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Is Jordan Zimmermann turning himself into a viable trade piece for the Tigers?

The Detroit Tigers snapped a three-game skid on Friday with a 2-1 victory over the Texas Rangers, behind a brilliant eight-inning performance from Jordan Zimmermann.

After allowing a leadoff home run to the Rangers’ Shin-Soo Choo on the second pitch of the evening, Zimmermann surrendered just three more hits the remainder of the way, retiring the final 11 hitters he faced. It was just the fourth time in 58 starts with the Tigers than he had gone eight innings deep into a game. Zimmermann also punched out 11 Texas batters, the first time he reached double-digit strikeouts in a start since September of 2014 when he no-hit the Miami Marlins in his final outing of the season.

Zimmermann has really turned things around since his return from the disabled list on June 16. In those four starts, he has registered a 1.80 ERA and opponents are hitting just .193 off him. If you factor in the two starts he made prior to his DL stint, the ERA drops down to 1.22 and the K/BB ratio is nearly 7 to 1.

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It is refreshing for Tigers fans to finally see Zimmermann performing at a level that many had hoped for and expected when he arrived in 2016. In fact, this is easily his best stretch of games since his first month in a Detroit uniform when he logged a microscopic 0.55 ERA in five April outings. However, all of this certainly does raise another question:

Could Jordan Zimmermann suddenly be on the trade block?

That question seemed laughable for so long around these parts and, to some degree, is still a bit comical to think about. But the Tigers are in a rebuild after all and if there is a team or two out there in need of a veteran starter, do not be surprised if Zimmermann’s name is bandied about in the coming weeks.

There are some positive indicators that make the 32-year-old an attractive trade chip. His 8.95 K/9 is the highest of his career and both his 1.60 BB/9 and 0.96 HR/9, respectively, are at their lowest since 2014 when he was an All-Star with the Washington Nationals and finished fifth in the National League Cy Young voting.

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Much of this has to do with the improvement in the quality of his pitch repertoire. When Zimmermann debuted with the Nationals in 2009, exactly two-thirds of his pitches were of the fastball variety, while mixing in off-speed stuff. As he has aged and battled some injuries, he has learned to balance out his arsenal. So much so, that his 45.4 percent usage of fastballs this season is the lowest of his career and he’s flipping up sliders a career-high 35.1 percent of the time.

That evolution has aided Zimmermann and the Tigers in 2018. Opponents are hitting just a tick over .300 against Jordan’s heater this season (compared to .340 combined in 2016-17). The success of the slider is still there (.213 opp. BA) but a huge difference has been the curveball. Opposing batters are posting a paltry.280 OPS against Zimmermann’s bender, a stark contrast to the 1.082 OPS against it in 2017.

In his last two starts, in particular, he has been conscious about dropping the hammer more, using it 23.8 percent of the time combined against Texas and the Toronto Blue Jays, after using it no more than 10 percent in his three previous starts.

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Again, we stress here that it is only a handful of starts lately for Zimmermann but to call it an encouraging sign would be an understatement. And while it is an intriguing proposition, it is by no means a foregone conclusion that he could be dealt.

There are multiple obvious signs that would deter suitors away, specifically the fact that he recently turned 32 years of age and has a history (especially recent) of injury woes, including his month-long DL stint this season with a shoulder impingement. And that is before even mentioning the remainder of his lucrative deal he signed back in November of 2015 that still has two years and $50 million after 2018. Zimmermann also has a no-trade clause his contract (which he would need to waive to approve any deal) for this season and a more modified version (10-team approval list) of that clause in the final two years.

Given his multiple years of control, that opens up the book to more potential buyers, including teams who are on the cusp of making a playoff run but not quite a World Series contender yet.

This situation draws some comparisons to what the Tigers went through a season ago with Justin Verlander, who had an ERA just a shade under 5.00 through July 2 (a span of 17 starts). Verlander managed to turn things around, posting a 2.31 ERA over his next 11 games before the Tigers shipped him off to the Houston Astros just before the August 31 waiver trade deadline.

Detroit could end up doing the same thing with Zimmermann. His next start is scheduled for Wednesday, July 11 against the Tampa Bay Rays on the road and would be his final outing before the All-Star break. He would then have either two or three additional starts before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. And if no such deal formulates by then, the Tigers still have the August 31 deadline day to work something out.

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In all likelihood, Detroit would have to take on some level of Zimmermann’s remaining guaranteed salary to make any potential trade look attractive for a buyer and help get any semblance of a package in return. And even then, it likely would not end up being a dream, organization-changing deal for Detroit. But it is something opposing clubs should probably consider at the very least if they need starting pitching.

The Tigers are in a spot where their entire starting rotation is virtually on the trading block, in some form or another. Zimmermann may be the toughest piece of the bunch to deal away but he also could be the most attractive to a team, as of this moment.


*Stats provided by FanGraphs and the Pitchf/X tool via BrooksBaseball.net

Written by Alex Muller

MSU Graduate. Just a city boy born and raised in south Detroit. Baseball is life, a pitcher at heart. Freelance writer for MIPrepZone (News-Herald, Press & Guide).

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