- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 26, 2012

VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals’ promising future was solidified Sunday morning when their cornerstone, Ryan Zimmerman, agreed to a six-year, $100 million contract extension with a full no-trade clause that will run through 2019, sources told The Washington Times.

The contract — which contains $126 million in guaranteed money with the two years, $26 million remaining on his current deal — also contains a $24 million team option for 2020. Ultimately, Zimmerman could earn as much as $150 million in a Nationals uniform over the next nine years.

The extension, which could run until just after Zimmerman’s 36th birthday, ensures that the third baseman will remain in a Nationals uniform for the duration of his prime, if not his career.

“It’s just something that we all wanted,” said Nationals closer Drew Storen. “I think people have to appreciate a guy like Zim that says, ‘I want to stick around here, and I want to play for this team.’

“Just out of principal, the way he went about it, it goes a long way toward showing what kind of person he is, what kind of teammate he is. I think, too, that shows what kind of vested interest we have in the team — that we’re not out here just kind of playing for ourselves.”

Zimmerman, whose deal is the second-largest for a third baseman in baseball history behind only Alex Rodriguez, 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. Zimmerman’s contract is the longest on the team, with Jayson Werth next, signed through 2017. Gio Gonzalez is under contract through 2016 with two club options for 2017 and 2018.

Locking up Zimmerman, though, was the key for the Nationals to keep together the young, core group of talent they’ve been building.

“I definitely wouldn’t have been too happy (if I had) to see somebody else over there (at third base),” Storen said. “His ability to step up in a big situation says a lot about him as a player.

“Someone asked me the other day who it’d be if you absolutely had to have somebody get a hit for you? It’s him. He steps up every time.”

With Zimmerman’s self-imposed deadline to agree to a new contract or table talks until the offseason extended, Zimmerman’s agent, Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA, and Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo negotiated deep into the night on Saturday. The sides were confident enough that they had cleared the major hurdles to continue things into Sunday.

“We don’t have a deal done yet, but we’ve made significant progress tonight,” Rizzo said around 11 p.m. Saturday. “We feel good about it and optimistic that we can reach an agreement.

“There’s some small details we have to iron out through tonight and tomorrow. Hopefully tomorrow (morning) we’ll have something more concrete to announce. We feel good and optimistic that Zim’s going to be a Washington National for a long, long time.”

Moments before Rizzo met the media to deliver those words, Zimmerman and Van Wagenen sent out statements that echoed the general manager’s thoughts. The deadline Zimmerman had set for Saturday would not be held to firmly. With neither side foreseeing any more “major stumbling blocks” in the negotiations, all parties felt comfortable enough to continue moving forward.

“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 a statement.

“While nothing is finalized, I am confident that we can reach an agreement that will accomplish those things,” he continued. “I’m from Virginia, I was drafted by the Nationals and I’ve seen this organization make great progress since I signed here. I want to see it through to the ultimate goal of winning a World Series.”

The Nationals will hold a press conference Sunday afternoon to formally announce the agreement.

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