VIERA, Fla. (AP) -In rare public comments on contract talks, Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden set the parameters for negotiations with third baseman Ryan Zimmerman by mentioning four young players of similar stature who signed long-term deals over the past two years.
``If Ryan is willing to sign a contract that is similar to what all the other good young players are signing for ... if he's willing to do a 'market signing,' we are prepared to do that with him,'' Bowden said Saturday at spring training. ``We're not going set all new markets with him. We're not going to change the pay scale of Major League Baseball for one player.''
Bowden went on to reference deals signed by Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore ($23.45 million for six years in March 2006), Braves catcher Brian McCann ($26.8 million for six years in March 2007), Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki ($31 million for six years in January), and Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano ($30 million for four years this month).
``There have been so many signings - whether you look at Tulowitzki or Cano or McCann or Sizemore - so many that are all in the same range, and our organization is prepared to do that,'' Bowden said.
``We are prepared to do that, like everybody else,'' he continued. ``And we have communicated that to'' Zimmerman's agent.
The remarks were unusual for their candor - and because they were unprompted. After speaking to reporters about two other players, Bowden brought up Zimmerman.
The GM said the Nationals have ``made several offers,'' and acknowledged: ``At this point, no, we're not close.''
Zimmerman's agent met with the team Thursday.
With two-plus years of major league experience, Zimmerman won't be eligible for arbitration until after the coming season. And he can't become a free agent until after the 2011 season. So the Nationals could offer him a one-year renewal for 2008 with a small raise over the $400,000 he made in 2007.
``The other thing we all know is we have control of the player for four years, no matter what. So we have a four-year security blanket with him,'' Bowden said. ``And they know that if they ever want to do a 'market deal,' based on whatever the market is, that obviously we are prepared to do that.''
While he spoke on the grass behind home plate at a practice field, Zimmerman was standing a few feet away, waiting for his turn to take batting practice. When Bowden finished, he rode away from reporters on his cherry-red Segway, then motioned his star player over for a chat.
Zimmerman received a signing bonus of nearly $3 million after being drafted with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2005 amateur draft.
He finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2006, when he hit .287 with 20 homers and 110 RBIs. Last season, he hit .266 with 24 homers and 91 RBIs.
``We'll see what happens. If it happens, it might happen. If it doesn't, that's fine,'' Zimmerman said Friday in an interview with The Associated Press. ``If I keep playing well, I'm going to make money. I'm not worried about making hundreds of millions of dollars. Of course, it would be nice. Anybody who tells you it wouldn't be nice is lying to you. But I'm very comfortable with where I am now, and there's no rush.''

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