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Zimmerman, Updated

(A little note... I'm posting my story for tomorrow's dead tree below. I try to give a little insight into Zimmerman's absence, the ramifications, and the stage this sets for a pivotal week in FoF's tenure with the Nats. And yes, I realize Zimmerman wasn't the only arbitration-bound player not to report. Josh Willingham didn't come to camp today, either. But that said, Willingham had a built-in excuse, because he had to travel to Phoenix today. Zim doesn't depart until Thursday.)

---

Still without a contract for the 2009 season, Ryan Zimmerman decided not to report to camp today. The fresh practice uniforms in his locker remained untouched. The mail cluttering the locker's top shelf remained unopened. The looming questions that will shape the next chapter of Zimmerman's tenure with the Washington Nationals remained, for the moment, unresolved.

Zimmerman's absence from camp sets the stage for a critical week. By Saturday at the latest, Zimmerman, will have a contract. But the two methods capable of delivering such a resolution offer opposite ramifications: A long-term contract agreement strengthens the harmony and goodwill between Zimmerman and the club that drafted him. An arbitration hearing, however, threatens to abrade it.

In recent weeks, Zimmerman's agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, and Washington Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden have discussed a long-term deal, one that would solidify Zimmerman's role as this franchise's building block. If the sides fail to reach an agreement by week's end, however, they collide with an undesirable alternative. On Friday, Zimmerman is scheduled for an arbitration hearing -- an often-contentious process that will force a three-person panel to determine Zimmerman's salary for 2009. (He'll make either $3.9 million, his offer, or $2.75 million, the club's offer.)

For several years now, Washington has been going back and forth on various long-term deals with Zimmerman. Throughout that process, both sides have described a strong relationship. In January, Bowden called his relationship with Zimmerman "phenomenal," and added, "I feel optimistic that we will get [a deal] done."

"There are times when we make good progress," he said, "and then there will be a signing or two that sets us all back. But we are making progress."

The Nationals' front office did not perceive Zimmerman's absence from camp on today to be a holdout, a means to inflate the negotiating urgency. Zimmerman will face no punishment; the collective bargaining agreement does not mandate players to report until Feb. 22 -- and by then, Zimmerman will be here.

"He's got to take care of what he has to do," teammate Nick Johnson said. "By the time he's here, he'll be ready to go."

The question is, under what terms will he report to camp? In recent contract talks, Zimmerman has been compared mostly closely with Baltimore's 25-year-old outfielder Nick Markakis. The two players have remarkably similar numbers. Take their career statistics and average them across a 162-game season, and Markakis gives you 21 home runs, 91 RBI and a .476 slugging percentage. Zimmerman gives you 21 home runs, 94 RBI and a .462 slugging percentage. Zimmerman has a lesser batting average (.282 to .299), but he plays a premium fielding position -- and with gold glove potential.

The two sides were already using the Zimmerman-Markakis comparison when something complicated matters: Markakis, on Jan. 22, signed a six-year, $66 million contract that will keep him in Baltimore through 2014.

Zimmerman might have a harder time reaching such a figure, though, because a shoulder injury interrupted his 2008 season. The aftermath of his poorest statistical season, as well as the ever-lagging economy, undermines a bit of his negotiating power.

That said, Zimmerman means more to the Nationals than any other player. The team drafted him as a first-round pick in 2005 -- and signed him on the same day. Since then, Washington has marketed Zimmerman as its most public face, which made his absence today all the more conspicuous.

By mid-morning, most of Zimmerman's clubhouse neighbors had arrived. Adam Dunn, the newly signed No. 4 hitter, unloaded his bags and chatted with Austin Kearns and Nick Johnson. (That group has the best real estate in the clubhouse, a row of stalls closest to the food and the refrigerator.) Washington's other chief offensive players -- Cristian Guzman, Elijah Dukes, and Lastings Milledge -- all headed out to the field for noon practice. It was a reminder of the lineup Washington has built this season to ease the burden on, and aid the progress of, their No. 3 hitter.

