Zimmerman, Nats still in talks

Zimmerman, Nats still in talks
February 25, 2012, 3:01 pm
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Updated at 2:09 p.m.

VIERA, Fla. -- Ryan Zimmerman has given the Nationals until the end of the day to hash out the last remaining details of a long-term contract extension that has nearly been completed but has not been finalized quite yet.

Though his original, self-imposed deadline to complete a deal before the first official, full-squad workout of spring training came and went this morning, Zimmerman decided to give the negotiations one last shot before halting them at the end of the day.

"Today is the day," Zimmerman said following the workout. "It's either going to get done, or it's not going to get done. Both sides are working to get over the last little couple of hurdles, I guess you could call them."

Zimmerman didn't specify precisely what hurdles remain, but suggested it remains the same sticking point that has held things up for some time: the inclusion of a full no-trade clause in the new contract.

"It's the same thing we've been talking about the whole time," he said. "It's something creative to ensure me that I will be here. Because that's the reason I';m signing the deal. That's basically the only thing left."

General manager Mike Rizzo has been in communication with Zimmerman's agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, today and the two will continue to talk over the course of the day, hoping to come to some agreement.

"We've come a long way and bridged a big gap from the beginning of this to where we are currently," Rizzo said this afternoon. "But we're not there yet. This is a very complicated, lucrative contract that we're discussing, and we're not quite at the finish line yet. I'm still hopeful that we can come to an agreement, but we're not there yet."

Zimmerman and the Nationals have been negotiating this contract for the last year and have been close to a deal for some time. They've just been unable to cross those final hurdles. The 27-year-old third baseman does remain signed for the next two seasons.

Zimmerman reported to Space Coast Stadium shortly after 8 a.m. today and when asked if there was anything new replied: "Nope. You guys know more than I do." He joined the rest of his teammates for a clubhouse meeting with manager Davey Johnson at 9 a.m. and then took the practice fields at 10 a.m. for the Nationals' first full-squad workout of the spring.

He seemed perfectly at ease on the practice field, joking with teammates and participating in every drill just as he normally would. Off to the side of the field, Rizzo stood talking to principal owner Ed Cohen for nearly an hour, several times turning emphatic.

The biggest obstacle continues to be the inclusion of a no-trade clause in Zimmerman's new contract. Though he'd automatically attain full no-trade rights following the 2015 season (at which point he'd have 10 years of big-league service time, the last five with the same club) Zimmerman wants assurances he won't be moved prior to that.

One potential sticking point: It's unclear whether the Nationals are willing to give Zimmerman a true extension that won't kick in until his current contract expires after the 2013 season, or whether they would tear up his current deal and start a new one now. Ownership is open to an extension but may be reluctant to alter the terms of the current contract (a five-year, 45 million deal signed in April 2009).

The inability to strike a deal prior to Zimmerman's deadline by no means extinguishes the possibility of an agreement later. They would certainly pick up talks again next winter, though Zimmerman would again insist on a pre-spring training deadline as he enters the final season of his contract.

And it's still entirely possible something can get worked out in the coming weeks, especially given how close the two sides already are. Three years ago, Zimmerman said he wouldn't negotiate beyond Opening Day. He and the Nationals wound up agreeing to the basic framework of a deal minutes before first pitch, but it wasn't actually finalized and announced for another three weeks.

"If we can't come to an agreement by the end of today, or whatever the deadline is, I'm certainly going to continue to discuss the contract," Rizzo said this afternoon. "Because I want to sign Ryan Zimmerman. Ryan's got to concentrate on baseball, and that's what he's going to do, because that's what he does best. He has hired people to do his negotiating, and I'm certainly going to continue to talk to him."

Whether Rizzo and Van Wagenen continue to talk, Zimmerman made it clear he wants no part of protracted negotiations beyond the end of the day.

"It'll be done either yes or no today," he said. "We'll have closure either way. I would really rather not talk about it anymore today, because I don't think it's fair. By the end of today, we'll know yes or no whether we're going to do it or we're not going to do it. Like I said all along, we can concentrate on baseball."