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“[The Nationals] have given me everything,” Zimmerman said, obviously humbled by the moment. “It felt right to give them something back, give them the rest of my career to produce and ultimately win a World Series.

“I’ve been here when the times were bad. They’ve done a great job of building this organization from the ground up. We have young guys that are just starting to get here, and we’re going to be good for a long time. I wanted to make sure I was here for that.”

He joins an elite group of players who are signed through the 2019 season. Only the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp, Angels’ Albert Pujols, Tigers’ Prince Fielder, Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki and Brewers’ Ryan Braun have contracts that run that long. He also gives the Nationals 12 key players under contract through at least the 2015 season.

Locking up Zimmerman, though, was the important for the Nationals to keep the young core of talent they’ve been building — many of whom watched proudly as Zimmerman spoke Sunday.

“Anything that comes with that contract, he deserves,” said left-hander John Lannan, who suffered through many of the Nationals‘ darkest days with Zimmerman. “It’s the first of many, I think. Those types of deals, they have guys in this organization that are going to be in that position, but if anybody deserves it first, it’s him.

“I definitely wouldn’t have been too happy [if I had] to see somebody else [at third base],” Storen said. “Someone asked me the other day: ‘Who would it be if you absolutely had to have somebody get a hit for you?’ It’s him. He steps up every time.”

As news of Zimmerman’s extension circulated through the morning, the clubhouse buzzed. Think of the Nationals‘ best moments as an organization, one person said — reflecting on the contract and the fact that it’d mean Zimmerman could wear a Nationals uniform for 16 straight years — and he’s a central figure in all of them.

But as with any long-term contract of this magnitude, there are always risks. The Nationals are gambling that Zimmerman will remain healthy after missing 60 games in 2011 with an abdominal tear and 56 games in 2008 with a shoulder injury. And that he’ll continue to perform at a high level — something the other $100-million-plus man on their roster, Jayson Werth, can attest isn’t as easy as it sounds.

The man who’s hit the most game-ending home runs in the major leagues since his debut didn’t seem to think it would be an issue.

“I love pressure,” Zimmerman said. “Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve wanted to be the guy that is up last in the ninth inning, I’ve wanted to be the guy that everyone looks to, I wanted to be the so-called leader.

“I’ve said it the whole time and I’ll say it the rest of my career that if you don’t want to be that guy then you’re in the wrong line of work. I relish being that guy. I love it. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”