According to the report, the two teams have enough mutual interest in a deal that they've begun discussing names of players that each side could include. The Cubs reportedly would have to include one of their "touted young middle infielders," which could refer to players such as All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro or 2014 call-up Javier Baez.
Zimmermann, 28, has made the All-Star team the last two seasons and has combined to go 45-22 with a 2.96 ERA over the past three seasons, pitching close to 200 innings each year. He threw his first career no-hitter on the final day of the 2014 regular season.
The pitcher hadn't previously been mentioned as a candidate for a trade, but the Sun-Times reports that Washington believes it has enough starting pitching to contend without Zimmermann and can thus pursue a deal instead of paying his high salary. Each member of the Nationals' rotation had an ERA of 3.57 or lower in 2014.
Zimmermann is set to receive $16.5 million next season in the final year of a two-year deal. He turned down a five-year, $85 million extension offer from the Nationals in 2013.
Since Zimmermann is set to become a free agent after the 2015 season, the Cubs reportedly would likely want an assurance they'd be able to sign the pitcher to a contract extension before agreeing to a trade.
The Cubs went just 73-89 last season and missed the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year, but team management believes it can be competitive in 2015 due the emergence of a young core, including Castro, Baez, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and outfielder Jorge Soler.
Team president Theo Epstein has said the team will be active in free agency and it was reported last week the Cubs are targeting catcher Russell Martin. The Sun-Times also reported starting pitchers Jon Lester and Justin Masterson and outfielder Torii Hunter as potential free agent targets.
Chicago already made one significant change this offseason, firing manager Rick Renteria and replacing him with Joe Maddon, who surprisingly exercised an out clause in his contract with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the team he had managed since 2006.
- Ben Estes