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Ryan Zimmerman sets Saturday deadline for contract extension talks

Third baseman doesn’t want negotiations going on once spring training starts

VIERA, Fla. — Washington Nationals position players aren't required to report to spring training until Thursday. By then, Ryan Zimmerman will have been around for nearly a week, preparing for his seventh spring training with the club.

How many more he'll have with them, though, is the biggest question surrounding the face of the franchise.

Zimmerman will be a free agent after the 2013 season and getting an extension done is a top priority for the player and the team.

But there are always deadlines, and Zimmerman's set an informal one that makes the next few days paramount. Negotiations, he's said, aren't preferable once spring training begins in earnest on Saturday with the first full-squad workout.

"It's just the way I think it needs to be," Zimmerman said Wednesday in a clubhouse missing just two players from the entire spring training roster. "You see how excited everyone is to start playing baseball and doing that kind of stuff. We don't need that everyday. If you let it linger into spring training and into the season, then you've got answer questions every other day. It's just not fair to all the other guys."

So far, that deadline hasn't sped up the pace of the talks but Zimmerman's agent, Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA is in Viera, Fla., for the next few days to check on Zimmerman and the rest of CAA's clients. The agency also represents John Lannan, Drew Storen, Ross Detwiler, Mark Teahen and a few Nationals minor leaguers. It's not a stretch, though, to think that face-to-face talks with the Nationals' brass could help foster progress.

"If something comes out of [Van Wagenen being here], great, if not, then we'll see," Zimmerman said. "We've got a few more days."

The negotiations have been ongoing for about a year, sources have said, and feature both sides talking fairly regularly about parameters and creative ways the contract could be structured, so as not to be prohibitive to the Nationals long-term.

"I think everyone knows my stance on how bad I want to stay here and how bad I want to get something done," Zimmerman said. "But it's a business. It's got to make sense for both sides. Obviously, they're taking a risk with me having two years left [on my current contract] and doing something, but at the same time I'm taking a risk coming off an injury.

"For me, it's never been completely about money. I enjoy it here. I think when you get to a certain point, how much more could you really need? When you're starting to talk the figures that you talk, for me, being in a place where you're comfortable and where you enjoy being and you're familiar with everyone is worth more than an extra, whatever, how many million a year. That's kind of the way I feel."

The type of deal that would get it done — for either side — isn't precisely known. There's a line of thinking that Zimmerman's closest comparables could be the Brewers' Ryan Braun, Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki and Dodgers' Matt Kemp. All will be paid between $131 and $163 million over the course of the next 8-10 years. It's reasonable to think Zimmerman's dollar figure would be in that range, though adding six years to his current contract (which would keep him a National through 2019, when he'll be 34) is probably more likely than adding eight.

Zimmerman is a career .288 hitter with a .355 on-base percentage and .479 slugging percentage. He's never once had an OBP lower than .330 or a SLG lower than .442 and his defensive ability at third base is among the best in the league. He also missed 60 games in 2011 due to an abdominal tear and 56 games in 2008 with a shoulder injury, giving him an injury history the Nationals will need to weigh carefully when discussing giving him what would be the largest contract in team history.

"I have two years left," Zimmerman said, resoundingly shooting down the idea that he was frustrated a deal hadn't yet been reached. "I think I would like to get it done, but there's no rush for them. They've been great. They've said they wanted to do this, and I've said I wanted to do it so, just to have that discussion and even continue dialogue means both sides want to do something, which is encouraging.

"Obviously, you can't agree on a deal unless both sides want to do it. We got that part out of the way. Now it's just trying to knock it out. If we do, it's great. If not, then I'm going to play my [butt] off this year, and we'll revisit it next offseason if they want to."

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