VIERA, FLA. — Ryan Zimmerman, the kid from Virginia Beach who idolized Cal Ripken, wanted to play only for the Washington Nationals the moment they drafted him. Zimmerman and the team grew up together, a superstar third baseman asserting himself and a franchise finding its way. Through even the grimmest moments, his allegiance did not waver.
“He was saying that from Day One,” said Keith Zimmerman, his father. “I’ve never had a discussion with him about leaving the area.”
And he never will. Sunday morning, the Nationals and Zimmerman agreed on a contract extension guaranteed to keep him in Washington through at least the 2019 season. The contract contains a full no-trade clause and adds six years and $100 million to Zimmerman’s current contract, which runs through 2013, plus a team option worth $24 million. In total, counting the two years on his current deal, Zimmerman will make $126 million over the next eight years, or $150 million over the next nine.
Zimmerman, then, is locked up with Washington until at least 2019, and the Nationals control him through 2020, at the end of which he will turn 36.
“They’ve given me everything,” Zimmerman said Sunday afternoon at a news conference attended by 16 teammates. “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.”
In June 2005, just a few months after the Nationals ceased operating the franchise out of trailers in the RFK Stadium parking lot, the team drafted Zimmerman with the fourth overall pick out of the University of Virginia. He has since become everything they could have hoped for: an all-star third baseman with Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, charitable and controversy-free off the field, the face of the franchise — “I think that’s his first name,” General Manager Mike Rizzo joked — in every way.
Zimmerman, 27, likely will play the rest of his career a short drive from Virginia Beach, where his family still lives and his mother faces multiple sclerosis, the disease Zimmerman founded ziMS, his charity, to fight.
“I kind of grew up and learned about myself in” Washington, Zimmerman said. “It’s just got a special place in my heart.”
Zimmerman made his Nationals debut at 20, in September 2005. They have since moved out of creaky RFK Stadium and into plush Nationals Park. Major League Baseball has since sold the team to the Lerner family. The structure and personnel of the front office has been overhauled. A young, promising core has replaced a roster of castoffs.
“The only thing that hasn’t changed is Zim,” said starting pitcher John Lannan, the second-longest tenured National behind Zimmerman. “You kind of get a sense of what a player means to a place.”
Zimmerman and the Nationals could not imagine life without the other. He lives year-round in Clarendon and knows the people who open the gate to the Nationals Park players’ lot, the clubhouse security guards, the team chefs. Rizzo tells young players to watch Zimmerman and copy his every move.
Zimmerman’s agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, and the Nationals began discussing broad parameters of a deal more than a year ago. The Nationals learned the cost it would take to sign Zimmerman in January. From then on, the sides needed to overcome a few major obstacles, most notably Zimmerman’s no-trade protection. Despite his contract running two more years, the Nationals made locking up Zimmerman this offseason “our number one order of business,” Rizzo 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,” all-star reliever Tyler Clippard said. “We need him in this organization. He’s been loyal to the organization. It’s nice to see the organization showing loyalty to him.”
Rizzo and Van Wagenen worked through the night Saturday, at which point both sides grew optimistic a deal would be completed Sunday morning.
“Not one time did he mention anything about money,” Rizzo said. “This is all about being here, wanting to be here.”
Zimmerman’s current contract went untouched and still does not contain a no-trade clause, but the sides agreed on a creative no-trade protection until his extension begins in 2014. The value of the extension would increase if the Nationals trade Zimmerman, an overriding deterrent for a team trying to trade for him.
“We didn’t go through this exercise to trade him,” Rizzo said. “With Mike Rizzo as the GM of the Washington Nationals, he will not be traded in the next two years.”
Zimmerman’s extension also includes $10 million in deferred money, which he will receive as a five-year personal service contract working for the Nationals following his retirement.
“The financial aspect of it was important to reach a deal that would ensure that he would be here,” Van Wagenen said. “But also equally important, that would allow the Nationals to continue to sign other players to continue to be competitive and continue the positive movement they’ve developed here over the last couple years.”
The extension allows the Nationals to turn their focus to keeping the rest of their young core in Washington, players such as Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos and Ian Desmond.
“It’s huge,” Strasburg said. “He’s a great player, but he’s an even better person. It’s really great to see another guy who’s going to be with one team his whole career.”
Only eight players in baseball are guaranteed to make more than Zimmerman’s $126 million from 2012 on. His contract also makes him the second-highest paid third baseman in major league history, behind Alex Rodriguez.
“I don’t think it really has settled in how much it is,” Zimmerman said. “This is the kind of stuff where the kids are taken care of, their kids are taken care of. I don’t like to think about that stuff.”
Zimmerman became the sixth major leaguer to become signed through the 2019 season, joining Albert Pujols (Los Angeles Angels), Prince Fielder (Detroit Tigers), Matt Kemp (Los Angeles Dodgers), Ryan Braun (Milwaukee Brewers) and Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado Rockies).
Zimmerman has become friendly with Braun and Tulowitzki over the years, and they shared conversations about spending their whole career in one place. Sunday, Zimmerman grew emotional when asked about his family’s reaction to the deal that made that happen.
“They’re excited,” Zimmerman said. “They’re kind of like me. 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.”
Wearing a crisp, white Nationals uniform, Zimmerman leaned back in his chair and cleared his throat, his eyes welling with tears.
“It’s nice,” Keith Zimmerman would say hours later, “to see a good, hard-working kid do good.”