Nationals Wisely Extend Ryan Zimmerman

When the Washington Nationals and Ryan Zimmerman began negotiating his $100 million extension, Zimmerman was already bound to the team for 2012 and 2013 seasons. Even still, the Nats decided to give him a $100 million guarantee this weekend in exchange for his services from 2014 until 2019. Zimmerman’s performance through his 34th birthday is now the property of the Nationals. Washington had two years to decide whether to make such an investment in Zimmerman’s health and extended performance — but they decided to take the risk now.

The deal’s critics already pointed out Ryan Howard’s questionable extension in April 2010 — also two years before he became free-agent eligible — but there are a number of recent contracts that may be better comparisons for Zimmerman’s. While Howard’s deal appears that it will be a major overpay, it turns out these contracts generall work out quite well for teams. Instead of being unnecessary risks, they are usually hedges against spending even more money in the future.

Utilizing all contracts of players with at least six years service time from 2007 to 2011, I searched for deals that were signed at least two years before the player was eligible for free agency and that bought out at least three free agency years. I included deals that bought out arbitration years as well — though these  obviously are different than Zimmerman’s new contract — and found 11 contracts that met these criteria. To quantify these contracts’ values, I looked only at performance and pay from 2007 to 2011. This excluded six years of these deals that started before 2007, and 14 years of these contracts that ended after 2011.

Overall, the cost per WAR for these deals — after making my standard adjustments for draft-pick compensation — was just $3.63 million each. All other contracts during this time cost $5.53 million per WAR. On average, that amounts to a 34% discount for teams willing to sign a player a couple years in advance. Even if we look only at extensions that were signed later — since re-signed players usually outperform free agents from other teams — they cost $5.25 million per WAR, which turns these big extensions into 31% discounts.

If these teams had paid full price later, they could have cost $668 million — instead of $443 million. For reference, the $225 million gap is approximately the amount of money remaining on the seven incomplete deals. That means that if these players gave no production during the next 14 seasons, the teams collectively would have already broken even.

Contracts like this provide incredible savings. While nine of these 11 deals covered years outside the 2007 to 2011 range, I analyze them each individually.

Completed deals:

1. Albert Pujols signed a seven-year, $100 million deal in February 2004, despite being three years from free agency. This also included an option for 2011 that was picked up, making it effectively five years (2007 to 2011) bought for about $77 million above the league minimum. He produced 39.1 WAR. JUDGMENT: great deal.

2. Roy Halladay signed a three-year, $40 million deal in March 2006 to cover the 2008 through 2010 seasons — this, despite Doc being under contract through 2007. He produced 21.5 WAR during that time. JUDGMENT: great deal.

Deals starting before 2007:

1. Bobby Abreu signed a five-year, $64 million deal with the Phillies in February 2002, despite not being eligible for free agency until after 2003. The Phillies traded Abreu to the Yankees in July 2006, who picked up his 2008 option. Since I’m only looking at production during 2007 through 2011 seasons, I count only Abreu’s 4.9 WAR from 2007 to 2008 and his $26.6 million above league minimum as the cost. The deal gets penalized a little — he was a Type A player after 2003 — so he would have given Philadelphia a pair of draft picks if they let him go, but the Yankees didn’t offer arbitration after he left in 2008. JUDGMENT: good deal.

2. Todd Helton and the Rockies agreed to a nine-year, $141.5 million contract in March 2001 that covered his  2003 through 2011 seasons. Helton wasn’t even eligible for free agency until after the 2003 season. While the first part of the free-agent portion of the deal went relatively well (14.2 WAR from 2004 to 2006), the next five seasons were particularly ugly. Helton was paid about $79.8 million above league minimum but produced just 11.1 WAR. He also forced the Rockies to forego a couple of draft picks after 2003. In the end, the Rockies’ expense was too high for a non-elite performance at the beginning, coupled with marginal production at the end. JUDGMENT: not a good deal.

