Earlier today, the Washington Nationals and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman agreed to a six-year, $100 million contract extension. The contract reportedly includes an option for a seventh year that would keep Zimmerman in Washington through 2020, if exercised. There are several angles for potential analysis, centering around both the historical place of the contract as well as Zimmerman’s own performance.
Angle No. 1: The Contract
Zimmerman’s agreement with the Nationals immediately became the second-largest contract issued in franchise history, falling short only of the free-agent commitment the team made to outfielder Jayson Werth last offseason. When one considers the two years and $26 million that is remaining on his current contract, the Nationals owe Zimmerman $126 million through 2019. With the agreement, Zimmerman becomes one of just six players to be locked up through at least 2019, joining Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp.
The average annual value of the contract works out to $16.7 million, the second-most of any third baseman, behind only Alex Rodriguez, inching past the $16 million average of Adrian Beltre’s recent deal with the Texas Rangers. It is also the third-most lucrative extension signed by a player from the 2005 MLB draft class, behind only Tulowitzki and Braun.
Most Money Owed, Starting in 2012 Season
All told, the Nationals have now committed $126 million to Zimmerman starting in 2012. That is the 10th-most money owed to any player in baseball by any team starting this upcoming season.
Angle No. 2: The Performance
Six full seasons into his MLB career, Zimmerman has produced several elite seasons, while also having several seasons marred by injury. There is little question that when he is healthy, he is capable of producing borderline MVP-caliber seasons.
Since the start of the 2006 season -- Zimmerman’s first full year in the majors -- he ranks 11th among all position players in Wins Above Replacement, ahead of such notable large-contract recipients as Adrian Gonzalez and Jose Reyes. He ranks third among third basemen in WAR, behind Rodriguez and David Wright. Much of that value is derived from his defense – according to Baseball Info Solutions’ Defensive Runs Saved, Zimmerman ranks third among all position players since 2007 with 73 runs saved and has finished in the top three among third basemen in the category in four of the last five seasons.
He has also produced some of the greatest seasons in Nationals/Expos franchise history. His 2009 and 2010 seasons rank second and fifth, respectively, in franchise history, with his 2009 mark of 7.3 WAR ranking behind only Vladimir Guerrero's 2002 season (7.6) and tied with Tim Raines in 1985 and Gary Carter in 1984.
But while Zimmerman has displayed the ability to be an impact player at times, he’s struggled to do so consistently. 2011 was the second season in the last four that was noticeably impacted by injuries, as Zimmerman played in only 101 games. The injury issues may have had an impact on his performance; between 2009-10, he produced an average line of .299 BA, .893 OPS, 29 home runs and 96 RBI. In 2011, his OPS dropped nearly 100 points to .798, while he hit just 12 home runs. Specifically, Zimmerman has experienced a decline in his power output since 2009, with a corresponding increase in the rate at which he’s hitting balls on the ground.
ISO vs GB Pct, Last 3 Seasons
Presumably, Zimmerman has provided the Nationals with everything they expected when they made him the fourth overall pick in the 2005 MLB draft, as he ranks first in the entire draft class in Wins Above Replacement to this point, ahead of the likes of Tulowitzki, Braun and Justin Upton. But the value of the extension will be based on Zimmerman’s ability to stay on the field and reverse the downward trend in his power output.
It also raises the question of what the Nationals plan to do with third basemen Anthony Rendon, the sixth overall pick from the 2011 draft, to whom Washington gave the ninth-highest major league contract in draft history. But that is an issue for another day. For now, the Nationals locked up the franchise’s best player through 2019 and did so at a total cost of less than they paid Jayson Werth last offseason.