With the Prince Fielder sweepstakes having reached its stunning conclusion, the Nationals can move on to another pressing matter: the process of signing third baseman Ryan Zimmerman to a long-term contract extension.
First, know this: Zimmerman, like a lot of Nationals fans, wanted the Nationals to sign Fielder. But he said their inability to match Detroit’s staggering nine-year, $214 million deal should not detract from other moves the Nationals made, such as trading for Gio Gonzalez and signing him to an extension.
“I think they went after a guy they wanted, and they had a line where they were going to stop, and they didn’t go any further,” Zimmerman said. “Mike and the Lerners, they have a very definite plan of what they want to do. Those guys are doing a great job. They’ve done a lot of other good things this offseason, so I hope this doesn’t overshadow a lot of that.
“I wanted [Fielder] on our team as much as all the other 29 teams wanted him. The most important message is, hopefully this doesn’t overshadow all the other good things they’ve done this winter.
“To be involved, and to be one of these clubs players are considering, is a positive thing for our organization. The fact that top-tier free agents are heavily considering us a huge step forward for us.”
Zimmerman reiterated his desire to stay with the Nationals for the rest of his career. Both the Nationals and Zimmerman’s camp know what it the other side wants for a deal to happen; it’s just a matter of bridging that gap.
Zimmerman said the Nationals’ pursuit of Fielder had no bearing on those feelings. He said he would be open to structuring a potential deal in such a way that it would free up money in the Nationals’ budget to build a competitive team around him.
“I don’t think this really affects me one way or another,” Zimmerman said. “We’ve kind of talked the whole time and agreed both sides would be creative. We want to do a deal so it helps me and the team at the same time, so they can go out and sign guys like Prince Fielder or other free agents.
“The reason I want to be here, I’ve been here for the bad times, and I hope to be here for the good times. If they’re going to have a couple guys that are going to make a ton of money and make it so they can’t sign other guys, that’s not what I want.
“Both sides are willing to try and be creative and work some stuff out. I have two years left here for sure. I would like to make that however many years I have left playing. We’ll see where it goes.”
Zimmerman has said previously he would almost certainly test free agency if he reached spring training of 2013, his final season under contract, without agreeing on an extension with the Nationals.
The current window for negotiating, though, will close soon. Out of his desire for his contract situation to not distract from the Nationals, Zimmerman said he would want to table any talks once spring training begins.
“I think it’s unfair to my teammates for that to garner any attention during the season,” Zimmerman said. “Once spring training comes, it’s time for us to play baseball. If there’s articles, or if there’s people asking me everyday 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.”
With pitchers and catchers set to report within a month, Zimmerman has been working out in Tampa for the past two weeks at a training facility set up CAA, the agency that represents him. He’s preparing for the season along with 20-25 other players, including Nationals relievers Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard.
“My body feels great,” Zimmerman said. “It’s feeling as good as it has for along time. Can’t wait to get going.”