- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2012

VIERA, Fla. — The air about the Washington Nationals since they arrived at their training complex has been one of quiet — and sometimes not-so-quiet — confidence. Perhaps they picked up the quiet part from the man they gave a $100 million contract to Sunday, solidifying Ryan Zimmerman as the face of the franchise for the next eight years.

One Nationals coach was asked in passing Monday how the workout went. The answer was one delivered with eyebrows raised and cautious optimism: Things are going very well.

The more verbose side they may have gotten from their manager.

Davey Johnson has spent much of the spring’s first few weeks talking about potential — namely the overflowing amount of it he sees. Asked in a TV interview last week if he’d be disappointed if the Nationals didn’t make the playoffs, Johnson said there was no doubt in his mind — even suggesting he should be fired if they failed.

“I think every man in that room would be [disappointed], too,” Johnson said Monday.

And with Zimmerman assured of being a National through at least the 2019 season, Washington could be primed for a multiyear run.

Zimmerman’s extension gives the Nationals 12 key players who are under contract through the 2015 season. It’s a list that includes three top-end starters, three back-end relievers, a youthful, athletic infield, the best power-hitting prospect in a generation and one of the game’s brightest young talents behind the plate.

Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Henry Rodriguez, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper are signed for the next four years.

“There’s a lot of certainty to it,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “There’s a lot of comfort to the fact these guys are going to be together for a long time. … You start off struggling to win games at the beginning [of this process]. Then you get a little better and a little better. Now, we’re ready to take off.”

It also means the Nationals have four years for their core — one they believe is as talented as any in the game — to produce and reach what they hope will be the pinnacle of their sport.

Then it’s going to get expensive.

“Pretty soon, with having guys like we have, they’re going to have to start paying some people,” Zimmerman said.

Several players expressed the desire to be in the position that Zimmerman was Sunday — to be able to commit to one team for the majority of their careers, make more money than most ever imagined and never have to leave the comfortable situation they’ve established as young players coming up.

“There’s nobody in here that wouldn’t want a multiyear deal that would make sense for them,” Clippard said.

Added Strasburg: “When you have a team like this that’s capable of winning, it would appeal to anybody to want to stay here and win and win and win. I don’t feel any different.”

What the Nationals have is relatively rare. They have a core that easily could stay the same for the length of a presidential term. The chemistry that they’ve been fostering — the winning attitude that Werth was signed partly to help provide — should remain largely unchanged in that span.

But with two $100 million-plus contracts already on their payroll in Zimmerman and Werth, and the cost of their young talent increasing with each year, it’s easy to wonder if their finances would be able to support keeping everyone together past that 2015 season.

“In this game, you earn what you get,” Werth said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who have a lot of talent, and they’re young. I think they’ve got a long way to go before they’re in the type of situation that would warrant a long-term contract of [Zimmerman’s] stature. Doesn’t mean they can’t get it, but, I mean, they don’t just hand those things out.”

“It’s something I think everyone’s aware of,” Clippard said of the rising cost of doing business perhaps precluding the Nationals from staying together. “At the end of the day, though, that’s a good problem to have. … Four years is a long time.”

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