Nothing like a little bit of drama to make spring training interesting as full-squad workouts begin.
That's the approach Ryan Zimmerman and the Washington Nationals took this weekend, with the team's franchise player imposing a Saturday deadline to agree on a contract extension. Presumably, Zimmerman wanted to stay with the theme of last spring and prevent himself from becoming a distraction to his fellow Nats.
No worries, mates. There will be no distractions this spring in Viera, Fla. Not from Zimmerman, anyway.
The Nationals and their third baseman agreed to a six-year, $100 million contract extension on Sunday, which will be tacked on to the two years and $26 million that the team had already committed to Zimmerman. The deal includes a $24 million team option for 2020, along with a full no-trade clause, which was reportedly the major obstacle to an agreement being reached.
Only the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez will earn more money among major-league third basemen. Yet Zimmerman still won't be the highest-paid player on the Nationals. Outfielder Jayson Werth is set to earn an average of $18 million per year for the next six seasons, while Zimmerman will average $16.7 million through the duration of his contract.
But hey, who's counting? (Other than Nats GM Mike Rizzo and owner Ted Lerner, that is.)
Zimmerman has been Mr. National, drafted by the team in 2005, its first season in Washington, D.C. A first-round pick out of Virginia (fourth overall), he spent just 67 games in the minors before being called up that September. Zimmerman has been entrenched at third base ever since, averaging 25 homers, 95 RBIs and an .834 OPs, while wearing a Nats uniform longer than any of his current teammates.
That is, when he hasn't been injured. If there's one knock against Zimmerman, it's been his ability to stay in the lineup. In his six full seasons with the team, he's played more than 150 games three times, missing major time with shoulder, rib and abdominal injuries. That was surely a concern for the Nationals as they considered signing Zimmerman to a long-term contract.
But with an up-and-down offseason, in which the team traded for pitcher Gio Gonzalez yet lost out on Prince Fielder in free agency, the Nationals needed to lock up their cornerstone player to keep a strong core of young talent together and stay competitive in the NL East. Though Zimmerman was signed for two more years, reducing the urgency to hammer out a contract extension now, getting the deal done showed an important level of commitment to Nats players and fans. It also eliminates what would have been a huge issue going into next spring.
With the new contract, Zimmerman became the sixth major leaguer to be signed through at least the 2019 season. He joins the Detroit Tigers' Fielder, Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels, the Colorado Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki, Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun.