Zimmerman, Nats deal for $45M

WASHINGTON -- Ryan Zimmerman strolled into the home clubhouse at Nationals Park after Monday's news conference announcing his $45 million, five-year contract and was greeted with a smile and a yell from a teammate sitting on a couch.

"Congratulations, man!" infielder Anderson Hernandez said.

Zimmerman smiled and flashed a thumb's up. As much as the Washington Nationals want their third baseman to produce on the field with his bat and glove, they expect him to earn his new salary in that clubhouse, too, by helping turn around a struggling team with leadership.

"When you're 21 or 22 years old, it's hard to speak up when you've got 30-year-old guys who've got seven, eight years in the big leagues. You kind of have to get the respect of everyone and feel it out a little bit first," Zimmerman said. "I feel like I'm to that point now."

And he insists he believes the team is heading in the right direction under the Lerner family that purchased the team from Major League Baseball in May 2006 -- even if the Nationals were a majors-worst 59-102 last season and were a majors-worst 1-10 this season heading into Monday night's game against the Atlanta Braves.

"If someone says, 'You're going to lose 100 games every year,' there's no way I'm going to stay in that place," Zimmerman said. "I enjoy winning, and I think we're going to do it."

He signed the longest deal the Nationals have given anyone since moving from Montreal. It follows the by-all-accounts strong -- if ultimately unsuccessful -- offseason pursuit of Mark Teixeira and the signing of Adam Dunn to a $20 million, two-year deal.

"I had faith in the Lerners and the ownership group that they're going to continue to bring people in. This offseason was a huge step," Zimmerman said. "They kind of went out and showed people what they're willing to do."

Monday also capped a 2½-year, on-and-off process that Zimmerman's agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, said began on Dec. 6, 2006, with an initial exchange of proposals.

The framework for a new deal was put in place about 15 minutes before the first pitch of Washington's first regular-season game, at the Florida Marlins on April 6. Paperwork and physical exams delayed the formal announcement.

"This was a complicated, lengthy procedure," team president Stan Kasten said, "but we had the full support of ownership."

Kasten took over negotiations after general manager Jim Bowden resigned during spring training.

"We talked about deals from every length you could possibly imagine -- as long as 10 years, as short as four years," Van Wagenen said.

Zimmerman's contract now runs through 2013 and replaces the one-year, $3,325,000 contract Zimmerman agreed to in February, when he avoided an arbitration hearing. Zimmerman will still make that amount in 2009 and the new deal kept the old one's additional $175,000 in bonuses available based on plate appearances.

He gets a $500,000 signing bonus in 2009, and salaries of $6.25 million in 2010, $8.925 million in 2011, $12 million in 2012 and $14 million in 2013. There are no player or club options. Zimmerman will host an event at the team's stadium at least once a year to benefit his ZiMS foundation, a charity dedicated to treatment and research of multiple sclerosis, which his mother has.

"He deserves everything he's getting. We all know you can't win with [only] a bunch of straight-A students, good Boy Scouts. But you need good people in order for you to have success and this guy is special," Nationals manager Manny Acta said. "He's a better person than player, which is actually hard to believe. He's a coach's dream."

Zimmerman was a first-round draft pick out of the University of Virginia in 2005 and made his major league debut that season. In 2006, he was the runner-up in NL Rookie of the Year voting after batting .287 with 20 homers and 110 RBIs. Injuries limited Zimmerman to 106 games last season, when he hit .283 with 14 homers and 51 RBIs.

He entered Monday batting .275 with two homers and 10 RBIs this season. His career numbers: .282, 60 homers, 268 RBIs.

"I do think it's time for him to assume the role that we all knew he would grow into some day," Kasten said, "of being more of a leader in the clubhouse and on the field."