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Zimmerman: Long-term or not?

So we finally have a much-discussed actual story in the newspaper in the form of this Nick Johnson tome. Obviously, from the piece, I went out to Sacramento and hung out with Johnson for a couple days, and I have plenty of Didn't Make the Paper material left over, which I'll share with you in another post soon. Most of it has to do with his workout regimen, etc. I can say this: He runs without a limp, he looks to be a normal weight, and all evidence is he is determined to bounce back and have a 2008 that resembles his 2006.

But for now, let's turn our attention to something you folks have wondered about from time to time: Ryan Zimmerman and a long-term contract. You might remember that last spring there was much talk about the possibility of getting a deal done, but in the end, the Nationals ended up "renewing" his contract - which basically means picking a salary, because the player's under their control - for $400,000.

Zimmerman, at that point, had played one full season, plus one month, in the majors. Therefore, in the lingo of the game, he was a "one-plus" player. A player becomes arbitration-eligible after three full seasons, or when he is a "three-plus" player, meaning Zimmerman will be eligible for arbitration after this year.

Why bring this up now, especially when there's nothing new to report on a long-term extension? (Nothing substantive has happened since the end of the season, and with Zimmerman's two minor wrist surgeries, both sides can take a let's-wait-till-spring attitude.) Check out this story on Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki, who just signed a six-year, $31-million deal with the Rockies following his "one-plus" season.

What are the motivations for either the player or the club in a situation like this? For the player, it's easy: He takes a fair deal that raises his salary each year - through the remaining two years the club had him completely under control, through his three years of arbitration and into his first year of what would have been free agency - at what the club and the agents deem might be roughly market rates, or slightly below. The player gets the money even if he - hello, Nick Johnson - breaks his leg and misses a year or has a dip in performance.

What's in it for the club? Cost certainty. The market for baseball players simply doesn't seem to be going down. If the market continues to rise, or even stays at the same level, and Zimmerman's performance is what he and the Nationals believe it will be - say, a better year than he had last season, more like his 110-RBI 2006 - then the Nationals would take the market out of the equation.

(Look at the way, say, Tulowitzki's deal is structured, and you can see how clubs basically usher a guy through the arbitration and free agency system in a deal like this, even though they have taken the player out of the system: he gets $750,000 in 2008 and 2009, which would be his two years before he would have been eligible for arbitration; $3.5 million in 2010, which would have been his first year of arbitration; $5.5 million in 2011 (second arbitration year); $8.5 million in 2012 (final arbitration year); and $10.5 million in 2013 (first year of free agency). The Rockies have a $15 million option for 2014, basically meaning if the market for stud shortstops has gone beyond that by then (and it would seem it would have), then they can keep him. They could also buy him out for $2 million.)

Zimmerman's case is complicated by the fact that he is the de facto face of the franchise. Stan Kasten has been clear that he doesn't want to give anyone that burden, but there's little arguing that he's the most marketable player the club has, the one who's all but guaranteed to be part of the future. One wonders if that's a factor in negotiations.

Let's be clear: No deal has to get done this spring. No deal has to get done next offseason. Zimmerman can't be a free agent until after the 2011 season. He's a National for a long time, whether he has a long-term deal or not.

But this case bears watching over the next couple months as deals like Tulowitzki's get done. The last player to sign a "one-plus" deal for six years was Cleveland's Grady Sizemore, which was worth $23.5 million when he signed it before the 2006 season. Not saying Sizemore and Tulowitzki are the exact same player, because they're far from it. But it's still a $7.5 million increase for a franchise's bright young star in two years. That's an indication of where the market can go.

I'll get you more on Nick either later today or tomorrow.

By Barry Svrluga  |  January 24, 2008; 9:41 AM ET
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Next: Baseball America: Nats farm system now No. 9


The longer it takes to lock up Zimm, the more it's going to cost the Nationals. Not just in terms of money but in terms of public circumspection of the team's business practices. The ownership is already perceived by some fans of being - how can we delicately say this - overthrifty and signing No. 11 to a longterm deal would be commitment statements by both parties that the team and the Face of the Franchise (FOF) are both in this for the long haul.

Posted by: leetee1955 | January 24, 2008 10:02 AM | Report abuse


Al Gore announced today that the climate change is 'significantly worse' than previous thought and that the North Pole will melt in the next five years. The next time you speak with Stan, please ask him if this will have any effect on the Nats long term Plan. What's the point of building for the future if the new ballpark is going to be under water by the time our draft picks reach the majors?


Posted by: PowerBoater69 | January 24, 2008 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Memo to Stan:

Sign him for more than Tulowitzki, and front load it some Zimm AND the fan base some commitment. Include bonus money for career landmarks AND hours spent on club marketing efforts.