Deals not quite completed:

1. Chris Carpenter agreed to a five-year, $63.5 million contract with the Cardinals in December 2006, nominally covering the 2007 through 2011 seasons. Since Carpenter was actually under contract through 2007 — and had a team-friendly option for 2008 — this was really a three-year deal for $44.5 million that covered his 2009 through 2011 seasons. Regardless, Carpenter delivered in a big way: He produced 15.4 WAR during those three years. On top of that, the Cardinals picked up his 2012 option — a decision that could make this deal look even better. The draft picks that were given up after 2008 were minimal, since Carpenter’s likely to yield draft pick compensation after 2012, anyway. The Cardinals also can recoup the picks. JUDGMENT: good deal.

2. Alex Rios netted a seven-year, $69.83 million deal from the Blue Jays in April 2008, despite not being eligible for free agency until after 2010. The Blue Jays were unbelievably fortunate that the White Sox picked him up off waivers in 2009. He was below replacement level at -0.7 WAR last year, and he still has three more years of eight-figure salaries from the White Sox. JUDGMENT: terrible deal, even though not for the team that originally signed him.

3. Chase Utley and the Phillies shook hands on a contract worth $85 million for seven years back in January 2007. The agreement bought out Utley’s three remaining arbitration years and tacked on a four-year, $60 million deal that covered the 2010 through 2013 seasons three years in advance. In 2010, Utley produced 5.4 WAR; in 2011, he produced 3.9 WAR in just 103 games. With $30 million total due for 2012 and 2013, this could work out exceptionally well for the Phillies if Utley can stay on the field most of the time. Even if Utey falls to more injuries, the Phillies have a cushion before this deal would even become a questionable one. JUDGMENT: good deal.

4. Jake Peavy signed a three-year, $52 million deal in December 2007, that covered his 2010 through 2012 seasons. Afterward, he suffered a series of devastating injuries that put a dent into what seemed like a fantastic deal. Still, Peavy has produced 4.7 WAR during the past two years — in just 218.2 innings — so this deal hasn’t been a total loss. It just wasn’t a good bargain. JUDGMENT: not a good deal.

5. Justin Morneau inked a six-year, $80 million deal in January 2008 that bought out three arbitration years — as well as his 2011 through 2013 seasons — for about $45 million. Sometimes, concussions happen. Morneau’s story is terrible and hopefully he can get back on the field; but even though you can’t predict a concussion, you have to account for injuries. Teams needs to consider all kinds of risks when securing a play in advance; Morneau’s contract was plagued by one such risk. Morneau was below replacement level in 2011 and his career could be in jeopardy. As a result, the Twins landed on the wrong side of the ledger on this one. JUDGMENT: terrible deal.

6. In March of 2007, Michael Young and the Rangers negotiated a $80 million deal that covered his 2009 through 2013 seasons. The Rangers also exercised Young’s $5 million option for 2008 as part of the agreement. So far, the first three years of the deal have given 9.7 WAR to the Rangers at a cost of $46.8 million above league minimum. That part is fine — but Young’s unlikely to be as prolific in  2012 and 2013 as he was from 2009 to 2011. JUDGMENT: not a good deal.

7. Miguel Cabrera signed an eight-year, $152.3 million deal in December 2007, despite the fact that he wouldn’t be free-agent eligible until after 2009. Effectively, this was a six-year, $126 million deal that covered Cabrera’s 2010 to 2015 seasons. He has already produced 13.6 WAR in the first two seasons of this contract, and he’s likely to produce enough from 2012 to 2015 to make this deal easily pay off. JUDGMENT: good deal.

Of these 11 deals, it looks like we have two great contracts (Pujols and Halladay), four good ones (Abreu, Carpenter, Utley and Cabrera), three that were not so good (Helton, Peavy and Young), and two terrible ones (Rios and Morneau). While tallying categories like this masks the aggregate effect, the good deals have been a lot more useful than the bad ones have been destructive. The contracts have provided WAR at a cost of only $3.63 million each, or about a 34% market discount.

