The Nationals extended 1-year qualifying offers worth about $15.8 million to Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond in advance of Friday’s 5 p.m. EST deadline, ensuring they will at least get back draft-pick compensation for either of those free agents should they sign elsewhere this winter.
The Nationals did not submit the offer to Denard Span or Doug Fister, not wanting to risk the possibility of either veteran accepting the deal and returning to D.C. next season on the heels of disappointing performances in 2015.
Players who were given the qualifying offers have one week to either accept them and thus re-sign with their team for 2016 at the $15.8 million salary figure or decline them and move into free agency while giving their past club a draft pick as compensation once they sign with another franchise.
The decisions to extend qualifying offers to both Zimmermann and Desmond were no-brainers, even though each player enters free agency off a disappointing season.
Zimmermann wasn’t up to his usual standards in 2015, going 13-10 with a 3.66 ERA. (The previous three years he had averaged a 15-7 record and 2.96 ERA.) But the 29-year-old right-hander still has been one of baseball’s most consistent and durable starting pitchers and figures to command a 9-figure contract from another club this winter. The Nationals haven’t expected to re-sign Zimmermann for some time, but they’ll at least receive a draft pick as compensation for losing him.
Desmond suffered a more significant drop-off in production this season, hitting just .233 with a .290 on-base percentage and a career-high 187 strikeouts. The 30-year-old shortstop won’t get the 9-figure contract he had been seeking, but he’s still expected to get a long-term deal as a free agent and probably wouldn’t take the risk of accepting the qualifying offer and attempting to reestablish his value with one more season in D.C.
The decision whether to extend a qualifying offer or not to Span wasn’t an easy one. The Nationals understood how valuable the 31-year-old center fielder was to their lineup and defense the last three seasons. But on the heels of an injury-plagued 2015 that included three separate surgeries for injuries to his hip and core muscles, Span is no sure thing in 2016. He might have accepted the offer, leaving the Nats on the hook for $15.8 million to a player with major health questions. Had he declined the offer, Span might have faced a depressed free agency market, with other teams not willing to give up a draft pick in exchange for signing him.
The Nationals probably would have made the offer to Fister had he put together another solid season on the mound. But the 31-year-old right-hander bore little resemblance in 2015 to the consistent groundball machine he was in 2014, going just 5-7 with a 4.19 ERA and losing his spot in the rotation down the stretch to rookie Joe Ross. Of all the Nationals’ free agents, Fister would have been most likely to accept a qualifying offer, so the club was forced to concede zero compensation for his loss.