"There's got to be a next level for a guy who is only 24 years old," Acta said of Zimmerman. "There is going to be consistency throughout his career. Twenty-five [home runs] or higher every year, and 100 RBI. That's what I can see. And a few gold gloves in the future. That's what we see... year in and year out."

Last season, Zimmerman earned $465,000, and aside from his draft day signing bonus ($2.975 million), he has never gotten a big league payday. That will change soon. If nothing else, the arbitration process acts as baseball's reward to players with between three and six years of service time. This is Zimmerman's first year of eligibility. And even without a long-term contract, he is under Washington's control through 2011.

On Thursday, Zimmerman will fly to Phoenix, site of his arbitration hearing. That's where all hearings are taking place this year. Bowden will be there, too, because Washington outfielder Josh Willingham is appearing before the panel Wednesday. On account of other clients' cases, Van Wagenen is there already as well.

By Chico Harlan  |  February 17, 2009; 8:34 PM ET
 
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Comments

Keep discussing long-term with him, and if the Arb meeting comes around and you can get a deal done, then give him a 1-year at his Arb asking price. 3.9m.

let him play 2009 with the 1-year deal, put up his numbers, and then next offseason he'll be more agreeable to signing long-term, when he'll be worth more money.

in this situation, simply avoiding Arb is a win-win, as far as I see. signing him long term now would be buying low, and Zimmerman is too smart to go for that. He'll want to wait until he puts up a better set of numbers.

Posted by: MrMadison | February 17, 2009 8:48 PM | Report abuse

It is interesting that the Nat's will pay over the odds for a free agent like Dunn -who in no way helps us compete or a World Series because as a franchise we are too far away- to placate the angry fans, yet don't seem willing to just get this deal with Zimm done. Not that paying what it took to get Dunn here was wrong; we needed it. I just wonder why they won't do the same with Zimm? Why not give a little to reassure us that they want him here as much as we do?

I assume there is a reason, I just would love to know what it is.

Posted by: soundbloke | February 17, 2009 8:59 PM | Report abuse

Pay the man, Shirley.

Posted by: jdschulz50 | February 17, 2009 8:59 PM | Report abuse

I don't buy that the world will come to an end if Zim goes to arbitration. He still has at least two more years to sign a contract extension. Zim's agent is the same one used by Ryan Howard. He went to arbitration last year and won. This year, the Phils and Ryan signed a long-term deal right before arbitration started. No hard feelings there, apparently.

Chico's right, the contractual winds are not blowing in Ryan's favor this year. With his injury last season, he hasn't yet proved his true worth. He needs to get to the numbers Manny cites, which he has only managed to do as a rookie.

I expect to see Zim fielding all the tricky hops through 2011 and beyond. I figure to continue to hold my breath on the easy one-hoppers that he has plenty of time to throw to first, wondering will it go in the stands, in the dirt or in Nick's or Adam's mitt.

Next year this time is make or break for Zim!

Posted by: Section314 | February 17, 2009 9:02 PM | Report abuse

You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means.
***************
Estoy Firmado!
Posted by: dhfrancoise | February 17, 2009 4:49 PM

Posted by: CEvansJr | February 17, 2009 8:12 PM

"When they get their first contract, they buy cars and fancy clothes and walk around their home towns saying ‘estoy firmado’ [I’m signed]. When they get released, they feel like they have failed and can never go home. You hear stories of kids trying to kill themselves after they get released. It is a bad situation."

Thanks for your invaluable translating assistance in re my so obviously obscure phrase. You’re the best. Oh wait. Possibly not.

Estoy Firmado! Go away FBI!
YMOS JimB

Posted by: dhfrancoise | February 17, 2009 9:03 PM | Report abuse

repost, on top here!

From Bill (IDIOT!) Ladsen;

"The Washington Post indicated in a blog on Tuesday that Zimmerman would not be in camp without a contract and the relationship between the two parties could be strained."