Posted by: Gusto | January 24, 2008 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Barry, great topic, thanks. I think there's a typo in your third paragraph though:

"A player becomes arbitration-eligible after three full seasons, or when he is a "three-plus" player, meaning Zimmerman will be eligible for free agency after this year."

Didn't you mean eligible for arbitration after this year?

Posted by: Bob L. Head | January 24, 2008 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Also reposting this from the prior thread on Nick:

Hey! A front-page feature story on the Nats, in January no less! Now that's progress. As for Nick, he's lost weight, he's running the bases without a limp, and he's a hard working down-to-earth guy. All good. But a couple of lines in the article made me wonder how close he really is to returning, viz:

"... it almost seems he could, once again, hit a single." That's pretty faint praise.

And this of course:

"Yet for all the hard work -- by the end of this session ... Johnson will be bent at the waist, spitting to the side and cursing into the crisp January air -- there are other obstacles ahead."

And the closing paragraph, which says that family and hometown come first for Nick, and baseball second. Nothing wrong with that, in fact it's a healthy attitude for most of us, just not one that's generally found (or openly acknowledged at least) in intensely competitive professional athletes.

Overall, I couldn't help being left with the overall impression that (i) neither Barry nor Nick knows for sure right now, 16 months after the injury, whether he can come back at all, much less by Spring Training; and (ii) if Nick has another setback, he might not be all that reluctant to go home and be a regular guy, and resume eating his burgers and cheese dogs.

Am I reading too much into this?

Posted by: Bob L. Head | January 24, 2008 10:28 AM | Report abuse

With 2+ years of service time, the better comparison at this point is the David Wright 6/$55 contract. That's probably the floor of what Zimmerman can expect.

Posted by: Chris | January 24, 2008 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Reposted from the last thread because it's a scoop (and this time I'm not worried at all about my SMR):

Barry, did you think we wouldn't learn the truth? From the AP:

Washington, DC - Washington Post reporter Barry Svrluga, who covers the Major League Washington Nationals, appeared in district court yesterday to challenge alleged violations of a restraining order filed by the sinker pitch of Nationals right-handed pitcher Shawn Hill.

The judge upheld the restraining order, prohibiting Svrluga from making any direct contact with the pitch and forcing the writer to maintain at least a 1,000-foot distance at all times.

While Hill himself did not arrive for the proceedings, his sinker was present and very lively.

"At first, his attention was a welcome change. It was like he saw something in me that no one else did," the formidable breaking ball stated.

But when a curious interest developed into what the sinker called "an all-out obsession," the pitch felt it necessary to take action. It filed a restraining order last year after Svrluga "crossed the line" following a May 11th appearance in the District.

"It was distracting. It was frightening. I couldn't do my job. I just felt flat," the sinker testified, in tears.

According to police reports, the restraining order was first violated on August 14. Numerous subsequent violations were also introduced by the sinker's attorney.

Hill could not be reached for comment.

Svrluga, who spent much of the early portion of the court session establishing the correct pronunciation of his name, pointed out that the restraining order impeded his ability to earn a living.

"I write about the Nationals," he pleaded.

"Well, maybe you should write about the Redskins," the judge responded.

Posted by: John in Mpls | January 24, 2008 10:35 AM | Report abuse

John in Mpls, I love it!

Posted by: Traveler | January 24, 2008 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Well done, JMpls!

Posted by: Bob L. Head | January 24, 2008 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Wonder if the sinker could also get a restraining order prohibiting NL batters from making any direct contact with the pitch ...

Posted by: Bob L. Head | January 24, 2008 10:48 AM | Report abuse

I live in Rockies' country, and my theory is the Rox have given up on keeping Holliday beyond the two year contract he just got, and are trying to establish Troy Tulo as the "face of the organization."

So in that sense, I think the two situations are comparable. Though Zimmerman better and should get more money, the parameters of the Tulo deal are a good place for the two sides to start.

Posted by: MBA | January 24, 2008 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Bob L: I think you're reading way too much into the story. Barry's summary above is what I got out of it: "He runs without a limp, he looks to be a normal weight, and all evidence is he is determined to bounce back and have a 2008 that resembles his 2006.".

It's the most positive news we've had about Nick in a long time, and, really, all you could reasonably hope for at this point in time.

Posted by: joebleux | January 24, 2008 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Barry -- You wrote:

A player becomes arbitration-eligible after three full seasons, or when he is a "three-plus" player, meaning Zimmerman will be eligible for free agency after this year.

Should be..."meaning Zimmerman will be eligible for ARBITRATION after this year."

Posted by: Mike | January 24, 2008 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Good catches, folks. Yes, he would be eligible for ARBITRATION after this year, not free agency. Free agency would come after 2011.

