VIERA, Fla. -- Though the Nationals and Ryan Zimmerman don't appear to have made any substantial advances toward a long-term extension, general manager Mike Rizzo indicated this morning he still believes a deal can get done.
"We're working extremely hard at it, and both teams want something and are working at it," Rizzo said. "So yeah, I'm hopeful."
Brodie Van Wagenen, Zimmerman's agent, arrived in Viera yesterday and intends to meet with Rizzo while in town to pick up negotiations on a long-term contract that has been in the works since last spring. Though Zimmerman's current deal runs through next season, the third baseman has said he won't negotiate once camp officially opens for position players Saturday, potentially pushing back any more talks until next winter.
Zimmerman's rationale for ending negotiations before the start of camp: He doesn't want this saga to become a distraction and take away from either his or his teammates' preparation for the season.
"I don't think it will be a distraction either way, I really don't. Because we won't allow it to be," Rizzo said. "We've got a player here who wants to be in Washington. We've got a GM and ownership that wants him here. We're working hard to get one of our franchise players here for the long term. So I don't think it would be a distraction, because we do have the player for two more years. So we have two years, if we can't get something done in spring training, to get it done."
A nine-figure extension for Zimmerman would be a fitting cap to the Nationals' offseason, and perhaps let other up-and-coming players in the clubhouse know the organization is willing to keep this core group together for years to come.
"When you do these deals, you really have to know the person you're doing it with, because you're committing it long, long term," Rizzo said. "So I think it would send a message down with the other guys. If you're a great, productive player and a good citizen and a good teammate, yeah we want to keep you here long term."
One of those potential long-term core players, Bryce Harper, has caught Rizzo's attention since arriving in camp. The 19-year-old outfielder looks different this spring, the GM said, than he did in his first professional spring training in 2011.
"I see him more comfortable, for sure," Rizzo said. "And I see guys more comfortable with him, I think. I see that bit of maturity on his part. He's not an anomaly like he kind of was last year."
As big-league camp gets underway, so does the Nationals' accelerated minor-league camp down the street from Space Coast Stadium. One of the participating pitchers is left-hander Sammy Solis, who had to be shut down during the Arizona Fall League due to elbow soreness.
Solis was examined by multiple doctors over the winter, and Rizzo said "there was a little difference of opinions." Ultimately, the club chose to shut the 2010 second-round pick down for the winter and start over again this spring.
"We had him rest over the winter. We shut him down," Rizzo said. "And now we'll ramp him up and see what happens. So there's a little question."