The Nationals and GM Mike Rizzo have taken their share of criticism for bidding aggressively on Jayson Werth and signing him to a free agent contract worth $126MM. Back in 2009, six weeks after taking over in Washington, Rizzo, then the interim GM, signed an equally important player to a long-term contract that's now looking like a fantastic deal for the team.
Ryan Zimmerman signed a five-year, $45MM deal two years ago this month and though his reasons for accepting the deal – guaranteed money, an extended stay with an organization he likes – are understandable, the Nationals are set to save $14MM or more in 2012-13, Zimmerman's age 27 and 28 seasons.
If he hadn't signed the exension two years ago, Zimmerman would have hit free agency after the 2011 season as a 27-year-old. He’s now on the disabled list (for just the second time in his career) with a left abdominal strain, but that wouldn’t have stopped teams from bidding on him if he had hit the open market after the season. Zimmerman and Prince Fielder would have been the best free agent position players available other than Albert Pujols.
A $20MM annual salary on a long-term deal would have been possible for the third baseman and his agents at CAA. Instead, the Nationals will pay Zimmerman $12MM in 2012 and $14MM in 2013. They have always been aggressive with Zimmerman, promoting him to the majors just 85 days and 269 minor league plate appearances after being drafted. It paid off with a sizzling cameo in 2005, a productive rookie season in 2006 and a shrewd contract extension in 2009.
The only players with more wins above replacement than Zimmerman since he became an everyday player in 2006 are perennial All-Stars and, in many cases, Hall of Fame candidates: Pujols, Chase Utley, Matt Holliday, David Wright, Alex Rodriguez, Hanley Ramirez, Miguel Cabrera and Joe Mauer. Zimmerman, a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner, has a career mark of 13.1 UZR/150 and a .289/.356/.485 batting line, testaments to his well-rounded game.
He said last month that he would like to stay in Washington and is open to extending his stay in D.C. once again. This time, the Nationals might not be able to secure free agent years for south of $20MM, but that doesn't change the fact that his current deal has been a success for them so far and promises to be even better in 2012-13.