Ryan Zimmerman could hurt himself — or his skills could deteriorate too rapidly — and those concerns obviously make this $100 million investment far from a guaranteed success for the Nationals. Given the value that comparable agreements have provided to teams even in this low-inflation era, Washington has history on its side. If Zimmerman maintains his production, if he tails off gracefully or if the market price spikes in the wake of an economic recovery, this contract might be a $100 million steal for the Nationals. Baseball players are worth a lot of money and are compensated accordingly. Zimmerman may have exchanged even more future compensation for some extra security right now.




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Matt writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and models arbitration salaries for MLB Trade Rumors. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Swa.

49 Responses to “Nationals Wisely Extend Ryan Zimmerman”

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  1. robby says:

    so this is not entirely unlike Braun’s deal last spring, correct? except Braun extended 3years early i think instead of Zimm’s 2years early. How is it that this isn’t viewed as a stupid front office move like many did with the Brewers last spring?

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    • cable fixer says:

      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/is-ryan-brauns-extensions-worse-than-ryan-howards/

      braun and zimmerman are actually markedly similar players (by WAR) over the last five years (25.2 vs 24.8), although when the deal was signed with braun, he had “only” produced 17.4 WAR (over 3.ish years). so, up until last year, zimmerman was actually the better player.

      i think this all stems back to the (very correct, IMO) attitude this site takes with zimmerman, which is that he’s the sort of player that tends to be overlooked but one who a team could/should build a franchise around.

      having said that, between braun/zimmerman/tulo going forward…wouldn’t most people prefer tulo?

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  2. baty says:

    Right now we’re experiencing a flood of young talent in the majors. Initially, I would expect more opportunities than usual in the near future with major talent kind of guys hitting the free agent market in their mid to early/late 20s, but it seems as though the “home-grown prospect” extension trend has picked up steam the last few years. I wonder what the market will be like 3-6 years from now, and I wonder if/how this influences some of the decisions being made.

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  3. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    I don’t quite get the ding on Morneau. It was a complete fluke, and sure, flukes can sometimes happen and you sometimes get stuck with messy results, but though the results may be terrible the deal doesn’t deserve much blame. What are the odds Ryan Zimmerman gets into a fluke situation that ends his career a la Justin Morneau (or Steve Blass)? Certainly not worth gambling that it happens.

    The concerns about freak injuries would, I presume, be more important in the case of absolutely massive contracts – if, say, Albert Pujols swallows a chicken bone and needs a tracheotomy, that must be more of a “terrible deal” than Morneau’s.

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    • Richie says:

      Mtt’s measuring the deals by each one’s result, Beer Guy. A commendable research approach.

      To which end, thanks much for this research, Matt.

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      • robby says:

        that’s the point, as well Vegemitch’s. Something as unexpected/unusual as Morneau’s should be noted as such or not included in the research as it classifies more as an outlier than an useful piece of research data

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      • Minstrel says:

        Injuries are part of the game and part of the calculus of long-term deals. It doesn’t make sense to remove the deals that failed due to injury…far from being “outliers,” they “price in” one of the pitfalls when you do a research project like this, combining the data from many/multiple deals.

        As Richie noted, this isn’t necessarily about the wisdom of each move, individually, but rather how the deal worked out for the team.

        If you want to find a “wisdom,” you can look at the aggregate of all the deals, which includes the one marred by injury, which actually comes out positive on these types of deals.

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      • Krog says:

        Even though Morneau’s concussion might be rare, the Twins are still required to pay him, so he stays in the dataset.

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    • Vegemitch says:

      This is a look at the results of the deal, not the wisdom in making the deal at the time. If Pujols had a tragic career ending injury after signing the contract that is listed in the article as “great deal”, and St. Louis received nothing for his services, then yeah, it would have been a “terrible deal”.

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  4. Greg says:

    Zimmerman has also been somewhat injury prone, so there is some risk there.

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  5. Nik says:

    I’m not sure why they extended him now as opposed to the next off-season. Its not like he really gave a discount on this extension.

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    • Richie says:

      If the Nats chose to wait a year, maybe Zimmerman then decides, ‘What the hey, I’ll just wait another one, then’. At which time the Yankees and/or Red Sox very possibly get in on the bidding.

