The Washington Nationals and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman made enough progress in negotiations Saturday night that both sides expect to reach a final agreement by Sunday on a contract extension for Zimmerman, the face of their franchise and the first draft pick the team made after moving to Washington.

Ryan Zimmerman and his teammates work out in Viera on Saturday. (Jonathan Newton/THE WASHINGTON POST)

The deal is not done, but both sides said the major issues had been cleared and only small details remained to be ironed out. Zimmerman had established Saturday as a deadline, but the sides made enough progress to convince him to let negotiations finish – both sides hope and expect – Sunday.

“We have made significant progress on an extension for Ryan that would ensure he plays for the Nationals for a long time, which has always been Ryan’s goal,” CAA Sports co-head Brodie Van Wagenen, Zimmerman’s agent, said in a statement. “We are working on a structure that will allow the team to continue to add talent and establish a winner, which is another goal of Ryan’s.

“While there are still important aspects to work through, we bridged multiple important gaps on many major parts of a contract. Nothing is done until it is done, but both sides are optimistic that an agreement can be reached and Ryan can focus his energies on preparing with his teammates for the season.”

Zimmerman, 27, came close Saturday to ensuring he will play for the forseeable future in Washington, about a four-hour drive from his home town of Virginia Beach, where his family still lives and his mother faces multiple sclerosis, the disease Zimmerman founded his charity to fight.

“All along, all I’ve wanted is to be able to stay with the Nationals, which I consider my hometown team, and help the franchise become a winner while also being compensated fairly,” Zimmerman said in an e-mailed statement. “While nothing is finalized, I am confident that we can reach an agreement that will accomplish all those things.” 

“He’s been the face of the franchise since Day One,” shortstop Ian Desmond said Saturday. “If anybody deserves it, he deserves it.”

Zimmerman’s agent and the Nationals began discussing broad parameters of a deal more than a year ago, with more progress coming this winter. 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.

“The important part of me signing this deal is to be here, not to sign a deal that’s team-friendly to have it with another team,” Zimmerman said Friday. “That’s the whole point of doing it.”

On Saturday, the Nationals and Van Wagenen “came to an agreement” on the large remaining divisions between, Rizzo said. “I don’t see any major stumbling blocks. Just more detail-orientated work that needs to be done.”

Zimmerman had established the Saturday morning deadline to prevent his contract situation from becoming a constant clubhouse topic. Had the sides not made the substantial progress Saturday, Zimmerman would have tabled the talks until next winter.

Waiting would have created a murky future for the Nationals’ best player. It would have added pressure to finish a deal next winter, as Zimmerman has stated he planned to test free agency if not extended by the start of the 2013 season. It would also have raised the possibility, highly doubtful, of the Nationals considering a trade of their best player.

Now, it seems, neither the Nationals nor Zimmerman need worry about any of that. Zimmerman chose to enter negotiations for his long-term extension after his worst season since 2008, knowing he would exchange his maximum market value for security. Zimmerman missed 60 games last year after he underwent abdominal surgery. He hit .289/.355/.443 with 12 home runs and 49 RBI.

The extension allows the Nationals to turn their focus, in the future, to keeping the rest of their young core in Washington, players like Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Danny Espinosa and Desmond. For late Saturday night and into Sunday morning, they still had some work to take cae of Zimmerman.

“We’ll come back fresh tomorrow,” Rizzo said. “And finish it off.”

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