Before Ryan Zimmerman walked into the room, 16 of his teammates filled two rows of seats to the side of a dais hastily erected for Zimmerman’s news conference. Jayson Werth, John Lannan, Jordan Zimmermann, Danny Espinosa – so many players that there weren’t enough seats, and Bryce Harper had to stand. They all watched him walk into the room, wearing a crisp, white Nationals jersey, and sit next to General Manager Mike Rizzo.
Zimmerman listened as Rizzo introduced him as the face of the franchise – “I think that’s his first name,” Rizzo said – and formally announced Zimmerman’s six-year, $100 million contract extension. Zimmerman would spend almost, if not all, of his career in Washington, something he had hoped for since the team made him its first-ever draft pick in 2005.
“They’ve given me everything,” Zimmerman said. “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 to produce and ultimately win a World Series.”
With his teammates watching – “they showed up to make me even more nervous,” he said – Zimmerman handled his news conference. Here are some highlights:
>>> The crucial hurdle the sides cleared between Rizzo and Zimmerman’s agent, CAA Sports co-head Brodie Van Wagenen, in negotiating the deal, of course, was ensuring Zimmerman a no-trade clause. Zimmerman’s current contract, which expires after 2013, went untouched and still does not contain a no-trade clause. But he still has no-trade protection until his extension kicks in for 2014. The value of his extension would automatically increase dramatically if he’s traded, a strong deterrent for teams to trade for him. And, beside the point, Rizzo was emphatic about having no desire to even consider the possibility.
“We didn’t go through this exercise to trade him in the next two years,” Rizzo said. “With Mike Rizzo as the GM of the Washington Nationals, he will not be traded in the next two years.”
Rizzo emphasized the deal would not have been done without the no-trade protection, and he credited Zimmerman for making that a priority.
“When we were negotiating this contract, Brodie and I, as hard as we worked, not one time did he mention anything about money,” Rizzo said. “This is all about being here, wanting to be here, wanting to assure that he was going to be a Washington National. That to me says everything about Ryan Zimmerman that you need to say.”
>>> Zimmerman’s extension also includes $10 million of deferred money, which Zimmerman will receive as a five-year personal contract working for the Nationals following his retirement. Zimmerman remained adamant that he wanted a contract that would allow the Nationals to spend money signing free agents and the players that form the team’s promising young core.
Zimmerman felt his deal sent a message to the rest of the clubhouse, that the Nationals will show loyalty (and give an awful lot of money) to players who show loyalty to and play well for them.
“Pretty soon, with having guys like we have, they’re going to have to start paying some people,” Zimmerman said. “To see how well they treated me, I think it will make a lot of people want to stay here. That’s the goal, is to have a group of guys that can get locked up and can stay here, and we can win for a long time together.”
>>> Rizzo called signing Zimmerman long-term the Nationals’ “Number one order of business” this offseason. The day carried a celebratory feel. Early this morning, a few players walked up to Zimmerman, spoke quietly in his ear, then shook his hand or hugged him. Van Wagenen said the emotional response for all parties was not relief, but rather “elation.”
“It was so important to get this thing done,” Nationals all-star reliever Tyler Clippard said. “You don’t want to leave any questions in the players’ minds or the fans or anybody, whether he’s going to be around or not. We need him in this organization. He’s been loyal to the organization. It’s nice to see the organization showing loyalty to him.”
>>> Zimmerman grew up watching Cal Ripken, which made him want to play his whole career in one city. He joins Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Braun as members of his stellar 2005 draft class to sign long extensions. Zimmerman has grown close with both players, and he said he had conversations with them about playing an entire career for one team.
“You know, my college coach, he was a Padre his whole life,” said Stephen Strasburg, who played for Tony Gwynn at San Diego State. “It’s really great to see another guy who’s going to be with one team his whole career.”
And would the same appeal to Strasburg?
“If you get comfortable, you get to know the guys and you have a camaraderie,” Strasburg said. “When you have a team like this that’s capable of winning, it would appeal to anybody to stay here and win and win and win. I don’t feel any different.”
>>> Zimmerman, typically stoic, cleared his throat and sat back in his chair, his eyes beginning to water, after he answered a question about his family’s reaction. He grew up in Virginia Beach, and he credits his parents for shaping his outlook.
“They’re excited,” Zimmerman said. “They’re kind of like me. Everyone thinks they’re boring, too. We don’t get too excited about too much. It’s a great day for me and my family. They helped me to get to where I’m at today. It’s a cool situation.”