The end of February tends to be a slow time in baseball, with teams starting to gather but no actual spring training games. When there are no games, people tend to inflate stories to try to find news. Because all the reporters are down at spring training, they’re desperate for something to write about. This year, though, the Nationals gave us something real, and that is the Ryan Zimmerman extension. It’s a 6 year extension, beyond his current contract that ends after 2013. It also includes a team option for a 7th, meaning they control him through 2019, or 2020 if they choose. 2020 will be his age 35 season, which puts them through the vast majority if not all of his career.

In terms of his ability – he is clearly a top flight 3B. According to Fangraphs, Zimmerman has been the second best over the last three years (17.1 WAR). He’s behind only Longoria (21.3 WAR).

WAR at Fangraphs is calculated slightly differently than the analogous WARP at Baseball Prospectus. But if you think just his fielding is makes him so good, check out this line from RJ Anderson at Baseball Prospectus:

The only third basemen with more Wins Above Replacement Player since 2009 are Sandoval (by a negligible amount), Alex Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre, and Evan Longoria. That ranking comes with the caveat that Fielding Runs Above Average is not as fond of Zimmerman as other metrics. There is no questioning Zimmerman’s bat, however, as his three-year True Average compares favorably to the likes of Nelson Cruz, Justin Upton, David Ortiz, and Ryan Howard.

So while Zim may be underrated, it’s not just Nats fans who realize how good he is, the numbers guys’ do as well.

There are the questions about Zim’s health, as he was out big parts of 2011 and 2008. But these injuries aren’t ones that would seem debilitating. Buster Olney said something on this that I’d like to think is pretty accurate

there is nothing about the injuries that he’s suffered to this point that would necessarily have a long-term effect — unlike a starting pitcher with a shoulder injury. He is healthy now, and there is no reason to think he can’t be an excellent player for years to come.

Ryan Zimmerman is a great player, and he has been the best player this team has ever seen. Best of all, he is still very young. Despite 6+ seasons in the majors, he’s only 27 years old. He’s a key piece to this team going forward, he’s a leader, and he one of the best in his position in the league. This contract is February news that’s worth getting excited about, and this team is on the road to being a winning franchise, rather than just having a winning season.

By Charlie