VIERA, Fla. - Ryan Zimmerman entered the Nationals' clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium around 8:10 a.m. Sunday and tried to get to his locker without any fanfare.
He almost made it to his stall in the far corner next to the showers. But a few yards away, he was intercepted by teammate MIchael Morse, who offered a congratulatory high five to celebrate the third baseman's new long-term extension with the Nationals.
Terms and length of the contract are unknown, and Zimmerman said the Nationals would hold a press briefing after today's full-squad workout. But it was clear as he sat at his locker, that Zimmerman was happy to have the protracted negotiations that will secure his long-term future in Washington, D.C. behind him.
"It's a relief," he said.
Zimmerman had set a 10 a.m. Saturday deadline - coinciding with the team's first full-squad workout of spring training - for a deal to be consummated. Yesterday afternoon, when that deadline had passed, he offered an extension through the end of the day because he was happy with the progress that had been made in resolving the one issue that was holding up a deal - no-trade protection. Last night, a little after 11 p.m., general manager Mike Rizzo announced that significant progress had been made in negotiations and that both sides hoped to announce an agreement Sunday.
"These things are hard to (do)," Zimmerman said. "It's a lot of stuff to work out and it's a big commitment. Things like that don't get done quickly. Both sides have worked tirelessly to get this done and now we don't have to worry about this anymore."
The Nationals' first draft pick in 2005, Zimmerman has become the face of the franchise, a role he may yet yield to a new wave of stars such as pitcher Stephen Strasburg or outfielder Bryce Harper. But the extension of his current five-year, $45 million deal, which would have expired at the conclusion of the 2013 season, gives Zimmerman some security and keeps him close to his hometown of Virginia Beach, Va., and near the University of Virginia, where he played college baseball.
"That was the whole point of this thing from the beginning," he said. "I love playing here and I love the organization, but it's always been like this from day one when I started playing here - how I'm lucky to be in this position to be so close to my family, to kind of be in the area where I grew up, where I went to school. I enjoy playing here."
Update: Zimmerman's deal is for six years, through 2019, with a team option for 2020. He's already under contract for the next two years. He becomes the sixth major leaguer signed through 2019, joining Albert Pujols of the Angels, Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies, Matt Kemp of the Dodgers, Ryan Braun of the Brewers and Prince Fielder of the TIgers.
Update: Here are the terms of the deal: Zimmerman will earn $100 million for the six-year extension and $24 million if the Nationals pick up his 2020 option. Coupled with the $26 million he will make for 2012 and 2013, the value could reach $150 million for the next nine years.