The Nationals are willing to listen to trade offers on starters Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, as Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported earlier today, and their main motive may not just be to get something back for two pitchers heading into their contract years. According to league sources, industry speculation is that the Nationals could be looking to move Zimmermann and/or Fister in order to position themselves for a potential pursuit of free-agent starter Max Scherzer.
Earlier today, Zimmermann told James Wagner of the Washington Post that he is not currently engaged in extension talks with the club, and Fister's camp is not saying anything on potential extension talks at this point. This has led to many believing that the club may prefer trading one or both of the pitchers, with their eyes on Scherzer as a long-term rotation target.
Washington has limited payroll commitments after this year, with only $48 million committed to 2016 at the moment and $36 million committed to 2017. The team will have big checks to write if they are looking to extend young stars Bryce Harper (signed through 2018) or Stephen Strasburg (signed through 2016). Gio Gonzalez (controllable through 2018) and Tanner Roark (controllable through 2019) are the other members of a star-studded rotation currently headlined by Zimmermann, Strasburg and Fister.
By trading either Zimmermann or Fister and signing Scherzer, the Nationals would get a prime starter on a long-term deal in addition to multiple prospects in other areas of weakness that could come from deals involving either of the starters. The Cubs have been publicly linked to Zimmermann so far this year, and both pitchers are expected to draw significant interest throughout the league on the trade market.