Zimmerman, 22, was given the news while in a meeting with general manager Jim Bowden, manager Manny Acta and Jose Rijo, the special assistant to Bowden.
Zimmerman, who finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year balloting in 2006, will make $400,000 this season -- $2,000 less than Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who won the honor.
"I would have liked to have signed a contract, but it really didn't make sense. There are no hard feelings, nothing like that," Zimmerman said. "Me, Jim, [team president] Stan [Kasten] and everybody else are on good terms. We are talking about other options. We both know that I'm going to be here for a long time. It's just a matter of when it becomes official."
Zimmerman has fewer than three years of service time, and the Nationals had until Sunday to renew his contract. Zimmerman's agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, and the Nationals were unable to come to terms on a one- or multiyear deal after several weeks of contract negotiations.
Zimmerman is arbitration-eligible after the 2008 season and can file for free agency three years after that.
According to Zimmerman, both parties talked often on the phone, and Zimmerman was involved in a meeting with Bowden and Kasten last Sunday.
Zimmerman is coming off a season in which he hit .287 with 20 home runs and a team-leading 110 RBIs.
"Our relationship with the player and the agent are extremely good," Bowden said. "We have the contractual rights to Ryan Zimmerman until 2011. Certainly, our plan is for him to finish his career as a Washington National. The renewal is something we waited until the last minute because we were working hard on a one-year and a multiyear deal for him."
Even though a deal wasn't reached, Zimmerman said that he learned a lot about the business side of baseball.
"It's good for me to talk to Stan and Jim and get comfortable with them at a young age," he said. "A lot of people who are fans of the game don't get to see that side of it. To get a sense of that at a young age is going to help me later on in my career."
When he first started in the big leagues, Zimmerman said that any offense he gave to the team would be a bonus. He was known for his defense when he was drafted out of the University of Virginia in the first round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. Now he is expected to be one of the most feared hitters in baseball.
So far this spring, Zimmerman appears to be in midseason form. Entering Sunday's action, he is 7-for-19 (.368) with one home run and three RBIs.
"If you want to be one of the top players in this game, you have to perform," he said. "Your numbers are a direct reflection of the people on your team. You have to have good people around you, and I feel I have that here. I feel real lucky."
Acta feels lucky to have Zimmerman on the roster. In the skipper's opinion, Zimmerman is mature beyond his years both on and off the field.
"This kid is a pro," Acta said. "He was down in Florida three weeks before Spring Training started. I'm just glad to have a guy like him. He is a well-prepared guy. He pays attention to details.He can figure out sequences from the other pitchers real quick. I can hear him on the bench talking about what guys are trying to do, even if it's here in Spring Training."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.