True enough, except that the story is titles "Zimmerman, Nationals aren't at odds" and follows with;

"Zimmerman is preparing for his arbitration hearing, which is scheduled for Friday, and working out in Viera, Fla. He is scheduled to fly to Phoenix on Thursday."

The most important part is that Bill (IDIOT!) Ladsen give NOT ONE SINGLE QUOTE to back up any of this.

Really I know its just mlb.com, but my 8 year old daughter would be a better beat reporter that this jerk-off!

Posted by: estuartj | February 17, 2009 9:17 PM | Report abuse

If I read MrMadison correctly, he points out what should be the obvious solution if the Nats can't reach a long-term deal with Zim by Friday: Give him a $3.9M (or even $4M for gosh sake for good will) one-year deal without having to go into the hearing and bad-mouthing him. Obviously, he wants more than that over multi-years, and if he performs like we all expect, he'll deserve it all the more next season (when -- oh, please! -- the economy may be better)

Posted by: nats24 | February 17, 2009 9:21 PM | Report abuse

In point of fact, the arbitrator can pick any number in between the two sides' figures, no?

As for Zimm's injury and how it affects his contract. I'm sure he could get Markakis' money, if he's willing to give up a guarantee. If he wants a guarantee, it only makes sense that the team will reduce the offer to offset the risk.

Posted by: fischy | February 17, 2009 9:23 PM | Report abuse

Arbiters have to pick one figure or the other, no spliting the middle.

Posted by: estuartj | February 17, 2009 9:25 PM | Report abuse

Chico you are trying to make a story when one doesn't exist. There is no there there.

Posted by: brothbart | February 17, 2009 9:26 PM | Report abuse

The Markakis numbers are baffling to me why Angelos would overpay Markakis. Throw out numbers that don't make sense. Throw out the high comparison and the low comparison and find a strong middle.

Look at Pedroia's deal, Ryan Braun's, Troy Tulowitzki and that is where Ryan Zimmerman's contract should be in my opinion.

None of us know what goes on behind closed doors so I don't want to blame anyone if there are no issues which I do believe is the case here.

Both sides may want to get through 2009 and make sure Zim can rebound this year and is 100% healthy all year which will set up a fairer basis for a long term contract.

Posted by: GoingGoingGone | February 17, 2009 9:47 PM | Report abuse

While I tend to agree with the "just pay the man" I also have to say it's a horrible time for Zim to be negotiating a long term deal. It makes no sense from his perspective. The baseball economy is in the toilet and he's coming off of his least productive season with injury and surgery recovery questions to be answered.

What this story lacks is any quote from Zim or his agent or any indication that things aren't exactly as has been previously reported - amicable on both sides.

Granted it's best for all if they can come to an agreement without a hearing even if it's a one year deal, but should it go to arb, there's nothing saying it has to be contentious. What is JimBo going to say that Zim doesn't know? He had a down year in 08? He's coming off of surgery? DUH!! Shawn Hill just finished the arb process and was quoted as saying it wasn't nearly as bad as he thought. Both sides stated their cases, one side won.

I'm sorry, but I just don't buy the angle that says this week somehow defines Zims future with the team. It makes it seem like Zim is an immature child who can't hear anything potentially negative about himself without holding a grudge for years to come. What has he displayed since being drafted that leads credence to that?

Sorry Chico... this feels like a non-starter to me.

Posted by: RicketyCricket | February 17, 2009 9:49 PM | Report abuse

If anything, and I'm completely talking out of my @ss right now, I think the club is unwilling to give Zim a 1 year deal.

They are saying sign a 3 year deal (best guess $14Mil) or play 2009 (likely at 2.75 mil) on an non-guaranteed contract. ie take the buyout of your arbitration years in a piss poor market after a poor performance year or risk getting nothing if you get hurt.

Funny that I turned the tables on what everyone think is happening yet still made the club sound bad? That is sooooo not me...

Posted by: estuartj | February 17, 2009 9:57 PM | Report abuse

re Zim: it's the shoulder? give him a year with a stronger, healed shoulder batting before AD and let's see what happens. We all love his fielding, no? He could break out to 25/100 and a better long term.

