Teammates say franchise cornerstone earned long-term security

VIERA, Fla. - As news of Ryan Zimmerman’s long-awaited, long-term extension with the Nationals passed through the Space Coast Stadium clubhouse Sunday morning, the third baseman’s teammates spoke of how much Zimmerman deserved the security afforded by the deal, which could keep him in a Washington uniform through 2020.

“I think that’s great. I think it’s showing that the Nationals, the Lerner family is trying to bring a winning ballclub here to D.C. for a long time,” said left fielder Michael Morse. “I think Zim is a cornerstone in this organization. When you think of the Washington Nationals, the first thing you think of is Ryan Zimmerman. Why wouldn’t they want to keep him here? He’s a great on and off the field player, a professional on and off the field, he leads by example and you can tell by his hard work and dedication to the game that he deserves every penny.”

Zimmerman’s extension to his current five-year, $45 million deal that runs through 2013 is for six years, with a $24 million club option for 2020, and includes full-no trade protection. He will earn $100 million during the six-year term of the extension, but the deal - including the $26 owed him for the next two seasons of his current pact - could be worth $150 million over the next nine years if the Nationals pick up his 2020 option. The agreement will be officially announced this afternoon after the team’s workout.

With Zimmerman locked up, the Nationals now have a group of their core players under contract for an extended period. Shortstop Ian Desmond and right-hander Jordan Zimmermann are under team control through 2015, while right-hander Stephen Strasburg, catcher Wilson Ramos, left-hander Gio Gonzalez, second baseman Danny Espinosa and closer Drew Storen are under contract through 2016. Outfielders Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper are under team control through 2017 and Zimmerman, Washington’s first draft pick after arriving from Montreal in 2005, could be a National until he’s 36.

“He’s been an important part of this core group,” Storen said of Zimmerman. “He’s been here for a long time and he’s definitely one of the leaders on this team, so we need to make sure and keep him around for as long as possible.”

More than anything, Zimmerman’s teammates are pleased that a deal was hammered out that allows the team’s focus to return to preparing for the 2012 season. Zimmerman, wary that prolonged negotiations could become a distraction, had placed a deadline of 10 a.m. Saturday for a deal to be hashed out, then extended that limit - first to later Saturday and then into Sunday when he was pleased with the progress made on the last hurdle, a no-trade clause.

“That’s just the type of player that he is: He puts his teammates first,” Desmond said. “I think he genuinely means that. I think it’s not that he wanted the deal now, I think, it’s that he genuinely wanted for us to move forward without us having to deal with any controversy.”

Added Morse: “For Zim, I bet it kind of lets him relax a little bit. ... That’s just one less thing we have to hear about and talk about in spring training, so we can focus on the season.”

Because Zimmerman is respected and well-liked, there was as much a sense of satisfaction in the clubhouse before Sunday’s workout as there was relief.

“He’s got the loyalty to the team and to D.C.,” Storen said. “This is where we all want to stay, obviously, and he showed that. ... It’s a pretty good amount of change, I’m sure, but we all wanted him to get it done.”

Desmond said it couldn’t happen to a nicer - or better - guy. An All-Star appearance, a Gold Glove, two Silver Sluggers - Zimmerman’s on-the-field achievements are only part of the story, he pointed out.

“So many times when you’re trying to describe who Ryan Zimmerman is, I think the last thing you say is how good of a player he is,” Desmond said. “You say he’s a good person, a hard worker, he comes through in the clutch. Then the last thing that hits you is how awesome he is as a baseball player. I think the good personality traits stand out more than his playing ability.”

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