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Jordan Zimmermann is under the Nationals' control through 2015.
So, who's next on the list? The two obvious candidates are Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond.
Both players are home-grown and have firmly established themselves as key pieces to the Nationals' long-term puzzle. Both are eligible for arbitration for the next three seasons before they can become free agents at the end of 2015. And general manager Mike Rizzo has broached the subject of a long-term extension with both players over the last 12 months, though no significant progress has yet been made.
Obviously, there are compelling reasons for the Nationals to lock both guys up. With Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez already under team control through 2016, an extension for Zimmermann would ensure the Nats' three aces would remain together for at least four more seasons. And after Desmond blossomed into an All-Star shortstop last season, the Nationals would be wise to ensure he stays in D.C. now before his salary starts to balloon out of control.
There are, however, reasons for both players to hold off agreeing to such a deal right now.
For Zimmermann, the argument against a long-term contract might be the presence of those two other big-name starters ahead of him in the Nationals' rotation. While Strasburg and Gonzalez get most of the attention and credit, the soft-spoken Zimmermann is treated more like a No. 3 starter here.
Other franchises would probably view the right-hander as far more than a No. 3 starter, though. He'd instantly be the ace in perhaps a dozen other rotations right now, let alone in three years once he's really established himself. And that could lead to some humongous contract offers should he ever become a free agent.
The Nationals would probably offer Zimmermann an extension in the same ballpark as the one they gave Gonzalez (five years, $42 million). Perhaps they'd give him a bit more. But on the open market, he might easily command $75 million-plus.
If you're Jordan Zimmermann -- who on Friday filed for arbitration at $5.8 million, against the Nationals' $4.6 million offer -- it's awfully tempting to wait this out and go for a really big payday in three years.
Desmond hasn't quite proven his value to that extent yet, with only one above-average big-league season on his resume. But it's not hard to see the direction he's headed. Even if he fails to duplicate his numbers from last season, he's clearly turned a corner in his career.
After coming to terms with the Nationals on a one-year, $3.8 million contract Friday, Desmond stands to earn some nice raises the next two winters via arbitration. Which would then set him up for his own mammoth payday once he hits free agency following the 2015 season, having just turned 30.
Again, it's easy to see why Desmond might be tempted to wait. At the very least, he might want to wait until next winter, when he'll have more leverage if he puts up solid numbers again.
The Nationals find themselves in a tricky position. Though they've dramatically increased spending over the last three years, raising payroll from $66 million in 2010 to a number that is likely to exceed $110 million this season, there is already plenty of money allocated to future seasons.
They're already on the hook for $72 million in 2014 to only six players: Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Rafael Soriano, Gio Gonzalez and Denard Span. Werth is signed through 2017. Zimmerman is signed through 2019. Gonzalez is signed through 2016. And then there are Strasburg and Bryce Harper, whose salaries are going to increase by a hefty amount once they reach arbitration, let alone if there's any hope of retaining either superstar once they become free agents.
While there should be enough money for modest extensions for Zimmermann and Desmond, there may not be enough to go hog-wild on one or both players. At least, not if the Nationals have any hope of adding other pieces down the road or attempting to keep Strasburg and/or Harper.
In the end, it'll take some compromise on both ends to get either deal done. Whether both sides are willing to compromise remains to be seen.