As the Washington Nationals leave the Winter Meetings disjointed after not signing their number one target, Mark Buehrle, the Nationals don't have a lot of options left, as I wrote a bit about yesterday. One thing that is on the team's radar is the looming extension for Ryan Zimmerman.
We discussed this for a few minutes in Episode 3 of Nats Talk On The Go, but it deserves much more time than a few minutes in our podcast. When Albert Pujols signed his 10-year, $254 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, it had extremely far reaching effects across the league. It's adjusted Prince Fielder's market for sure, but it's also changed how franchise players should be valued.
This past offseason, the St. Louis Cardinals had the opportunity to sign Albert Pujols to a long-term deal to lock him up for life so he could retire as a Cardinal, be featured next to Stan Musial's statue outside of Busch Stadium, and wear a Cardinals jersey in the MLB Hall of Fame. The front office in St. Louis is certainly kicking themselves for not signing the best offensive player of this generation when they had the chance.
Making the leap to compare Ryan Zimmerman to Albert Pujols here isn't quite as ridiculous as it sounds. It's not about comparing their talent, it's about comparing their value to the franchise, and there is no possible way to discount the affect that Ryan Zimmerman has had on the Washington Nationals franchise. Zimmerman is the very first player drafted by the organization in DC, he quickly made his way to the majors and has proven to be a more-than-capable Face of the Franchise.
In 7 seasons, Zimmerman has posted a .288/.355/.479 slash line while earning a WAR above 5 in the 2009 and 2010 seasons (According to Baseball-Reference). He was injured for a little over a quarter of the 2011 season and still managed a 2.3 WAR, which puts him in the starter category in less than a full season of opportunities. He's had ludicrously high UZR ratings in 3 of his last 5 seasons for fielding, with 2011 as the only year in negative UZR territory while fighting injury and a new throwing motion. Without a doubt, he is among the best, if not the best, third baseman in the National League. Off the field, Zimmerman contributes to the community through organizations like the ziMS Foundation, which raises money to fight Multiple Sclerosis. He's also sort of a local product. He's a University of Virginia alumni and went to school in Virginia Beach.
Since 2005, Ryan Zimmerman has been the player that got the loudest cheers when announced at games. He's been the future and the face of the organization. Without Zimmerman, the Nationals would have been a much more depressing on-field display in the first few seasons of way below. 500 baseball. It's easy to forget, but at one point, Zimmerman was the Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper of today. However, one thing that Strasburg and Harper will never provide is the nostalgia that Zimmerman brought to DC baseball fans after decades without a team to cheer for.
In this way, he compares well to Pujols. However, there's no doubt that Ryan Zimmerman really wants to return to DC, when it was always questionable whether Pujols wanted to return to St. Louis. If Zimmerman isn't re-signed, the front office will be to blame, and instead of Zimmerman being the villain, GM Mike Rizzo and the Lerner Family will be. I'm confident a deal will be done with Zimmerman, I just hope that lessons were learned from the Pujols fiasco and that it's done sooner than later. Before it's too late.