DETROIT — Jordan Zimmermann’s arrival in Detroit is encouraging news for Tigers fans because of what he can bring to the starting rotation — and what his contract signals about the team’s willingness to spend.
Zimmermann was introduced Monday after finalizing a $110 million, five-year contract with the Tigers. He was flanked at the news conference by general manager Al Avila and owner Mike Ilitch, the latter making a rare appearance in front of reporters during a turbulent year for his baseball team.
“I don’t care about spending money,” Ilitch said. “They get the players and I spend and I don’t worry about it, because they have good judgment. We’ve had good teams over the years, and it’s a lot of fun for me.”
Following four straight AL Central titles, the Tigers finished last this year. Detroit traded high-priced stars David Price and Yoenis Cespedes during the season and replaced GM Dave Dombrowski with Avila. With an expensive core of Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Victor Martinez that has shown signs of age, it is fair to wonder whether the Tigers missed their window of opportunity to win their first World Series since 1984.
But Detroit has been active early this offseason. The Tigers have also traded for closer Francisco Rodriguez and outfielder Cameron Maybin, and the signing of Zimmermann is an indication that the team still is willing to make a big financial commitment.
The right-hander gets $18 million in each of the next two seasons, $24 million in 2018 and $25 million in each of the final two years. He has a full-no trade provision through 2018, then can be dealt to 10 teams without his permission during 2019-20.
Zimmermann went 13-10 with a 3.66 ERA last season for Washington, striking out 164 with 39 walks. The previous year, he went 14-5 with a 2.66 ERA.
Zimmermann was the first major free agent to come to an agreement this offseason. He was part of an impressive market of pitchers that includes Price, Zack Greinke and Johnny Cueto. The Tigers made their bid for Zimmermann, and he was willing to strike a deal quickly.
“They had me as a top target, and other teams that were out there, I was the second or third option,” Zimmermann said. “I didn’t want to wait until January into February. I wanted to sign early. We knew what my value was.”
Detroit will forfeit its second-round pick in June’s amateur draft and Washington will gain a compensation selection, No. 38 overall.
Zimmermann was the first free agent to sign among the 17 with compensation attached.
The Tigers slipped last season in large part because their rotation declined after Max Scherzer signed with Washington as a free agent. Now Zimmermann is heading in the other direction, joining a Detroit starting staff that includes Verlander and Anibal Sanchez.
It’s the first major free agent acquisition for Avila, who took over when Dombrowski was let go shortly after the trade deadline. Reporters didn’t have a chance to question Ilitch about Dombrowski’s departure when it happened, so that topic came up Monday. Ilitch objected to the idea that Dombrowski had been fired, pointing out that the GM’s contract would have been up at the end of the season.
“I wanted to win,” Ilitch said. “I figured I needed to try and get somebody else.”
Now Avila, Dombrowski’s longtime assistant, is the GM, and the team apparently still had a decent amount of financial flexibility coming into this offseason. Ilitch was asked if he is prepared to have a payroll approaching the luxury tax threshold.
“I’m supposed to be a good boy and not go over it,” Ilitch said. “But again, if I’m going to get certain players that can help us a lot, I’ll go over it. Oops, I shouldn’t have said that.”
Even with Zimmermann in the fold, the Tigers may have their work cut out for them in a division that includes World Series champion Kansas City, an improving Minnesota team and a Cleveland rotation that has plenty of potential.
Zimmermann leaves Washington after a disappointing season in which the Nationals finished seven games behind the NL East champion New York Mets. With Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and youngster Joe Ross, starting pitching could still be a strength for the Nationals.
As part of the deal, Zimmermann would earn $500,000 for winning the Cy Young Award, $200,000 for finishing second and $100,000 for third, and he has the same provisions for the MVP Award. He would get $100,000 apiece for becoming an All-Star and winning a Gold Glove. He would earn $200,000 if he is World Series MVP and $150,000 if he is League Championship Series MVP.