Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond, as expected, have declined the qualifying offers extended to them by the Nationals last week, leaving both players full-fledged free agents and ensuring Washington will receive two compensatory draft picks if and when they sign elsewhere this winter.
Zimmermann and Desmond never figured to accept the qualifying offer — a 1-year, $15.8 million contract to return to the Nationals in 2016 — so this news comes as no surprise to the club. But it does finalize the process that allows the Nats to receive something in return for losing their top two free agents.
In declining their qualifying offers, Zimmermann and Desmond aren't completely closing the door on a return to D.C. They're simply now allowed to negotiate with any of MLB's 30 clubs, including the Nationals. That said, to date there has been no indication from either the Nats front office or either player's side that negotiations are planned.
Though neither free agent is likely to command the kind of mammoth contract he hoped to get after a disappointing 2015, each still is expected to be among the top available players on the open market this winter and wind up with long-term deals. Zimmermann could sign for five or six years at $20 million annually or more; Desmond could sign for four or five years at $15 million annually or more.
Any club that signs either Zimmermann or Desmond now must forfeit its top unprotected 2016 draft pick — anything outside of the top 10 of the first round — but that pick won't simply be transferred to the Nationals. Washington's compensation picks will come at the end of the first round, based on the 2015 records of other teams that lose free agents for whom they extended qualifying offers. With many teams' picks going away after they sign players who turned down qualifying offers, the Nationals could end up with a pair of picks in the 20s to go along with the first-round pick they already own (currently 18th).
The Nationals could have extended qualifying offers to two other prominent free agents (Denard Span and Doug Fister) but chose not to before last Friday's 5 p.m. deadline. The concern from the club's standpoint was that either player might have been tempted to accept the offer, return to D.C. in 2016 and attempt to re-establish his value after suffering through injuries (Span) or inconsistent performance (Fister) this year.
The fact Astros outfielder Colby Rasmus, Orioles catcher Matt Wieters and Dodgers lefty Brett Anderson all accepted their qualifying offers this week — they're the first players to do so in four years since this system was installed — might have justified the Nationals' decision with Span and Fister.
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