Zim: 'It's where I've always wanted to be'

Zim: 'It's where I've always wanted to be'
February 26, 2012, 8:40 pm
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VIERA, Fla. -- Surrounded by more than a dozen teammates, his manager, his general manager and his agent, Ryan Zimmerman sat down this afternoon to take questions about his new long-term extension and made it abundantly clear how comforting it is to know he'll be playing in Washington for at least eight more years.

"It's where I want to be," he said. "It's where I've always wanted to be."

The "Face of the Franchise" since he was drafted in June 2005, Zimmerman ensured he will retain that title for quite some time. His six-year, 100 million extension -- which kicks in after his current deal expires following the 2013 season -- guarantees he'll be wearing a Nationals uniform through at least 2019.

The two sides spent nearly a year negotiating this contract, at times getting close only to have a sticking point prevent it from getting done. A major hurdle, however, was crossed yesterday when the Nationals agreed to give Zimmerman full no-trade rights through the length of the contract.

That proved easier said than done. The Nationals were unwilling to tear up or alter Zimmerman's current contract -- which runs two more years and is worth a total of 26 million -- so they would not add a true no-trade clause to it. Ultimately, the deal got done because the Nationals were willing to include significant financial escalators in the extension that would kick in if the club somehow traded its star third baseman before 2014, according to a source familiar with the terms.

The agreement also includes a personal services contract that will pay Zimmerman 10 million over five years to work for the club after he retires.

"The ability to ensure that he's a Washington National was paramount," agent Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA said following Zimmerman's press conference at Space Coast Stadium. "There would be no deal without that commitment from ownership, down to the general manager, down to everybody within the organization. That is a mutual goal and a desire that has been achieved."

Not that general manager Mike Rizzo has any interest at all in dealing away a guy he just locked up through the rest of the decade, one who could wind up earning 150 million over the next nine seasons.

"We didn't go through this exercise and sign Zim to a six-year -- plus option year -- to trade him in the next two years," Rizzo said. "With Mike Rizzo as GM of the Washington Nationals, he will not be traded in the next two years."

That sense of security, more than money, was critical for Zimmerman. A Virginia native and former star at the University of Virginia, he has always felt at home with the Nationals and has long expressed his desire to spend his entire career in Washington.

"I've always been comfortable here," he said. "I think going to a new place would be weird for me. I know the person who lets me into the parking lot. I know the people who watch the family room. The cooks. Everyone. It's not just about baseball. It's about everyone that I've met here, everyone that's helped to get to where I am today."

The Nationals' all-time leader in home runs, RBI and games played, Zimmerman hasn't drawn as much national attention as other stars of his generation because he's yet to play for a team with a winning record. He's been selected to only one All-Star Game and earned only one Gold Glove award, but those who have watched him up close know his value to the organization.

"For years, this guy has been taken for granted, in my mind, in the world of Major League Baseball," Rizzo said. "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, a two-way player."

Zimmerman, 27, also commands respect throughout the Nationals' clubhouse. Which perhaps explains why more than a dozen of his teammates attended this afternoon's news conference.

"Not only is a teammate, but he's one of our friends," said left-hander John Lannan, a fellow member of the Nationals' 2005 draft class. "We hang out with him off the field and we support the decision on both sides to come to an agreement. He deserves anything that comes with that contract, he deserves. So we wanted to be there for support and show him we're there for him."