On Sunday morning, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the Tigers agreed to a contract with starter Jordan Zimmermann. The exact details of the deal are still unknown, but Jon Morosi of FOX Sports hears it will be five years and around $110 million in total.
As the Nationals made a $15.8 million qualifying offer to Zimmermann, which he turned down, the Tigers would normally have to forfeit their first-round pick in the 2016 draft as a consequence of signing him. However, the Tigers finished with one of the 10-worst records during the 2015 regular season, which protects their first-round pick. They will forfeit a second-round pick instead.
Zimmermann joins a rotation that already includes Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and Daniel Norris, making the pitching staff in Detroit rather formidable. The 29-year-old finished this past season with a 3.66 ERA and a 164/39 K/BB ratio across 201 2/3 innings. It was a down year by Zimmermann’s standards, particularly after completing 2014 with a 2.66 ERA and tossing a no-hitter on the final day of the season. He finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award balloting.
The move from Washington, D.C. to Detroit should help Zimmermann post better numbers. Nationals Park was essentially neutral in terms of being hitter- or pitcher-friendly, according to ESPN’s park factors, but Comerica Park was among the most pitcher-friendly in 2015, being beaten only by AT&T Park, Turner Field, Marlins Park, and the O.co Coliseum. Additionally, many metrics – including UZR at FanGraphs – suggest that the Tigers’ defense got the job done more often than that of the Nationals.
The Tigers recently acquired closer Francisco Rodriguez from the Brewers, so GM Al Avila has wasted little time addressing the team’s pitching staff.
Zimmermann struck the first nine-figure deal of this offseason in a free agent market that is rather pitching-heavy. David Price, Zack Greinke, and Johnny Cueto could find nine-figure deals of their own, and the likes of Scott Kazmir, Yovani Gallardo, Jeff Samardzija, John Lackey, Mike Leake, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Wei-Yin Chen are out there as well.
Jays Ink Happ to a Three-Year Pact
The Blue Jays signed a pitcher of their own on Friday night, agreeing to a three-year, $36 million with lefty starter J.A. Happ. He’ll get $10 million in 2016 and $13 million in each of the following two seasons.
This continues an active offseason for the Jays for new team president Mark Shapiro. The club signed Marco Estrada to a two-year, $26 million contract on November 13 and swapped reliever Liam Hendriks with the Athletics for Jesse Chavez on November 20.
Happ, 33, fell into hard times after the Phillies traded him to the Astros in 2010. Between 2011-14, he compiled a disappointing 4.75 ERA. The struggles continued with the Mariners to begin the 2015 season. Across 20 starts and a relief appearance, he posted a 4.64 ERA. The Mariners sent him to the Pirates at the trade deadline, putting him under the tutelage of pitching coach and renowned miracle worker Ray Searage.
As Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported back in August, Searage had Happ make an alteration in his delivery and it seemed to do the trick. In 11 starts with the Pirates, Happ allowed only 13 runs on 52 hits and 13 walks with 69 strikeouts in 63 1/3 innings. The strikeout and walk rates represented career-bests and he became much less homer-prone.
There is some reason for skepticism, mostly owing to the small sample size. 11 starts amount to only two months’ worth of work. To illustrate what can happen in that span of time, the best first-half starters last season – going by ERA -- included Hector Santiago, Ubaldo Jimenez, Kyle Gibson, and Jason Hammel. That being said, Searage’s other reclamation projects seem to have had lasting power, as evidenced by Edison Volquez and Francisco Liriano.
Cueto Reportedly Turns Down $120 Million Offer
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported on Sunday morning that the Diamondbacks met with Bryce Dixon, the agent of free agent starter Johnny Cueto, last week. MLB.com's Steve Gilbert then reported on Sunday night that Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart met with Cueto earlier this month and the club made an offer of $120 million over six years, which the right-hander rejected. Despite being rebuffed, the Diamondbacks are still obviously quite interested in Cueto's services.
Cueto is one of the top free agent arms available, along with David Price and Zack Greinke. And, though the market hadn't been set at the time of the offer, the $20 million average annual value would come in $2 million below what Jordan Zimmermann just received from the Tigers. It is understandable why Cueto would hold out for more money.
Cueto, 30 in February, pitched to a brilliant 2.62 ERA in 19 starts with the Reds before they traded him to the Royals. He struggled in Kansas City, mustering a 4.76 ERA over his final 13 regular season starts. However, he turned in a brilliant performance in Game 2 of the World Series against the Mets, pitching a complete game while allowing only one run on two hits and three walks with four strikeouts. The effort boosted the Royals to a two games to none series lead.
Prior to 2015, Cueto had compiled a 2.82 ERA or lower in each of the previous four seasons. His best effort came in 2014, when he won 20 games, led the league with 243 2/3 innings pitched, posted a 2.25 ERA, and sported a 242/65 K/BB ratio. He finished second in National League Cy Young balloting, as Clayton Kershaw earned all 30 first place votes.
If things don't resolve quickly with Cueto, the Diamondbacks are also expected to pursue Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda.
Blue Jays Interested in Madson
Madson, 35, hadn’t pitched in the majors since Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals as a member of the Phillies. He battled numerous arm injuries, which forced him to take a minor league deal from the Royals, guaranteeing him an $850,000 salary if he made the majors. Madson exceeded even the wildest expectations, compiling a 2.13 ERA and a 58/14 K/BB ratio across 63 1/3 innings. He saved the best for last, tossing three scoreless innings in three World Series appearances, helping the Royals win it all.
Though he’s not exactly a household name, Madson does have experience closing. He saved 32 games in 2011 after usurping the throne of Brad Lidge.
The Jays had some much-ballyhooed closer issues to begin the 2015 season, but Roberto Osuna settled nicely into the closer’s role, saving 20 games with a 2.58 ERA and a 75/16 K/BB ratio in 69 2/3 innings. However, Osuna turns 21 in February, so the Jays may prefer a seasoned veteran at the back end of the ‘pen, understandably.
Quick Hits: The Blue Jays have reportedly narrowed their GM search to current interim GM Tony LaCava and Indians vice president of player personnel Ross Atkins ... Free agent right-hander Trevor Cahill is considering the Pirates ... The Blue Jays reportedly have interest in free agent reliever Ryan Madson … Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski is reportedly trying to trade SS/OF Hanley Ramirez … Free agent IF/OF Ben Zobrist is the Mets’ number one target, according to a report … Mike Hessman, the all-time leader in minor league home runs, retired on Saturday … The Indians have been in touch with free agent outfielder Shane Victorino … Erik Johnson has the inside track on opening up the 2016 season in the White Sox starting rotation … Third baseman Brett Lawrie is “likely to be traded” by the Athletics … The Indians signed catcher Anthony Recker to a minor league deal on Friday … The Marlins have begun extension talks with second baseman Dee Gordon ... The Orioles reportedly have "some level" of interest in free agent outfielder Denard Span.