With long-term security, Zimmerman can be a Nat for life

VIERA, Fla. - Stability and security meant more to Ryan Zimmerman than dollars and cents, so when the third baseman and the Nationals were hammering out what turned out to be a six-year extension to his current contract, the only stumbling block was something that’s usually a deal-breaker for general manager Mike Rizzo: a no-trade clause.

As Rizzo negotiated with Zimmerman’s agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, last week, as talks stretched into the weekend, past the Saturday morning deadline established by Zimmerman and then into Saturday night and Sunday morning, the third baseman’s camp held firm on no-trade protection covering the length of the extension. By just past dinnertime Saturday, Zimmerman and Van Wagenen were satisfied that Rizzo would meet that demand, and the framework for a deal was finally in place.

Zimmerman signed a six-year, $100 million extension Sunday morning, and the Nationals have a team option for $24 million on a seventh year that could keep him in Washington through 2020, when he’ll turn 36. The extension will be tacked on to the final two years of his current five-year, $45 million deal, which runs through 2013 and pays Zimmerman $26 million, meaning Zimmerman could earn $150 million over the next nine seasons.

“This is a very exciting day for me and, I think, for this organization,” Zimmerman said in a press conference attended by 14 of his teammates, two of his coaches and his manager. “They’ve given me so much. They’ve given me a chance to play at this level, a chance to do everything I’ve done. It felt right to kind of give them something back and give them the rest of my career and produce here and ultimately win a World Series.”

With Zimmerman locked up, the Nationals have secured a core group of their younger players for the next handful of seasons - shortstop Ian Desmond and right-hander Jordan Zimmermann through 2015; right-hander Stephen Strasburg, catcher Wilson Ramos, left-hander Gio Gonzalez, second baseman Danny Espinosa and closer Drew Storen through 2016; and outfielders Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper through 2017. Zimmerman is in the fold, perhaps through 2020.

“For them to treat me as well as they’ve treated me the whole time through this process, I think ... all the young guys who are going to go through this in a couple of years, seeing how they treated me, will make a lot of people want to stay here,” Zimmerman said.

The responsibility for keeping the nucleus together, and adding to it, will fall to Rizzo. By laying the groundwork for Zimmerman to retire as a National, the general manager made a statement about how he’ll take care of his most productive and loyal players, even if Zimmerman, the team’s first draft pick after arriving in D.C. before the 2005 season, is something of a special case on both fronts.

“It’s multi-layered when you have to commit this kind of money and this many years to a player,” Rizzo said. “You better know the person and the person’s character and the person’s makeup. Zim, I’ve seen since I’ve gotten here in 2006, is the epitome of the lead-by-example guy. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times to other younger players: Just watch the way he prepares. He’s not verbose, he doesn’t have to scream and yell to get his point across. It all starts with performance on the field but it trickles to respect in the clubhouse and what he does in the community.”

Zimmerman, who grew up watching Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. and marveled at the notion of a player spending his entire career with a single team, said the thought of being a National for life was always in the back of his mind. It’s a rarity in a landscape where free agency and the lust for bigger contracts drives players to change teams.

“I grew up watching Cal Ripken and what he did ... and you don’t see it that much anymore,” Zimmerman explained. “There’s a couple of us now who happen to be pretty good friends - (Colorado’s Troy) Tulowitzki and (Milwaukee’s Ryan) Braun - and we were all in the same draft. Not that we talked about that a long time ago, but as it started creeping up on all of us, we started talking about how cool it would be to play your whole career with one organization. Obviously, it takes you working hard and them wanting to keep you. On the other hand, it takes a person not wanting to chase. It’s not always greener on the other side, I guess, is the other way to put it. ... I want to be comfortable and I’ve always been comfortable here. Going to a new place would be weird to me.”

To Rizzo, the thought of not having Zimmerman at third base or in the No. 3 spot in the lineup was equally odd.

“Really, this was the No. 1 order of business going into the offseason,” Rizzo said. “As Brodie can attest to, we’ve been talking about this for a long, long time. This has been in the works for a long, long time. We talked about what seems like forever. It was a complicated contract to get done, but it was so important we couldn’t back-burner it.”

Not even as Zimmerman’s self-imposed deadline approached, as Zimmerman held resolute on the no-trade language. The no-trade provision doesn’t cover the next two seasons on Zimmerman’s current deal, but neither side can envision Zimmerman in another uniform. And for the next two years, specific provisions in the contract’s wording wake if difficult for Rizzo to even think of dealing Zimmerman - not that he’s interested in that at all, but the safeguard exists.

“With Mike Rizzo as the general manager of the Nationals, (Zimmerman) won’t be traded. ... My feeling on the matter is, why would I trade a 27-, 28-year-old All-Star player? It doesn’t make a lot of sense on a lot of levels,” Rizzo explained.

Added Rizzo: “When you don’t have the no-trade clause, it gives you the flexibility, of course. When the decision is either don’t give a no-trade and not have the player or give a no-trade and have the player, a player of this caliber, you give the no-trade because the player is so special. That was the driving force of Ryan Zimmerman signing his deal with us: He wanted to be here through the life of the contract and for the rest of his career. It didn’t take a genius of a general manager to figure out this guy’s a pretty darned good player, he wants to be here and I’d like to have him.”

Zimmerman said the knowledge that he’d be a long-term fixture in Washington was worth every bit as much as the language written into the deal to make sure that happened. The money? Nice, but not a deal-breaker, both sides of the negotiating table agreed.

“When we were negotiating this contract, Brodie and I, as hard as we worked, not one time did (Zimmerman) mention anything about money,” Rizzo said. “This was all about being here, wanting to be here, wanting to ensure he was going to be a Washington National.”

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