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Posted at 11:40 AM ET, 02/13/2012

Ryan Zimmerman sticking to spring training deadline in contract extension talks


(Nick Wass - AP)
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has long been optimistic he and the Nationals will reach a deal that will keep him in Washington for the rest of his career. If it happens, the coming week could be a critical time.

With six days remaining until pitchers and catchers report, there have been no new recent developments between the Nationals and Zimmerman regarding a contract extension, a person familiar with the situation said. Zimmerman has not changed his stance of making the start of spring training an informal deadline to table contract discussions, which he imposed to ensure business would not distract him or his teammates from baseball.

If the Nationals and Zimmerman cannot reach a deal between now and spring training, then, the sides would have to restart discussions next offseason, barring a change of heart by Zimmerman.

“I think it’s unfair to my teammates for that to garner any attention during the season,” Zimmerman said last month. “Once spring training comes, it’s time for us to play baseball. If there’s articles, or if there’s people asking me every day how much money I want to make, that’s rather unfair to the other guys around me who are working just as hard to achieve that goal of winning. It’s got to get done by spring training.”

That makes now a crucial period for the Nationals to lock up the face of their franchise. Zimmerman’s current contract runs out after the 2013 season, and he has said he will almost certainly test free agency if he does not have a contract extension heading into that season. If they can’t get a deal by spring training, next winter would seemingly become the only negotiating window remaining.

While there has not been any recent progress, it would be speculative to rule out an extension happening this week. The sides have been in communication since last year, and the Nationals know exactly what it would take for a deal to happen. Zimmerman has cited a strong relationship with General Manager Mike Rizzo as one reason he believes he’ll stay with the Nationals long-term.

In November, the Dodgers offered the latest template for a team making a long-term commitment to a young star when they signed center fielder Matt Kemp to an eight-year, $160 million extension. The Rockies and Brewers also helped define the market with huge deals for Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Braun.

Zimmerman, at 27, has become one of the brightest talents in baseball. He’s hit .296/.370/.499 over the past three seasons while playing perhaps the best defensive third base in the majors.

Injuries, though, have muddled his ascension. He missed 60 games last season because of a torn abdominal muscle, which required surgery in May. He also missed 20 games in 2010, and nearly 60 in 2008 because of a shoulder injury. His health is surely a consideration, but none of his injuries have proven chronic or come in a pattern that suggests more problems later.

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