improve his change-up, there’s no better place to be than in Toronto sitting right next to Marco Estrada. If he can reduce his curveball velocity and slider velocity about 5 MPH, it will help slightly. However, if he can master the change-up, with his bulldog mentality and unshakeable makeup, he could be as dominant as Estrada was in the 2015 playoffs. If he’s going to be worth the 6 year contract, the change-up and reduction in velocity of his secondary pitches could be the key to bringing him back to the form he showed in 2013 (19 wins, 3.25 ERA, 1.088 Whip).

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Blue Jays can’t add David Price or Zack Greinke AND fix their pen issues at the same time. But they still need a front-of-the-line starter who can bring them to the World Series in 2016 and beyond. When all things are considered, costs, makeup, fit, and future, Jordan Zimmermann stands above the rest and should therefore be the top free agent target of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Come North to Toronto Jordan, and you won’t regret it as you join a superstar filled team that is about as united in chasing a World Series in 2016 as you could ever fathom.

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