Estoy Firmado! Go away FBI!
YMOS JimB


Posted by: dhfrancoise | February 17, 2009 10:01 PM | Report abuse

Chico, my friend, please... it's called on-base percentage. It's the single most important offensive stat there is. It's the percentage of the time a player doesn't make an out.

And Markakis has Zim by 35 points, which is a lot.

Posted by: sbiel2 | February 17, 2009 10:02 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, I gotta agree, there is no there there for this non-starter of a story. Why fly to Florida, show up for a day or so, fly 3/4 the way across the country for a hearing, then fly back...and he doesn't have to be in camp until 2/22? I don't think he can actually do anything baseball until he has a contract anyways.

C'mon Chico. What's the beef here? I'd stay home an extra day too for mom's home cooking and some family time before becoming the next millionaire baseball player.

Until Zimm gets his stock up, he'll arbitrate. He's smart, has good business sense and I'm sure he watched how RHoward was handled. You gloomandoomers need to go watch the Yankees camp news.

Posted by: dand187 | February 17, 2009 10:49 PM | Report abuse

First,everyone in print stresses how "damaging" an arbitration hearing can be to a player's relationship with his club.

Ummm, did Shawn Hill sound damaged when his was over?? He won, but he said it wasn't much of a conflict, both sides stated their case clearly, no antagonism!

Plus when people say the Nats offer of a Tulowitzki, Braun or Pedroia contract is "fair" are very disillusioned. They are no where near the same as Zimmy.

The have NO equivalent in Zimmy's case, as they included more cheap years (pre-arb) than is the case with Zimmerman - Tulo does NOT earn over $1 million til NEXT year, Braun gets only $1 mil in '10, Pedroia will get only $1.5 this year - a non-arb year). Markakis is in the same boat as Ryan, 1st year arbitration. David Wright's contract pays him $5m in his 1st Arbitration year. Markakis gets $3m. In between in fair for Zimmerman.

Posted by: VladiHondo | February 17, 2009 10:59 PM | Report abuse

"I assume there is a reason, I just would love to know what it is."

The reason is that it takes two to tango. The situation between the Nats and Zimmerman is different than the situation between the Nats and Dunn. Dunn did not have to sign with the Nats, and they did not have to sign him. He was a free agent. There were two parties tangoing there, and they reached a deal.

Zimmerman, OTOH, already knows he has a deal, presumably for the next three years. The only unknown is the price. As others have pointed out, he has no real incentive to come to a long term deal now, since presumably he'll be worth more if he puts up big numbers this year. The Nats and Zimm may be dancing now, maybe not. Maybe one side wants to while the other doesn't. Ultimately, neither side absolutely needs to be dancing right now, so if they do it's great, but if they don't the music will go on for Zimmerman's two remaining arb years. Plenty of time.

I would agree with others that Chico is making a mountain out of a molehill here. If they go to arbitration, Zimmerman will not be scarred for life and his relations with the Nats will not be damaged beyond repair, if at all. In the arbitration room, both sides will lay out the numbers - performance stats and comparable contracts - and the arbitrators will decide. It doesn't need to be an adversarial process, and I doubt it will be. Look at what Hill said after his hearing, and expect to hear those words echoed by Zimmerman. The only real words that matter? Play ball!

Posted by: nunof1 | February 17, 2009 11:13 PM | Report abuse

Good points all around, but one more of lesser quality needs to be mentioned:

Arbitration price affects the future long-term contract. I'm applying for a job right now and we're talking salary and the first place both sides are starting from is my current money. What other people in the field make is also important, but the starting numbers for both of us are all based on how much I make now.

Baseball is not so different. Zimm is asking a slightly higher than he deserves price, Nationals a slightly lower. My guess is his arb award will have a significant impact on the nature of whatever contract we see signed at the end of this season, and both sides see it that way. It's good business, all around. When the time comes, just be a professional, as they say in Hollywood...

