The Detroit Tigers set free agency in motion on Sunday by agreeing to a five-year, $110 million pact with Jordan Zimmermann.
The deal, which reportedly contains no option years, will cost the Tigers more than just nine figures. Zimmermann rejected a qualifying offer from the Washington Nationals, which means Detroit will surrender their second-round draft pick in June.
After watching Max Scherzer leave in free agency last winter and trading David Price this summer, the Tigers were in dire need of a reliable starting pitcher. Even if you are still confident in Johnny Cueto after his tenure with the Kansas City Royals, Zimmermann is no worse than the fourth-best arm in an extremely deep free agent class.
Zimmermann isn't in a same class as Price or Zack Greinke -- he lacks their strikeout rate, among other things -- but still receives a nice payday a few months prior to his 30th birthday. As Zach Links of MLB Trade Rumors points out, the right-hander is the first to land a $100 million-plus contract after having Tommy John surgery. He certainly won't be the last.
Over the last five seasons, Zimmermann has compiled a 3.14 ERA and exemplary 4.31 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He was among the leaders for the National League Cy Young in 2013 (seventh) and 2014 (fifth). He has also been highly dependable, averaging more than 32 starts since the start of the 2012 season.
Advanced metrics are kind to Zimmermann as well. He ranks ninth among active pitchers with a career 3.40 FIP and just a season ago his 2.68 FIP was the second-best in the NL.
While his efforts were nothing to sneeze at, the Wisconsin native saw his value dip a bit following a "down" year. After posting a 2.66 ERA, striking out 8.2 batters per nine innings and recording 6.28 strikeouts for every one walk in 2014, Zimmermann saw his numbers decline this past season.
His ERA rose a full point (3.66) and both his K/9 (7.3) and K/BB (4.21) took hits as well. His FIP numbers showed less of a decline (2.68 to 3.75), but there is no question that he was far superior two seasons ago.
There will likely be an adjustment to the American League and a more competitive division, but Brad Ausmus will gladly send him out to the mound every fifth day.
Grade for Zimmermann: B+
Ten pitchers logged six or more starts for the Tigers in 2015 and only two were more effective than Zimmermann was for the Nationals. One of those pitchers (Price) will soon sign with another franchise and the other (Verlander) will be 33 in February as he continues to reinvent himself on the mound.
In addition to Verlander and Zimmermann, Detroit also has Anibal Sanchez at the top half of their rotation. At this point either Verlander or Zimmermann will be the team's No. 1.
Grade for Tigers: A
Making a $110 million commitment to anyone carries risk and Zimmermann certainly comes with some, but this contract may soon become the best pitching bargain of the offseason.
Price (30) and Greinke (32) will both command seven-year deals that will bring them dangerously close to 40. Cueto (29) may or may not surpass Zimmermann's guaranteed haul, but his decline in the second half of the season is enough to label any long-term contract high-risk.
The Tigers did well in casting the first stone.