VIERA, Fla. — The scene itself was familiar to Ryan Zimmerman. After all, this wasn’t the first time the Washington Nationals’ third baseman had been asked to attend a press conference, say a few words, talk about himself and the only professional organization he’d ever known.
But Sunday morning, a few hours after signing a six-year, $100 million contract extension with a full no-trade clause that will guarantee him $126 million over the next eight seasons and is potentially worth $150 million over the next nine, he looked up and saw several faces he wasn’t expecting.
Almost 20 of Zimmerman’s teammates and coaches had crowded into the cramped room, so many there wasn’t enough chairs to hold all of them. They came to support the cornerstone of their franchise — the face of the franchise, as Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo joked was his “first name,” — as he discussed the contract that could keep him in a Nationals’ uniform until after his 36th birthday.
The contract that gives him the rare opportunity to spend his entire career with one team.
“It’s just something that we all wanted,” said Nationals closer Drew Storen.
“For years this guy has been taken for granted, in my mind, in the world of Major League Baseball,” said Rizzo, who’d made extending Zimmerman his No. 1 priority of this past offseason. “I’ve always said he’s one of the top 15 position players in the game. When he’s healthy, he’s as good as anybody.”
That alone would have been enough for the Nationals to want to keep Zimmerman past the end of his current contract, which runs through 2013. But it was Zimmerman, the person, that made this contract in particular one they felt they had to get done. A Virginia native and their best player since he debuted in September 2005, Zimmerman’s been everything the team could have asked for during its first seven years in Washington. An All-Star, a leader, a model citizen, a charitable figure, a Gold Glove winner, a Silver Slugger.
“A prince,” one Nationals official called him.
“It really crystallized for me during the negotiation with [Zimmerman’s agent, Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA],” Rizzo said. “Many people say that this isn’t about the money, that it’s about other things. When we were negotiating this contract not one time did he mention anything about money. This is all about being here, wanting to be here, wanting to be assured that he was going to be a Washington National. That to me says everything about Ryan Zimmerman that you need to say.”
In negotiations that were ongoing for roughly a year but still soared past Zimmerman’s self-imposed 10 a.m. Saturday deadline, a no-trade clause was “paramount,” Van Wagenen said. Ultimately, what they agreed on in principal late Saturday night, and officially Sunday morning, was a deal that ensures Zimmerman will remain in Washington at least for the next eight years.
The no-trade clause included in his extension doesn’t apply to 2012 and 2013, the years remaining on his current contract. But a person with knowledge of the deal said there are significant financial escalators built into the extension in the unlikely event that he is traded before 2014. The $24 million team option for 2020 includes trade protection as well under the 10-and-5 rights Zimmerman will have accrued by then with more than 10 years of major league service time and the last five of it with the same team.
“Without [no-trade protection] I don’t think we sign Zim to the long-term extension,” Rizzo said. “If the choice was Zim with a no-trade or having a player you could trade and not have Zim, I choose the former.
“With Mike Rizzo as GM of the Washington Nationals, he will not be traded in the next two years… My feeling on the matter is: Why would I trade a 27-year-old, 28-year-old All-Star player in the next two years? It doesn’t make a lot of sense on a lot of levels.”
The contract also contains a $10 million “personal services” clause, which defers $10 million of the guaranteed money until after his retirement, at which point it will be paid out over five years.
As the team’s first-ever draft pick insisted throughout the negotiations, the only point of him signing a “team-friendly” deal, which this one is with an average annual value of $15.75 in guaranteed money, was if it would be with this team.