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Desmond, Zimmermann reject Nats' offers

WASHINGTON -- Shortstop Ian Desmond and right-hander Jordan Zimmermann declined one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offers from the Nationals ahead of Friday's 5 p.m. ET deadline.

The news does not come as a surprise, as both players likely are headed toward larger long-term deals on the free-agent market. If Desmond and Zimmermann sign with new clubs, the Nationals now will receive a compensatory pick for each in the 2016 Draft.

That will not be the case for the club's other free agents who did not receive qualifying offers last Friday. That list includes center fielder Denard Span and righty Doug Fister. The Nats still can re-sign any of their players who are on the market, but they appear unlikely to do so.

On Friday, Dodgers pitcher Brett Anderson, Astros outfielder Colby Rasmus and Orioles catcher Matt Wieters became the first three players in the four-year history of the qualifying offer to accept. In contrast, the decision to decline probably was not a difficult one for either Desmond or Zimmermann.

Although Desmond's offensive numbers declined significantly this season, to a line of .233/.290/.384, he won National League Silver Slugger Awards in each of the three previous years, reaching 20 homers and 20 steals each time. That type of production is difficult to find at shortstop, a position whose free-agent class this winter is not especially deep.

If Desmond signs elsewhere, the Nats can fill his spot from within. Yunel Escobar played shortstop for most of his career until spending last season at third base for the club, while Danny Espinosa was mostly a shortstop in the Minors and also has some big league experience there. Trea Turner, the organization's No. 2 prospect, got his first taste of the Majors late last season.

"We've got depth in the middle," Nats general manager Mike Rizzo said earlier this week at the General Managers Meetings in Boca Raton, Fla. "We've got veteran players in Escobar, who has played shortstop pretty successfully for a long time, and Espinosa, who can really play shortstop and second base. Then, we've also got a younger group of players that we feel can either facilitate us in 2016, or at least certainly be the future in Trea Turner and [No. 4 prospect] Wilmer Difo."

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Zimmermann's numbers also slipped a bit in 2015, as his 3.66 ERA was easily his highest of the last five seasons and a full run higher than the previous year. But even in a market crowded with high-end starting pitchers, Zimmermann should be set up well. Since '11, he is 66-43 with a 3.14 ERA over 155 starts.

At the end of the season, Zimmermann said he wasn't sure if he would return to Washington.

"Every team is going to have a shot," he said. "We'll see this offseason what happens if they come calling."

Should they lose Zimmermann and Fister, the Nats could put Tanner Roark and Joe Ross in the rotation behind Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. Roark split last season between starting and relieving, while Ross made 13 promising starts as a rookie.

Andrew Simon is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.
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