In THE SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan on September 1, 2011 at 7:48 pm

The headline in the Washington Post zinged me: “It will take $160 million to re-sign Ryan Zimmerman.”

That much for a guy who led his team to five fifth-place finishes and a fourth-place finish the last six years? A guy whose team has never had a winning record? A guy whose team averaged finishing 31½ games out of first place the last three seasons?

$160 million is fantasy land.

The economy leans toward another recession. Fourteen million are out of work. Banks aren’t lending. Home mortgages are underwater. New-home construction is stagnant. Stock portfolios are plummeting. How do you “sell” a contract like this to the austerity-minded general public?

Zimmerman’s not going to blast 50 homers or drive in 140 runs. And the Nats aren’t headed for postseason play, averaging 99 losses the last three years.

Didn’t Carl Crawford sign for $140M last year and proceed to post pedestrian numbers the first half of the season? Prince Fielder may seek more money but he’s headed for an NL MVP award and his team will be in the postseason. By the way, the Nationals are seven games under .500 and a blip from falling into the NL East cellar.

The same Post columnist called Zimmerman a “first-ballot Hall of Famer,” then a “sure-fire Hall of Famer” and finally, a “superstar.”

Zimmerman was first compared to George Brett – who played 21 years for the Royals and led Kansas City to nine postseasons, including a pair of World Series. Zimmerman is nowhere near matching Brett’s legacy, having played 14 less seasons and is 9 postseasons shy of Brett.

But there’s more. She then compared Zimmerman to Albert Pujols.

We’ve seen what happens when teams don’t lock up their Zimmermans early,” she wrote. “The Nats want to avoid an Albert Pujols-type situation because if Zimmerman hits the market, all bets are off.”

They are?

For the record, Pujols has 439 HR and 1,308 RBI in 10 seasons, two of them ending in a World Series. He has nearly 300 more walks than strikeouts. His batting average is .328, about 50 points higher than Zimmerman’s. Pujols, like Zimmerman, missed time this year due to injury, but his 31 HRs currently ties him for the NL lead.

The Nats’ third baseman has played just seven years and hit 126 HRs, an average of 18 a year. His strikeouts nearly double his walks (599 to 326). OK, he played 20 games his rookie season and has played in just 75 this year. But still, he’s a light year away from being ticketed to Cooperstown or compared to any player enshrined there.

Loyalty, dependability and following the rules doesn’t qualify one for the Hall. Too many sportswriters today feel the need to label a good player a great, which is an insult to those who’ve been enshrined in the Hall. She said Zimmerman is a “marquee player who will pay dividends.” She’s right but he’s not yet deserving of a bronze bust. He’s got, oh about 10 more very productive years before that connection can realistically be made.

This spring, New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon said his third baseman, David Wright was not a superstar. And he was spot on. Good, sure. Loyal, yes. Productive, yup. But let’s not use the “S” word for this Hampton Roads native, either. David’s on his way to yet another 225-plus strikeout season while his long balls and clutch hitting vanish in cavernous Citi Field.

In the modern era, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, Willie McCovey, Ernie Banks, Eddie Murray, Al Kaline, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Carl Yastrzemski were superstars. Each amassed huge numbers. And all but Hank and Ernie led their teams to the World Series.

Some may be sentimental to Zimmerman, which I understand. The Nats overpaid for Jayson erth last year and may offer inflated dollars to Fielder in the months ahead. Werth’s a good, not a great player. Fielder just may be “great” (his 102 RBI lead the NL) but will the pressure of a blockbuster contract cause his numbers to decline?

The same goes for Zimmerman. He’s worthy of a long-term deal but it shouldn’t be a record-setter for a third baseman. Just look at his numbers and you’ll see why.

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