Ryan Zimmerman never thought about leaving the Nationals, not even during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, through those 205 losses, those embarrassing moments, those tension-filled clubhouses on nights a losing streak reached four or five games. He never thought about leaving because management and ownership told him to be patient, to let their plan unfold, and he believed them.
As Zimmerman signed a six-year, $100 million contract extension, the Nationals appear on the verge of fulfilling that promise to Zimmerman. They won 80 games last season and have emerged as a chic choice to become a contender this season. The Nationals built slowly, through drafting and trading for players rather than signing them as free agents. If everything comes together this year, it will also stay together for years to come.
“This blueprint is the way to stay good for a longer period of time,” Zimmerman said before the start of the spring training. “I think in baseball, the guys when they get bigger contracts, they’re either in the middle of their career or they’re past the middle. You still have six, seven years with them.”
The Nationals, conversely, have collected young, controllable talent across the diamond. Eleven players who have already contributed heavily at the major league level are under team control for at least four more seasons, only one of them signed as a free agent. They are:
3B Ryan Zimmerman, 2020
SP Gio Gonzalez, 2018
OF Jayson Werth, 2017
C Wilson Ramos, 2016
2B Danny Espinosa, 2016
SP Stephen Strasburg, 2016
CL Drew Storen, 2016
RP Henry Rodriguez, 2016
SS Ian Desmond, 2015
SP Jordan Zimmermann, 2015
RP Tyler Clippard, 2015
That’s an electric top three starters, a franchise third baseman, three back-end relievers, an athletic middle infield, a rock behind the plate and an outfielder who finished in the top 10 in MVP voting in 2010 trying to regain his form. Everyone but Werth is 27 or younger. And there is more young, controllable talent on the way, including Bryce Harper, thanks to expensive recent drafts regarded as some of the best in baseball.
“It feels good,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “You have payroll certainty. You have control of players. You have the knowledge of their skill sets and how they interact with each other and how they perform on the field. I think there’s a lot of certainty to it. There’s a lot of continuity to it.
“And there’s a lot of comfort to the fact these guys are going to be together for a long time. And really as this thing has grown, you start off struggling to win games at the beginning. Then you get a little better and a little better. And now we’re ready to take off.
“It’s nice where you go from a 59-win team to a team that can continue to ascend and play meaningful games at the end of the season. It’s comforting for the players themselves. It’s comforting for me, because I know who they are. And for ownership, because they know we’ve got a good group of guys and we’re going to have them for a long time.”
It is important to note that, as good as all of this looks on paper, the Nationals have not yet turned their talent into even one winning record. Those meaningful games at the end of the season have not yet materialized. And they don’t have a defined a center fielder for this year (although they have three strong candidates for the future in Michael Taylor, Eury Perez and Brian Goodwin).
But Zimmerman no longer has to trust Nationals management that they will acquire talent to place around him. They no longer have to promise him the future, because when he looks around the clubhouse, he can see it with his own eyes.
FROM THE POST
Ryan Zimmerman’s contract extension fulfills the hope he always had: playing his whole career in Washington.
On Sunday, Boz detailed the effect Gio Gonzalez’s parents had on his life – and on his unique curveball.
And Sheinin found out what made Gonzalez an elite pitcher from his former teammates in Oakland.
FROM THE WEEKEND’S JOURNAL
Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper are still circling each other, but Gonzalez’s curveball stole the show at Day One of live batting practice.