Extending Ryan Zimmerman

There have been rumblings for the past few months that the Washington Nationals and Ryan Zimmerman have discussed (or, are discussing) a possible contract extension. The team’s third baseman and incumbent “Face of the Franchise” is scheduled to reach free agency after the 2013 season if an agreement can’t be reached in advance. According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, Zimmerman’s representation has given the team an idea of what terms

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Zimmerman is prepared to accept. Those details have not been made public (and presumably they won’t) so we’re left to speculate on what it might take to keep Zimmerman in Washington for the long haul.

So, where do we begin in trying to predict what a potential new contract may look like?

The two most common comparisons brought up in discussions surrounding a Zimmerman extension are Troy Tulowitski and Ryan Braun. After the 2010 season, with four years remaining on his current contract, the Colorado Rockies awarded Tulowitski with a six year extension worth roughly $119 Million. The deal will keep him a Rockie through the 2020 season. Meanwhile, just a few weeks into the 2011 season the Milwaukee Brewers awarded Braun with a five year extension, valued at $105 Million. He also had four years remaining on his contract at the time of the extension and will be a Brewer through the 2020 season. Aside from the pair, Albert Pujols is the only other player currently under contract beyond 2019.

At the time he received his extension, Tulowitski had just completed his 5th season in the Major Leagues. This includes 2006, when he made his MLB Debut in August of the season after he was drafted, even though he only appeared in 25 games and received 108 plate appearances that year. Over the next four seasons he twice appeared in more than 150 games and received more than 625 plate appearances. In total, over his first five seasons he appeared in 554 games and made 2,368 plate appearances. He batted .290/.362/.495 with 92 HR and 338 RBI and added 116 doubles, 19 triples, 42 stolen bases, 226 walks, and 401 strikeouts. He also had an All Star Game appearance, a Gold Glove Award, a Silver Slugger Award, two Top 10 MVP finishes, and two playoff appearances (2007, losing the World Series to Boston, and 2009, losing in the Division Series to Philadelphia).

Braun spent the first two seasons of his professional career in the minor leagues before making his MLB Debut in May 2007. As a result, he only had four seasons of experience under his belt as the 2011 season began but he had been an MLB regular for the duration of that time. When he signed his extension with the Brewers, Braun had appeared in 579 games and made 2,547 plate appearances. He batted .307/.364/.554 in that span with 128 HR and 420 RBI. He’d add 149 doubles, 20 triples, 63 stolen bases, 184 walks, and 467 strikeouts. Braun appeared in the All Star Game three times, won three Silver Slugger Awards, the Rookie of the Year Award in 2007, and made one playoff appearance (2008, losing in the Division Series to Philadelphia).

Zimmerman didn’t waste any time making his MLB Debut, first appearing in a game for the Nationals just two and a half months after being taken in the 1st Round of the 2005 Draft. Zimmerman was the 4th pick in the draft that year. Braun was taken 5th and Tulowitski 7th that same round – so this is not the first time the trio has been grouped together. Zimmerman only appeared in 20 games that September, receiving 68 plate appearances. Including that time and his first four full seasons (to give us a similar sample size to Tulowitski and Braun) he played in 602 games, receiving 2,625 plate appearances. In that span he batted .284/.347/.478 with 91 HR and 364 RBI. He also hit 161 doubles, 12 triples, 18 stolen bases, 228 walks, and 447 strikeouts. He also has an All Star Game appearance, a Gold Glove, and a Silver Slugger.

Statistically speaking, through the first five seasons of their careers Zimmerman and Tulowitski were remarkably similar. Zimmerman did appear in roughly 50 more games, receiving just over 250 more plate appearances over that time. But take a look at these numbers (all are career totals for Zimmerman:Tulowitski): home runs (91:92), RBI (364:338), doubles (161:116), triples (12:19), walks (228:226), and strikeouts (447:401). Braun’s numbers through his first four seasons resulted in higher career totals at the point where he signed his extension, perhaps indicating that Tulowitski is actually the better comparison to work from.

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Both Tulowitski and Braun signed deals which added more years to the end of existing contracts.  Each received a deal of at least five years. Coupled with his existing contract, Tulowitski’s six year extension left him under team control for a total of 10 seasons (from the time of the signing) at an average annual value of $15.77 Million. Braun’s extension left him with 11 seasons under contract at an AAV of $13.79 Million.

Zimmerman is under contract with Washington for $12 Million in 2012 and $14 Million in 2013. The two sides could take two paths towards addressing a new contract with their third baseman. An entire new contract could replace both years and simply extend beyond them. Or, it could simply add time after the two remaining years – similarly to how both Tulowitski and Braun’s extensions worked.

Zimmerman just turned 27 this past September. A new six year contract – replacing his two remaining years – would take him until his 33rd Birthday. He’d reach free agency after the 2017 season and he’d still be young enough to secure another five or six year contract on the open market. However, a six year contract extension – added onto his two remaining years – would take him until after the 2019 season. It would mean 8 years in Washington instead of 6, further building upon a legacy that he’s already started to establish for such a young franchise.

While the length of a deal seems to be a lesser concern – though I’d expect the Nationals organization to prefer locking him up for as long as possible (i.e. a six year extension added onto his two remaining years) – the dollar amount is still an unknown. Simply taking the midpoint AAV from Tulowitski and Braun’s extensions would put a deal for Zimmerman in the neighborhood of $14.78 Million. Over eight years of team control (remember, we’re adding an extension onto his remaining two years, not replacing them) would put the total value at roughly $118 Million. Considering the $26 Million he’s under contract already for, that would mean a potential extension for Zimmerman would need to be for six years and $92 Million.

Zimmerman has long stated that he’d prefer to remain with the Washington organization but he doesn’t want to sign a deal that will keep the organization from making the other moves necessary to field a competitive team. A six year, $92 Million extension would truly fit in line with that desire. It would keep Zimmerman in the lineup and with the franchise for the next 8 seasons. While that may seem like a lengthy period – particularly given Zimmerman’s injury history – it isn’t likely a factor that will prevent a deal from being completed between the two sides. Washington is going to see a steady increase in their overall payroll in the coming seasons and knowing those costs in advance will be imperative in properly planning and budgeting for them. Extending Zimmerman now, rather than waiting much longer, will ultimately prove to be the most beneficial route for both sides to take. And it would ultimately meet the needs and desires of each side more than satisfactorily.

Tags: Ryan Braun Ryan Zimmerman Troy Tulowitski Washington Nationals

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