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      • robby says:

        as earlier post said, it’ll be interesting to see these play out as more teams seem to be willing to do these long deals, all to prevent BOS and NYY from ending up with the players. Sucks that fear of two high spending teams seems to be so prevalent in the rest of the team’s minds, but at least the other clubs are trying to do something about it.

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  6. Psst says:

    So let’s see Todd Helton contract WAR numbers
    20017.6
    2002 5.0
    2003 7.2
    2004 7.4
    2005 5.0 Hurt back saps his power
    2006 2.2
    2007 4.6
    2008 0.8
    2009 3.2
    2010 -.01
    2011 2.6

    I understand the whole “why sign a guy through his age 37 season” but that goes for all contract, but how the hell do you call 3 7WAR seasons 01-04 or a 7.2 and a 5.0WAR season in 04-05 “non-elite performance at the beginning”

    PS: Dave Cameron wrote last year about the Tulo extension “From where I sit, the Rockies just took on too much needless risk”

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    • robby says:

      my point exactly. The Tulo, Braun, and Zimm deals differ in details, but on the whole are all similar: done earlier than needed and assumed extended production into mid-30s. How opinions differ across them seems strange

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    • Vegemitch says:

      I think the analysis covers only the free agent portion of the deals. For Helton, that begins with 2004 season. So the beginning portion of the deal includes a single elite season, a good season, and an average one. Regardless of the reason, the latter portion of the contract paid Helton far more than what he was worth.

      In short, the Rockies would have gotten his 2001-2003 seasons even if they never reached a contract agreement, and Helton was no where near worth the kind of pay he received after that.

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  7. Vegemitch says:

    One thing that should also be considered is what kind of compensation a team gets for injuries keeping the player off the field. I’m sure that the Twins have some sort of insurance on Morneau’s contract and therefore the cost to the organization is not as high as the amount Morneau is to be paid.

    I am not well versed in this area, I just know that insurance on large contracts does exist. For example, Detroit is getting $6 million compensation due to VMart not being available this season. Are all contracts covered in some way? Are shorter durations of time missed also compensated for?

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    • JayT says:

      I think most of the insurance policies don’t kick in unless the player goes on the 60 day DL.

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    • nick says:

      It is common to insure contracts, though my understanding (possibly mistaken) is that insurers will now cover only the beginning years of very long contracts. Two of them got very badly burned on Mo Vaughn and Albert Bell, and everyone got cold feet after that. I don’t know if they cover short DL stints – in fact, I’d assume that that’s the kind of thing you could negotiate, but would vary by contract.

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      • Matt Swartz says:

        The thing about insurance on these deals is that either the insurance companies are stupid (which I doubt) or the price of the insurance is at least as big as the expected payout from the insurance company. So this is probably pretty close to a wash when we look at deals on the aggregate– cus that’s pretty much what insurance companies are doing anyway. On aggregate it should be that:

        Value of player – cost of contract ~= Value of player – cost of contract – cost of insurance + probability(insurance)*payout(insurance)

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      • Cliff says:

        But the deals where players get injured are better than we think, and the deals where players don’t get injured are worse than we think, if these insurance contracts are being taken out.

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      • Matt Swartz says:

        Cliff, I can’t tell if you’re agreeing with me or not.

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  8. Kyle K. says:

    You really did Helton dirty. You give the “effective” value of Cabrera’s contract by not counting the pre-FA year dollar amounts against it, but don’t do the same for Helton, counting $10MM of salary without counting the 7.2 WAR the Rockies got that year. Still, in the end (and I count the contract as completed at this point since he renegotiated and is now making about $5MM this year), if we use the same method of valuation you used for Cabrera, it’s 25.7 WAR for $128MM. That’s almost exactly $5/MM per, which seems very fair to me. If we count the 2003 salary and also count the 7.2 WAR he accumulated that year, it looks even better. At worst it’s a neutral contract.

    Also- “He also forced the Rockies to forego a couple of draft picks after 2003.” Pretty nice hit and run statement of “fact” there. You want to provide a link for that one? Sure, every dollar they paid him was a dollar they couldn’t spend on the draft. That can be said about all of these contracts. Why bring it up only in his section? The Rockies aren’t big huge spenders, but neither are the Cardinals.

