Meet baseball's newest 100 million man


Meet baseball's newest 100 million man

From Comcast SportsNet
Ever since he became the Washington Nationals' very first draft pick, Ryan Zimmerman wanted to stay with the club for the long haul. Now he'll get that wish. The Nationals took what they hope is another step toward consistent contention by locking up their third baseman -- and the guy many still call the face of the franchise -- through 2019, adding six years to Zimmerman's existing contract in a deal announced Sunday. The deal includes a full no-trade clause. The extra six seasons are worth 100 million, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no financial terms were revealed publicly. "It's nice that it's done," Zimmerman said at a news conference at the club's spring training stadium in Viera, Fla. "It's where I want to be. It's where I've always wanted to be." He already was signed for 2012 and 2013, with 26 million remaining on the five-year, 45 million contract he got at the start of the 2009 season. He's now guaranteed 126 million over the next eight seasons, and there is a club option for 2020. "I love pressure. I don't think people get these kinds of contracts that don't want to be in pressure situations. Ever since I've been here, I've wanted to be the guy that's up last in the ninth inning," Zimmerman said. "I've wanted to be the guy that everyone looks to. I've wanted to be the so-called leader. I relish being that guy. I love it. I wouldn't have it any other way." He grew up not from the nation's capital in Virginia Beach, Va., and his parents still live there. The two sides talked late into the night Saturday, making enough progress for the 27-year-old Zimmerman to extend a self-imposed deadline that coincided with that day's start of official full-squad workouts. He wanted to get a deal completed now or postpone talks until after the season so his contract situation wouldn't be a distraction in the clubhouse for the Nationals, who are hoping to finally be competitive in the NL East. Washington finished third in the division in 2011, the franchise's best showing since moving from Montreal. Zimmerman was the team's first draft pick after the Expos became the Nationals before the 2005 season -- he was taken No. 4 overall that year after playing college baseball at Virginia -- and he quickly emerged as Washington's best player. He's been an NL All-Star, and also collected Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. Last season, Zimmerman was limited by injuries to 395 at-bats over 101 games. He hit .289 with 12 homers, 21 doubles and 49 RBIs. For his career, Zimmerman has a .288 batting average, 128 homers, 214 doubles, 498 RBIs, a .355 on-base percentage and .479 slugging percentage, and he's considered one of the top defensive third basemen in the majors. He's also emerged as one of the leaders of the team in the clubhouse. "In my opinion, it's just another indication the organization is moving in the right direction," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "To lock up a guy and show loyalty to your franchise player ... and to see Zim' be happy at home, and not to have to worry about that any more, it's going to be nice. I'm happy for him. We definitely need him." More than a dozen Nationals teammates showed up for Sunday's news conference. "It's great for them to come, obviously, to show their support. That's one of the reasons why I want to stay here," Zimmerman said. "I want to be with these guys for a long time." The average annual value of Zimmerman's extension is 16.7 million; the average for the eight years works out to 15.75 million. Zimmerman is one of six major leaguers signed through at least 2019, joining Albert Pujols of the Angels, Cecil Fielder of the Tigers, Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies, Ryan Braun of the Brewers and Matt Kemp of the Dodgers. When Stan Kasten was team president, the Nationals had a policy against giving players no-trade clauses. But they added such a clause when they signed outfielder Jayson Werth to a 126 million, seven-year contract as a free agent last offseason. And now they've done it for Zimmerman. "I'd rather not give a no-trade than give a no-trade because it gives me more flexibility. But for players like this, if it's give a no-trade or not have the player, that's a pretty easy decision," general manager Mike Rizzo said. Rizzo said the no-trade clause does not cover the 2012 and 2013 seasons, only the additional six years. Still, he said he won't trade Zimmerman. "It comes into play when you have trust and honesty between both parties. We didn't go through this exercise and sign Zim' to a six-year (deal), plus an option year, to trade him in the next two years," Rizzo said. "With Mike Rizzo as the GM of the Nationals, he will not be traded in the next two years." Notes: The Nationals had their first live batting practice session Sunday with Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez throwing. But the anticipated matchup of Strasburg vs. Bryce Harper never took place. Harper hit against Nationals closer Drew Storen and later said he was disappointed he didn't get to bat against Strasburg. "Absolutely. I wanted to face him so bad," Harper said. "I wanted to see what he was about. If he made me look stupid, I don't even care."

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

As Cubs players and generations of fans celebrated Christmas in October, Jon Lester had to be The Grinch for a moment. Sure, the Cubs would party from Saturday night into Sunday morning, probably get “a little bit” drunk and enjoy the franchise’s first National League pennant in 71 years. But the reality of the Cleveland Indians would set in once the Cubs got rid of this hangover.

“We ain’t done anything yet,” Lester said during the Wrigley Field celebration after the Cubs eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Nobody likes second place.”

There are enough Boston Red Sox connections in this World Series that Lester already knows what to expect, starting with Indians manager Terry Francona, who became a father figure as he dealt with a cancer scare as a rookie.

There are ex-teammates from those championship teams in 2007 (Coco Crisp) and 2013 (Mike Napoli, Andrew Miller) at Fenway Park. There is the accumulated experience from throwing 119 postseason innings (2.50 ERA) and becoming one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.

