Ryan Zimmerman might have to move to first base in the future to accommodate the Washington Nationals' top hitting prospect, Anthony Rendon, who was drafted as a third baseman out of Rice. The Nats can't sign Adam LaRoche to more than a two-year deal because they need room in the infield, and especially at first in case the Nationals have to move Ryan Zimmerman across the infield eventually. Let's not kick Zim off the hot corner just yet.
Anthony Rendon, considered by most the top hitting prospect available in the 2011 Draft, was described by D.C. GM Mike Rizzo as a Gold Glove caliber defender on the night the Nats selected the then-21-year-old infielder sixth overall. With Zimmerman entrenched at third base, however, some wondered just where the Rice infielder would fit in the organization.
"Right now we feel that third base is his position," the Nationals' GM told reporters on the night of the draft, "we feel that we've evaluated him as a Gold Glove caliber defensive guy at third base. We're going to delay that decision til he gets to the big leagues and establishes himself here and we'll make those decisions down the road."
The speculation since he was drafted was that Rendon might eventually move over to second since Zimmerman was firmly established at third, similar to the way Danny Espinosa was moved over to second from short with Ian Desmond already in D.C. when Espinosa was called up. When Rendon arrived in Florida for his first Spring Training with the Nationals last year, Nats' skipper Davey Johnson told the infielder he would that he would be playing all around the infield at third, short and second.
When Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore asked Zimmerman about potentially eventually losing his position to accomodate Rendon, he was diplomatic in his response. "'I think I want to play third base until someone is better than me at it,'" Zimmerman told the WaPost reporter:
"'I think there’s teams that move people. I’ve said it all along — I want to be here as long as I can. I want to play my whole career here. If that means me playing third base for five more years and then moving somewhere because someone is better than me at third and it’ll help us win, then I’ll do it. If that means me playing third base for 10 years and then going to first base or wherever, then I’ll do it. I don’t care.'"
Zimmerman did, however, add that he wasn't going to leave his spot quietly. "'I’m certainly not going to make it easy for someone to come and be better than me,'" Zimmerman told the WaPost reporter, "'Someone is going to have to take it from me.'"
The subject of moving Zimmerman away from third has come up again this winter in the conversation about Adam LaRoche. Just today, the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore and MASN's Dan Kolko, among others who've broached the topic, mentioned that the Nats might want to avoid going to three years with LaRoche since they might eventually need to move Zimmerman over to first. D.C. GM Mike Rizzo mentioned the likes of Tyler Moore and 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Matt Skole as part of the depth at first (along with Michael Morse for at least 2013) that has them cautious and unwilling to go beyond two years with LaRoche. No mention of Zimmerman on the GM's part in that conversation.
Zimmerman did, however, post the lowest fld% (.950) of his career in 2012. Though it wasn't far off his fld% from 2011 (.957 fld%) or 2010 (.951) it was down from the .963 fld% he posted in 2009 when he won the Gold Glove at third base. Zimmerman's UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) was actually up in 2012 from -3.1 UZR in 2011 to -0.6 last season, though that was down significantly from 2009 (+13.7 UZR) and 2010 (+13.9 UZR). Over that four-year stretch, Zimmerman's had the 5th highest UZR among third baseman league-wide (+24.0) behind only Kevin Kouzmanoff (+24.2), Placido Polanco (+28.1), Evan Longoria (+39.2) and Adrian Beltre (+48.4).
Zimmerman's 19 errors (up from 12 in 2011, and 17 in both '09-'10) were the second-most amongst qualified third baseman in the majors last season, with his 12 throwing errors the second most in the majors behind only the Pirates' Pedro Alvarez (16 TE). It was only the third-highest throwing error total of Zimmerman's career behind the 15 TEs he committed in 2007 and the 13 TEs he made in '09 when he won the Gold Glove, and the Nationals' third baseman dealt with a serious shoulder injury in 2012 which required cortisone shots to get through the year and surgery afterwards to repair significant damage.
The Face of the Nationals franchise told the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore after he had the surgical procedure this winter that the injury (a bone spur in his collar bone, damage to the AC joint, "fraying" of the labrum and rotator cuff) definitely affected his throwing last season. Thanks to the cortisone shots, which allowed him to stay on the field while Washington went to the postseason for the first time since baseball's return to D.C., Zimmerman produced offensive numbers (.282/.346/.478, 36 doubles, 25 HRs) similar to his career averages (.287/.353/.479 and 162-game average of 41 doubles, 25 HRs). Asked about Zimmerman's defensive issues last September on 106.7 the FAN's The Mike Rizzo Show, the Nats' GM didn't sound like someone who was concerned about having to relocate his third baseman.
"He's a consumate major leaguer," Rizzo said, "He works extremely hard on it. He's going to make the adjustments, and again, you're talking about a Gold Glove defender and a guy that gets the job done any way he can get it done. He'll figure it out. He catches everything in sight, so he makes a lot of throws because he catches more balls than any third baseman in the big leagues."
One day in the future Zimmerman might have to move across the infield, but it doesn't appear anyone is in a rush to move him away from third just yet.