Even so, $100 million is hardly chump change. The Lerner family, who are supporting General Manager Mike Rizzo with their checkbook these days, definitely made a major commitment to Zimmerman.
Each side gave a little to reach an agreement that works well for both, which doesn’t happen enough in sports negotiations. Usually, it’s just easier for athletes and teams to separate, resulting in the ongoing roster turnover that angers some who remember how things were in the “good old days” before free agency made it more difficult, and more expensive, for owners and general managers to keep teams together.
It was wrong owners had so much control then. Before free agency, owners grew rich on athletes’ star power, while sometimes even the greats burned through their brilliant careers with little left to show for it.
That doesn’t happen much these days. The big stars, the ones that flip the turnstiles, earn salaries that compete with the GDP of a small country. And that kind of marketplace means that teams can, and often do, lose even their most popular players. When that happens, over and over, there’s nothing left to root for but uniforms and logos and franchises run the risk of becoming irrelevant.
It has been a major problem in baseball, especially in the sport’s smallest markets. Washington isn’t small, but it isn’t New York or Los Angeles either. Even so, the Nationals are demonstrating they are intent on retaining their core. That’s part of the message Rizzo and the Lerners sent to the clubhouse through Zimmerman.
Beginning with starter Stephen Strasburg, there’s a long line of talented, young players who observed how well the ballclub handled Zimmerman’s situation. Nothing inspires optimism more in a franchise than when ownership takes care of the right people.
That’s what Washington did. The Nationals made an important move to potentially strengthen their bottom line by retaining one of their best players.
Obviously, they also thought a lot about their fans. What a refreshing concept.
For Jason Reid’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/reid.