The 27-year-old is in the fourth year of a five-year $45 million deal that will pay him $12 million this season. He’s slated to make $14 million next year. There is no club option, which means Zimmerman can walk once it’s completed.
Although he won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2013 season, Zimmerman told the paper previously that he doesn’t want contract talks to become a distraction for himself or his teammates during Spring Training or the regular season, and he will likely test the open market if Spring Training rolls around next year without a new deal. He also told the paper that both sides want to “be creative” and that he’s willing to do what it takes to sign a deal that will make him a National for the rest of his career.
This kind of talk certainly makes it sound like there’s no rush to get a deal done, although pitchers and catchers report in just a few days. But if General Manager Mike Rizzo wants to fire up the team and its fans for a possible playoff run this season, there’s no better time than now to get this deal done.
Here’s why: After Zimmerman signed his current deal in 2009, he rewarded the Nats and their fans by hitting safely in 30 straight games, making his first All-Star appearance and winning a Gold Glove and the first of his two Silver Slugger awards. He also finished the season with a career high 33 home runs.
Coincidence? It sounds more like confidence. As the team’s first true home grown star, the Virginia native and University of Virginia product was obviously energized by the faith that the team was showing in him.
Now the Nats are at a crucial point in their development. Rizzo has stocked the team with what looks to be the best pitching staff it’s ever had, and a familiar lineup that ended 2011 on a strong note is set to take the field. What better way to send a message to the fans that he’s committed to building a winner, and to young players like Bryce Harper that hard work and results pay off, than by locking in Zimmerman?
What’s more, the market is not going to get any better for the team. The extensions recently signed by Zim’s contemporaries, Matt Kemp (8 years, $160 million), Troy Tulowitzki (6 years, $118 million) and reigning National League MVP Ryan Braun (5 years, $105 million). That puts the price tag for a player of his age and skill level in the range of $18 million- $20 million per year, a reasonable pay raise for Zimmerman. With hitters like Carlos Quentin, David Wright and B.J. Upton likely to either hit the market or negotiate extensions this season, the price isn’t going down.
The timing and the market seem right for the Nats to sign Zimmerman to a deal that will keep him in Washington for the rest of his playing days. Who knows? It could set the tone for what could be a breakout season for both him and the team.