Both Zimmerman and the Nats’ front office want to push to get the deal completed by Zimmerman’s self-imposed but reasonable Saturday deadline. Team executives even suspect that they’re getting a modest bargain because Zimmerman, who has two seasons and $26 million remaining on his old deal, is willing to negotiate from a weakened position after an injury in 2011.
The Lerners, stung in part by their seven-year, $126 million free agent contract to Jayson Werth last year, are balking. They aren’t crazy. And it’s their money, even though it flows to them through their fans. But, in this case, they’re wrong. This deal, despite all its risks, needs to get done now.
This isn’t a dead-easy call. Zimmerman missed 55 games in ’08 and 61 last season but, overall, he’s averaged 138 games through his six full years, slightly more than Troy Tulowitzki (134 in five years), who signed a seven-year, $134 million extension a year ago.
“Zimmerman will probably stay healthy, have a great year and be a lot more expensive next season,” said one puzzled veteran baseball executive.
If the Nats want him, they aren’t going to get him any cheaper. If they don’t want him now, then trading him by mid-year, even though they won’t get 100 cents on the dollar, would be the logical next step for many teams. The Nats’ front office, grumpy of late, has already mulled over that possibility.
Some teams, like the Brewers with Prince Fielder, just let the star play out his deal and wave goodbye. But that sends a loud message to every other young player on your team. If you act perfectly and play productively, if you grew up in Virginia Beach and gave the team its only day-after-day symbol of hope for years, this is what you get. The Nats are loaded with such players, all of them watching: Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, Jordan Zimmermann, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, Bryce Harper.
If any player has earned a commitment it is Zimmerman, a model citizen who’s been an all-star, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner. Vast contract extensions are never safe. But the Nats are at a crossroads right now — the intersection of Risk and Reward — with their on-field success, their fan base and the enthusiasm in their clubhouse all skyrocketing.
So the implications of the Nats-Zim affair may be far reaching.
“If we could get Ryan extended, it would finish off a great offseason perfectly. It would be the last signal that all systems are go around here,” said a high-placed Nats executive who isn’t involved in the negotiations.