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Why Ryan Zimmerman’s Contract Was Important For The Nationals

The Washington Nationals signed Ryan Zimmerman to an extension on Sunday that will keep him with the organization through at least 2019.  The extension was worth $100 million, with a $18 million option for the 2020 season.  On top of his current deal which expires in 2013, Zimmerman could make as much as $150 million between now and 2020, including incentives.  Even without the option, the annual average of the extension gives Zimmerman the second largest contract ever given to a third baseman.  No. 1 is Alex Rodriguez.  Ryan Zimmerman means more to the organization and its fans than just All-Star quality statistics, and this deal shows that the Lerners and GM Mike Rizzo undertand that.

While he missed time due to injury in 2011, the on-field value that Ryan Zimmerman provides to the Nationals is enormous.  He’s won the Silver Slugger twice, the Gold Glove once, and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2006 to Hanley Ramirez (who would you rather have now?).  He broke the 100 RBI mark twice, he’s never hit fewer than 20 HR in a full season, and hit below .283 just once in the last six seasons.  Even after missing 60 games last season, Zimmerman earned a 2.5 WAR according to FanGraphs, and in the two seasons prior to that, his WAR was above 7.

In a wonderful FanGraphs piece comparing Zimmerman to similar third basemen in recent memory, Dave Cameron makes an argument that Zimmerman “is one of the game’s most underrated players.”  This makes sense, especially considering Washington’s near irrelevance in the baseball world over the last six seasons.  It’ll be hard to fly under the radar in DC over the next few years, though.  He also argues that, despite a hefty payday, this deal was fair for both sides considering his projections compared to other third basemen like Scott RolenAdrian Beltre, and Robin Ventura.  The one x-factor is Zimmerman’s health concerns from 2011, which everyone knew about going in.  The Nationals obviously felt comfortable in Zimm’s future healthy.  On the opposite side, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com argues that the Nats paid too much money for a one-time All-Star, but if you truly understand Zimmerman’s value to the team, that’s a hard charge to make.

Zimmerman is the Face of the Franchise, and he proves that team loyalty can be rewarded.  The level of candor that he provided throughout the situation was refreshing, and it was clear he truly meant it when he said he wanted to stay in DC for the rest of his career.  On the ownership and front office side, the Lernersand GM Mike Rizzo proved that they’re willing to be loyal to a player who means as much to the team as Zimmerman does.  While it’s possible that some think this is a bad deal for the Nationals, this contract also set an example for Stephen StrasburgBryce HarperAnthony Rendon, and others that will be looking for extensions in the next few years.  Zimmerman continues to be a leader for younger players both on and off the field.

Now that this process is over, the team can collectively forget about it and start focusing on baseball, as we’re less than a week away from the first spring training game.  Zimmerman is locked up until he’s 34 years old, he’ll likely wear No. 11 with a Curly W until he retires, and the fans are happy.  Now it’s time to see if the progress made this offseason will pay off for a successful 2012 campaign.

About Joe Drugan

Managing editor of The Nats Blog and co-host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast.

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