Posted by: Barry Svrluga | January 24, 2008 11:07 AM | Report abuse

It's okay, John in Mpls, I think Barry's attentions have shifted from Hill's sinker:

"He [Johnson] mimics that sweet, left-handed swing..."

The judge should take that into consideration. :-)

Posted by: Juan-John | January 24, 2008 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Maybe I'm crazy, but I get the "wait and see" approach. He's coming off two surgeries this year. With the luck the Nats have had over the past three years, minor hamate removal surgery could lead to Zimmerman's hand falling off.

Posted by: John in Mpls | January 24, 2008 11:14 AM | Report abuse

HILARIOUS article, John in Mpls!

Well done.

Posted by: NatsNut | January 24, 2008 11:20 AM | Report abuse

John in Mpls, that's worth saving.

Posted by: Barry Svrluga | January 24, 2008 11:21 AM | Report abuse

So far Zimmerman has not quite been David Wright. Wright has improved every year, and his numbers are better than Zimm's.

Wright hit .306/.388/.523 in his first full season (2005), with 27 dingers, 102 RBIs and 17 SBs to boot. He followed that up in 2006 with a line of .311/.381/.531, with 26 HRs, 116 RBIs and 20 SBs. Those are borderline MVP numbers, or at least future MVP numbers. Hence, the contract, and in 2007, Wright was well worth it, batting .325/.416/.546 with 30 HRs, 107 RBIs and 34 SBs.

Zimmerman's numbers, by contrast, are substantially weaker and his averages were down by 20 pts last year. In his first full season he hit .287/.351/.471, with 20 HRs, 110 RBIs and 11 SBs. Had he followed that up with Wright-like numbers in 2007 then I would have said he deserved a Wright-like contract. But he didn't. He hit .266/.330/.458, with 24 dingers, 91 RBIs and 4 SBs.

Those numbers are a lot like Tulowitzki's numbers. So, my sense is that the Nats might argue for something like 6 years and $30-$36 million, while "Scoop's" reps might start at 6 and $50-55.

Given the slight downturn last year and the hand injury, it seems to me that Zimm might be content to let things ride for the moment and see if he can put up improved numbers that would justify a larger contract, whether via arbitration or a long-term deal in 2009. By the same token, the Nats might be in a better position now than they will be a year from now. For that reason I think the Nats should make the first move. Getting him signed to a long-term deal now would be a nice splash to open the season in the new park, would increase payroll as promised, and would at least partially placate those who have been pining for a free agent signing. Six years, $42 million, sign here.

Posted by: Bob L. Head | January 24, 2008 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Your comments were pretty funny too, Juan-John and Bob L. Head!!

Posted by: NatsNut | January 24, 2008 11:29 AM | Report abuse

New post. Rather interesting.

Posted by: Juan-John | January 24, 2008 11:38 AM | Report abuse

First Sizemore, then Wright, and now Tulowitski.
That's three precedents set.
It's time to lock Zimm down. Do what's right. I know you don't HAVE to pay him more than $400K, but you SHOULD.
I have no idea what the feelings are between Ryan and the FO, but if I was in the same situation, I would feel like they're giving me the cold shoulder.
Of course (and no one would ever admit this, because it violates the players agreement) if the Gnats and Ryan have had talks about money, then it's a little better situation.

Posted by: Section 138 | January 24, 2008 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the article on Nick! Great to hear he's on the mend and feeling good. Maybe this year I can wear my #24 jersey to the stadium without having to listen to everyone telling me how he's never going to play again.

I don't envy Manny and JB the decision of Nick vs Dmitri. While I have a soft spot for Nick and his OBP (might need a restraining order for that, too!), nobody can deny what Dmitri did last year. And they're both top-notch people.

Posted by: Section 319, late of 426 | January 24, 2008 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Excellent, John in Mpls!

Posted by: natsfan1a | January 24, 2008 1:32 PM | Report abuse

We got Ovechkin, now let's get Zimmerman signed!!!

Posted by: Ron | January 24, 2008 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Can Ovechkin hit a breaking ball?

Posted by: Section 223 | January 24, 2008 2:49 PM | Report abuse

I can hit breaking ball. I can break ball too with hit... just name place and time...

Posted by: OV | January 24, 2008 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Ah, the comrades of summer.

Posted by: Section 223 | January 24, 2008 4:09 PM | Report abuse

The longer it take to sign Zim the closer he is to arbitration where he can earn say $4 mil which takes pressure off him to sign any long term "hometown" contract and he just waits for free agency where he will undoubtably be a hot property. Stan and Jim are playing with fire the longer they wait.
(See Texas Rangers/Atlanta Braves and Mark Texiera)

Posted by: Tom | January 24, 2008 5:49 PM | Report abuse

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