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    • JayT says:

      I think the draft picks he was referring to were the ones they would have gotten if they let Helton walk after 2003.

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      • Kyle K. says:

        That would be even sillier on his part than if the interpretation I made is correct. At least with the “he was eating up tons of salary so it affected the draft budget” argument, you could say that wasn’t a factor for the Phillies or Tigers or White Sox since they have more cash to throw around. Under your interpretation, every one of these teams missed out on draft picks when they signed these extensions. GMAB.

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      • robby says:

        having a franchise player is usually going to be preferred to hoping on a 50% hitrate of those 2 draft picks working out, just to be able to get a franchise player, when you currently have one.

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      • Vegemitch says:

        That is correct. Every one of these teams missed out on draft picks that they would have had if they let the players walk. Those picks do have value and should be accounted for in the cost of signing these players. One would be remiss not to.

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      • robby says:

        Veg,
        in that case, you also have to account for the signing bonuses, etc for those draft picks too (which are unknown aspects, given the team’s record and general lack of certainty of any draft pick), depends on where you want the analysis to end.

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      • Kyle K. says:

        And why only mention it in Helton’s blurb? Why not put it in the intro? It’s like saying “let’s run down some of the NL’s top pitchers” and only mentioning in Roy Halladay’s entry that he’s not a very good hitter. Combine that with the misstated WAR/$ amount of the contract (and the subsequent effort to get the WAR/$ amount correct for the Cabrera deal) and it looks like Swartz has it in for Helton. That’s not the end of the world, this is Fangraphs and anyone who reads it regularly should be used to its faux-objectivity, but I felt like pointing it out anyways.

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    • Vegemitch says:

      He only looked at Cabrera’s potential post FA years as well. I’m not sure why you believe he did something different between he and Helton.

      He also mentioned draft picks in regards to a few of the other players, but there is an important caveat that you are ignoring: most of the other players will still net the team draft picks if they walk when their current contract is up, so that makes it a wash. If they don’t walk, then that is factored into the next deal. In the Helton case, he did not garner draft pick compensation and so it was a forfeiture by the Rockies.

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      • Kyle K. says:

        “He only looked at Cabrera’s potential post FA years as well. I’m not sure why you believe he did something different between he and Helton.”

        Wrong. In Cabrera’s case, he looked at post FA WAR and post FA $. In Helton’s case, he looked at post FA WAR and total $. If he were analyzing them identically, he would have said “in effect this was an 8 year, $128 MM deal,” which makes the corresponding WAR total still a little underwhelming but not bad, either. Pretty simple.

        I am wrong about the draft picks- he did mention them in Carpenter and Abreu’s case. It’s still oddly inconsistent and better suited for the intro IMO.

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      • Vegemitch says:

        Ah, I see what you mean, he counted Helton’s final non FA year in the contract dollar amount for after FA status. Probably just an error moreso than agenda grinding though.

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    • Matt Swartz says:

      This is where I give the full details of how I account for draft pick compensation.
      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/how-compensation-picks-stifle-free-agent-salaries/

      It mattered for every single one of them, though the teams that recouped picks afterwards were not punished as much (just the time value). In fact, despite your claim that I only mentioned it for Helton, I mentioned it when discussing Abreu and Carpenter too. I didn’t keep saying it for the sake of brevity, but it’s all accounted for.

      Additionally, the reason you don’t count the arb-year is that year was in the bank either way. I made adjustments for what the salary is supposed to account for in arbitration years (i.e. allocating the signing bonus as part of the arb-year salary if that was clearly what it was intended to compensate for). If you check out my work on arbitration at MLB Trade Rumors, you can get a sense of how I approximate arbitration salaries to figure out how to allocate signing bonuses, etc.

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      • robby says:

        matt,
        great summary.

