October 22, 2018

Washington Nationals extend qualifying offers to Desmond, Zimmermann

Shortstop Ian Desmond returned to the lineup - New York Mets v. Washington Nationals, August 17, 2012.  (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

(Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

The Washington Nationals began their player-focused portion of the offseason Friday, extending $15.8 million qualifying offers to shortstop Ian Desmond and starter Jordan Zimmermann, declining to make offers to center fielder Denard Span and starter Doug Fister.

Across the league, a record 20 potential free agents were tendered qualifying offers, including New York Mets playoff hero Daniel Murphy, former Nats starter Marco Estrada (Toronto) and the Dodgers’ Zack Greinke.

Players have until Nov. 13 to accept the offer. In the three previous offseasons of the current collective bargaining agreement, none of the 34 qualifying offers was taken as free agents sought contracts with longer terms.

Desmond, 30, hit .233/.290/.384 with 19 homers and 62 RBIs last season after turning down a multi-year deal from the Nats in the offseason. He also had 27 errors and a .960 fielding percentage and by any metric had a disappointing season at bat and in the field. Despite that, Desmond’s track record and pop/speed combo should earn him a lucrative multi-year deal as a free agent this offseason. With a built-in replacement in Trea Turner, the Nats certainly don’t expect Desmond to accept the offer.

Zimmermann, 30 in May, went 13-10 with a 3.66 ERA, 1.205 WHIP and 7.3/1.7 K/BB rate in 33 starts in 2015. It was a wildly inconsistent year for the stoic righty from Wisconsin, sometimes looking like the dependable veteran but also showing signs of struggle and inability to put batters away. His overall ERA and WHIP were the highest full-season numbers of his career. It has been generally assumed that Zimmermann would test the free agent market when his contract was up, with the likelihood that he lands in a city closer to his upper-Midwestern home.

Span, 32 in February, suffered an injury-plagued season, with back, head and eventually hip problems limiting him to 61 games and 275 plate appearances. He was productive when in the lineup, hitting .301/.365/.431 with five homers, 22 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. But the Nats couldn’t afford to make him a qualifying offer as he might have actually taken the one-year proffer in order to prove health before hitting the market again next season. Span just completed a six-year, $25 million deal, so the $15.8 million would be a significant raise for the often-injured speedster. As with Desmond, the Nats have a replacement ready, as Michael Taylor enjoyed a successful rookie season at the plate and in the field.

Fister, 32 in February, was another disappointment for Washington in 2015. He followed his 16-6, 2,41 2014 with a 15-start 5-7 campaign with a 4.19 ERA and 1,398 WHIP and was relegated to the bullpen in August in favor of rookie Joe Ross. Fister spent time on the DL with forearm tightness, but upon his return wasn’t much better than when he left. A sinkerball pitcher, Fister’s ground ball rate was the lowest of his career, and was actually above Major League average. With a fastball that sits 88 MPH and low K-rate, that leaves no margin for error and Fister might have a hard time finding a starting job in the bigs next season.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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