Posted by: Section506 | February 17, 2009 11:23 PM | Report abuse

SI.com is reporting that Nats prospect Smiley Gonzalez is not who they thought he was. The website says the "19-year-old" Gonzalez is actually 23-year-old Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo. Read more at

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/baseball/mlb/02/17/nats.gonzalez/index.html

Posted by: leetee1955 | February 17, 2009 11:57 PM | Report abuse

estuartj,
I was wondering why you were so lit up about Ladson's lack of quotes until I read the article. You're right, it's ridiculous. No basis for refuting Chico's blog whatsoever.

Posted by: NatsNut | February 18, 2009 12:07 AM | Report abuse

"SI.com is reporting that Nats prospect Smiley Gonzalez is not who they thought he was. The website says the "19-year-old" Gonzalez is actually 23-year-old Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo."

-----------------


bye bye JimBow

Posted by: SilverSpring8 | February 18, 2009 12:14 AM | Report abuse

SI.com is reporting that Nats prospect Smiley Gonzalez is not who they thought he was. The website says the "19-year-old" Gonzalez is actually 23-year-old Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo. Read more at

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/baseball/mlb/02/17/nats.gonzalez/index.html

Posted by: leetee1955 | February 17, 2009 11:57 PM
------------------------------------------

Now, if that don't beat all....No, Virginia...and DC, and Maryland, there is no "Smiley" clause. So, we have a 23-yr old 'prospect' who beat up a bunch of college freshman? So much for that little peace of the plan. I guess Desmond (a year older, but who made the jump to AA and showed a lot of pop in his bat) and Danny Espinosa (a year younger than "Smiley", and already has short-season A ball behind him) might be the better SS prospects?

It'll be interesting to see how the Nats react to this news. Obviously, they're not going to happy about the money paid to "Smiley". Do they even want him in the organization, now?

Posted by: fischy | February 18, 2009 12:32 AM | Report abuse

bye-bye JimBow?

--------------

Bye-bye to Rijo. I imagine Bowden will survive this. How he handles his job this year will determine his fate -- assuming Rijo and Bowden aren't indicted....

Posted by: fischy | February 18, 2009 12:35 AM | Report abuse

Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You DFA'd my father. Prepare to die.

Posted by: CEvansJr | February 18, 2009 12:37 AM | Report abuse

Ah, it's all starting to make sense, now, CE, thanks to IMDB...

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 18, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Jim needs to be fired and Stan needs to be GM. I'm sick of Jim's lies.

Posted by: RCT18 | February 18, 2009 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Okay RCT18 - I'll bite. What lies has Jim Bowden told?

Posted by: dand187 | February 18, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

I don't see this story as a "non-starter" Last night on the news, before the commercial, they teased the audience with a statement about a Zimmerman hold out. I quickly ran to my computer to look for stories. I only found out, like you said it was a non-issue and that he was awaiting his arbitration hearing.

Sign the man multi-year. Show your good faith. Don't put this off for another year! If you're worried about stats, put in some incentives. Just get it done.

As for Markakis, the Orioles need a "face of the franchise". They need someone who was followed through their minor league system to the majors. Brian Roberts took this role for many years but with constant trade rumors going around they need someone else to build around. Just like the NATS need to build around R.Zimmerman.

Posted by: CALSGR8 | February 18, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Let's just all accept the fact that the Nationals are going to be an organization that does things on the cheap, or on what they perceive to be the cheap.

No doubt Bowden and Kasten sold Dunn on the Lerners because they pointed to his 2008 contract at $13M and indicated that not only was he a player in his prime but would now command only $10M per season in a short term deal.

Things with Zimmerman will go the same way. The team won't pay to lock him up until the last minute. Perhaps the club will save $1M a year by waiting it out, but in the end I believe the cost savings (projecting stable or slightly declining salaries in 2010) may not match the ill feelings engendered by management as a result of hardball on a relatively small scale.

The Nationals once compared Zimmerman to David Wright but they want to pay him less per season now than they are set to pay Dmitri Young to sit in the dugout and drink gatorade.

Posted by: leopard09 | February 18, 2009 12:15 PM | Report abuse

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