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      • Kyle K. says:

        I was wrong about the draft pick thing, sorry. I still stand by my argument about the “effective cost” of the contract. You’re painting it as a $141 MM contract but not counting the WAR accumulated over the course of the contract. 2007-2011 were pretty bad. 2003-2006, if you count 2003 as part of the deal which you’re implicitly doing by stating the total value, were really good. If you don’t want to count the WAR accumulated in 2003, don’t count the money paid either.

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      • Matt Swartz says:

        I counted neither the money nor the WAR from 2003. I treated it as an 8/$130.9 million deal, with about 2 wins foregone via lost draft picks and $2 million of draft pick bonuses saved.

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      • Kyle K. says:

        Well in the end I have egg on my face, although it would have been useful of you to state the effective value of the contract up front like you did for Cabrera.

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      • robby says:

        Kyle,
        just hope that the egg on your face is egg-whites only, they’re healthier i hear… ;-)

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  9. Shane says:

    The Nationals are hoping they get a steal with Zimmerman coming off a injury riddled year. I’ve got a bad feeling in my stomach with this one though. He saw his defensive numbers drop for the first time last year. I just get the feeling that even if he is healthy this guy aint Mike Scmidt. I just get the feeling they just laid out big bucks for a guy who will be less than he has been going forward. I’m just going on my gut but he seems like a guy that will peak the next two years (if lucky), then regress to just above average or average over the next contract. Maybe that justifies things on a dollar/WAR level but the NATS will be looking for more. I think it is likely a PR driven move for the NATS. If it makes sense in the first three years of the extension as Strasburg and Harper ripen, the Nats will be happy.

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    • robby says:

      what i’m surprised with the Nats is that they did this for Zimm with Stras/Harper needing this treatment in a year or two. you can’t pre-extend all your players this way (at least you think a team wouldn’t do that) so you have to pick&choose which player or couple players will be consistently healthy and productive. wouldn’t they have wanted to pre-extend one of them before pre-extending Zimm?

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      • NTPNate says:

        Harper is well more than a year or two away from needing an extension. Assuming his service time is handled properly, he should be a Nat through 2017. Given Strasburg’s TJ, the team is probably going to want to see a healthy ’12 and ’13 before even thinking new contract. Jordan Zimmermann should actually be the first piece of the team’s “core” to hit free agency, after 2015.

        And I’d say that Ryan Zimmerman’s extension probably sends a positive signal to those younger players. Not every one will give a hometown discount, but everyone will see that if you produce the Nats will deal worth you fairly.

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      • baty says:

        Strasburg and Harper already have some security with the deals they signed as draft picks. I’m sure they won’t have a problem holding out for a while longer unless something amazing comes along.

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  10. YouKnowImRight says:

    Hey, don’t the Nats also have Anthony Rendon waiting in the wings? Are they planning on moving him to a corner outfield position or first base? If not, why block a top prospect for 6 years?

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    • bstar says:

      I think maybe what happened with Rendon is at the point they drafted him they weren’t sure what they were going to do with Zimmerman long-term.

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    • Bibs says:

      The Nats are already working Rendon at shortstop and second in spring training. Apparently he played short all through high school and played 2b his senior year at Rice. Coaches are already saying his fielding is sick and he’ll be able to play anywhere in the infield. Dude is not long for the minors…

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  11. jeff_bonds says:

    Nats can worry about what to do with the best third baseman in the NL when Rendon makes it to the majors.

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  12. JCA says:

    The break down on this contract that Mark Zuckerman on CSN’s Nats Insider blog has has this as a $90MM guarantee during the playing years plus a deferred $10MM personal services contract after Zimmerman retires. He will makes $14MM a year for all but the last guaranteed year, when his salary bumps to $18MM. Then he has an option for the following year at $18MM with a $2MM buy out. there is an $8MM poison pill if he gets traded over the next two years before the contract kicks in.

    Here is the Url:
    http://www.csnwashington.com/blog/nationals-talk/post/Adding-up-Zims-millions?blockID=659116&feedID=6358

    Given this salary structure, it is hard to see this as much of an impairment on the team’s ability to pay free agents and current players they want to retain going forward. he does not get a bump until two years after Werth’s contract expires. This deal is team-friendly.

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