“I don’t want to sound like a smart-ass, but we got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared. I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready. I know their players are going to be ready, just based on one player alone, and that’s Mike Napoli. I know what he brings to the table. He helped transform our 2013 team.

“Come Tuesday, we got to put the gloves back on. We got to get ready to fight and grind and do what we’ve done well all year. We got four more games to win.”

After limiting the Dodgers to two runs in 13 innings, and being named the NL Championship Series’ co-MVP along with Javier Baez, Lester should be a worthy Game 1 starter opposite Corey Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner.

This is why Lester took a leap of faith with Cubs bosses/ex-Red Sox executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and chairman Tom Ricketts’ family and what had been a last-place team in 2014.

Two seasons into the $155 million contract that signaled the Cubs would be serious about contending – and not just in the Baseball America/Baseball Prospectus prospect rankings – the franchise has won 200 games and four playoff rounds and remained in position to dominate for years to come.

“Theo and Jed and the front office and Tom and all these guys had a belief,” Lester said. “I believed in that belief. The talent here speaks for itself. I didn’t do anything – I came here because I wanted to win in Chicago. I’m just happy to be here and be a part of this and get to this point.

“(But) we’re four hard wins away from doing what we set out to do in spring training.”

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As bright as the future looks on the North Side, Lester will be 33 next season and his left arm has already accounted for more than 2,000 innings during his decorated career. John Lackey turned 38 on Sunday. Jake Arrieta only has one more season before becoming a free agent.

The Cubs built their franchise around young hitters, with the idea that they can figure out the pitching later with free agents, change-of-scenery trades and bounce-back guys. Easier said than done. They have a true No. 1 starter now in Lester, who as a free agent watched a recruiting video that imagined what it would be like when the Cubs win the World Series.

“This isn’t it,” Lester said. “It’s been a tough playoffs for us to this point and it’s only going to get tougher. We’re going to enjoy it. We’re going to show up Tuesday in Cleveland ready to play. We’ll see what happens.”

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Positives were difficult to find in last Thursday’s 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. So maybe the place to look for improvement lies in just getting rid of a few negatives.

As far as positives, Leonard Floyd would be the obvious one, with two sacks, one a strip and fumble recovery for a TD. Ka’Deem Carey would be another, with 10 carries for 48 yards, his second straight game with high-impact running; Jordan Howard has been shackled for two weeks, so the Bears have needed another backfield-committee member contributing. Jeremy Langford may have trouble finding work when he comes back from his ankle injury.

But negatives have far outweighed positives, which is how you get to 1-6. Fixing three of those will go a long way toward improving their chances against a Minnesota Vikings team that appeared eminently beatable in losing at Philadelphia on Sunday:

Stop the penalty hemorrhaging

For the third straight game the Bears had 10 penalties walked off against them. This "streak" started after eight infractions in the win over Detroit. The 10 in Green Bay cost the Bears 108 yards in a game where their offense netted just 189. Seven of the penalties were charged to the defense, six of which gave the Packers first downs.

The three offensive penalties were mental. A wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) lined up offsides. The quarterback (Matt Barkley) drew a delay flag. An offensive lineman (Ted Larsen) was illegally downfield.

All of which point to a discipline problem getting worse, not better. Whether the fault lies with players losing focus or coaches not instilling a mindset is a debate, but meaningless if the problem is not addressed. “There were a lot of penalties out there,” said cornerback De’Vante Bausby, who committed three of those penalties. “We had a good scheme and plan but we just didn’t finish in the second half as a group.”

Stop the dinking

While Brian Hoyer replacing Jay Cutler scaled back the downfield element of the offense, the loss of an emerging Kevin White should not be understated. The de facto rookie may not have gotten in the end zone but he was leading the team in receptions before he suffered a broken leg in the win over Detroit.

Since the loss of White, however, the offense has shrunk. The Bears averaged 7.5 yards per pass attempt through four games with White. Without White the average is 7.0, and that is including the blip in Indianapolis, which stands as a complete anomaly. The average was 5.9 in the Jacksonville loss and 5.0 in Green Bay.

Hoyer’s ball-security orientation has been a positive, but also a limiting factor. Cutler last year had one of the best ball-security seasons of his career, yet the offense was able to average 7.5 yards per attempt.

The Bears scored two of their three rushing touchdowns in games with White, who may not yet be the field-stretcher his 4.35 speed but the prospect of White arguably made for a more threatening offense than even with the contributions of Cam Meredith.

Stop the Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings have suffered injuries at a rate like the Bears’ but have overcome them. Until Sunday in Philadelphia, when the Eagles sacked Sam Bradford six times and hit him more than a dozen other times. The Vikings never sacked Carson Wentz, who wasn’t special but was good enough while Minnesota was self-destructing.

The Vikings have beaten the Bears the last three times they’ve met, the first time that’s happened since 1999 and 2000, which is also the last time the Bears started 1-6. And the Bears have lost three straight.

The Bears were able to end the first three-game skid by focusing on one game: the Lions. The result was shutting down a very good offense, the lowest yardage-allowed (263) of the season and the firmest commitment to the run game (29) attempts.

Morale inside the locker room can only be revived by a win. One game. This game.