ESPN.com's Dan Szymborski published a list of "MLB's biggest albatross contracts" today, and given his injury history in recent seasons, the shoulder woes, the move from third to first and the number of games he's missed, it probably shouldn't be too big a surprise that Ryan Zimmerman made the list.
Zimmerman's 6-year/$100M extension, signed in 2012, which pays him $62M over the next four seasons ($14M from '16-'18; $18M in '19 and a club option for $18M in 2020 or a $2M buyout), would not be as bad, Szymborski writes, if it started when it was signed, but it started in 2014 after the years his previous 5-year/$45M extension covered, and the, "first two years of his extension have seen Zimmerman," not as the hard-hitting Gold Glove-caliber third baseman he was, who put up a, ".288/.355/.479 line, with a 120 OPS+," through the 2011 campaign, but, instead as, "an injury-prone first baseman who has hit .261/.321/.459 with a 110 OPS+."
Washington's now-31-year-old, '05 1st Round pick played just 95 games last season, putting up a .249/.308/.465 line with 25 doubles and 16 home runs over 390 plate appearances, missing time with DL stints for plantar fasciitis and a strained oblique. For a stretch after the first DL stint and before he injured his oblique, however, there were signs that the face of the Nationals' franchise for most of the first decade in D.C. still had something left.
"Last year when I came back before the oblique I felt like I was playing the best I played since probably '08 or '09 when I was playing like I should be playing," Zimmerman told reporters today when he spoke upon arriving in Viera, Florida's Space Coast Stadium for the start of Spring Training.
From July 28th, when he came off the DL, through September 7th, when his eleventh major league season ended, he put up a .311/.372/.652 line with 13 doubles and 11 home runs in 156 plate appearances.
"It was nice to come back and kind of get that confidence," he said today.
"And now it's just a matter of getting rid of those little injuries and that's what we've been concentrating on this offseason."
Zimmerman's shoulder, which required surgery in 2012, after he received four cortisone shots to keep him in the lineup for the Nationals' first postseason run, the fractured thumb he suffered diving back into second in Atlanta and Grade 3 hamstring strain he suffered during the 2014 season and last year's issues have limited his time in the lineup, but he said today that he's worked this winter to do what he could to prepare for his twelfth major league campaign.
"I feel like we've changed some things up and focused more on doing everything we can just to stay on the field and play -- I don't know about a certain number, but I think last year showed if I can stay on the field I'm still a productive player and I think the goal is to be out there as many games as possible and to help this team win," he said.
Asked what he's changed as far as his preparation, Zimmerman said, "... it's nothing crazy."
"It's just a little bit more transitioning into not lifting as much weights and body weight stuff and a lot of stretching, a lot of core stuff, a lot of little muscles that I've never, ever used before and using those to kind of keep me stable and the goal is to eliminate those soft tissue issues that have kind of plagued me over the last two years."
Zimmerman was asked when he last felt completely healthy coming into Spring Training?
"I have been hurt, but for the most part, for the majority of my career I feel like I've done a pretty good job of staying on the field. So for the first seven or eight years that's what camp was like for me. The last two years, obviously the longer you play, these things are going to happen. I mean, very rarely do people play for 10-15 years and not have something that they're going to go through, so surgeries and rehabs and changing the way you do things that's just all part of it and I think the good ones -- that first of all are lucky enough to play for 10 or 15 years -- they learn how to adapt and learn how to do that and continue to perform at a high level. That's part of being an athlete and part of playing at this level is you have to learn and continually adapt and get better, because there are people who want to do what I do and it's my job to continue to get better and make it harder for someone to take my job."
He said when asked that he can't really change the way he plays the game, the diving for ground balls and going all out on offense and defense, and it wouldn't work if he did, but he has learned to be more careful and pick his spots.
"You just have to be smart. I'm still going to play that way, that's really the only way I know how to play, but you just have to know when is the right time to play that way, I think is the best answer to that. I don't think there is really a right answer to that, it's hard to play first base or third base and when a ball is hit, you think you can get it to not dive for it.
"That's just the way you love to play the game and I think when you start taking that away from someone then you start trying to think and do too much and you just have to react. I think we'll take certain precautions and do certain things but at the same time I think that kind of makes me the player I am."
He did, however, concede that there were little things he could do, and slight adjustments he could make to try to limit the possibilities for injuries.
"Trying not to get picked off of second base is a good start," he joked. "But yeah, little things like that, of course. And then honestly some of that stuff is just stuff that's going to happen that no matter what you do you can't protect yourself from things like that happening. Some of it is just bad luck. Some of it is not putting yourself in that position so I think we have to sort of look at both of those risk factors and do the best we can to stay on the field."