So, has Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo talked to 35-year-old, free agent first baseman Ryan Zimmerman this winter?
“Zim? Had a great conversation with Zim,” Rizzo told reporters during the Nats’ WinterFest celebration on Saturday afternoon in the nation’s capital.
“He was in my office — I can’t remember — earlier this week, Tuesday or something like that, and we talked for about an hour and a half and I love him.”
Love him, sure. Everyone in D.C. does. But are the Nationals going to try to re-sign the 15-year veteran who was the first draft pick by the franchise upon relocating to Washington in 2005?
“He’s a guy that we’re talking to,” Rizzo said, “and we’re not going to discuss that, but he’s a guy that some day there will be a statue with his likeness on it here in center field and we’d love for him to end his career here in Washington.”
Zimmerman has said repeatedly he would like to be back on the Nationals’ roster in 2020, after having previously explained that he understands he will make significantly less than the $18M he earned in 2019, (in the final year of the 6-year/$100M extension he signed with the club in February of 2012).
But he wants to come back and keep playing for the only team he’s known as a professional.
“I think I’ve made my intentions pretty clear,” Zimmerman in early December. “It’s either play some more here or play more golf.”
He did, however, once again struggle with injuries last season, in a career that’s has been interrupted time and again by health concerns.
This past year it was more plantar fasciitis issues which limited the veteran to 52 games and 190 plate appearances, over which he had a .257/.321/.415 line, nine doubles, and six home runs in what ended up being a 0.1 fWAR campaign, but he returned in September (after he’d landed on the IL for a second time in July) and put up a .283/.345/.472 line, a double and three home runs in his final 58 PAs before a 14 for 55 run in the postseason (.255/.317/.418, three doubles, two home runs) as the Nationals and Zimmerman won the first World Series championship by a D.C.-based team since 1924.
The club declined the $18M club option included in his deal after the 2019 campaign came to an end, and he remains a free agent, as the Nationals have re-signed Howie Kendrick (who played a total of 48 games at first base last season) and added Eric Thames, a left-handed hitting infielder.
Thames played 105 games at first for the Milwaukee Brewers last year.
Does Rizzo think the club still needs a right-handed option at first base?
“We have a lot of different ways we can go with that. With the 26th player that gives us even more options and gives us more depth, so even with an eight-man bullpen we’ll have a long, deep bench. Thames is a big pickup for us. You’re talking about a big left-handed power guy, we like his defense at first base. We like the way that he finished the season, and again, [manager] Davey [Martinez], Kevin Long, and myself had a lot of good discussions about who we wanted to be that left-handed guy at first base, and he was our clear choice, and again, he wanted to be here. Howie had sold me on him and him on me, so it was a good match, and I think we’ve got ourselves a guy that’s going to help us.”
Zimmerman’s teammates, predictably, want the veteran back for another year with the club, helping out as they defend their World Series crown.
“I just feel like he’s ... such an important part of the clubhouse dynamic,” Sean Doolittle said when he too spoke with reporters on Saturday.
“He was one of the clubhouse leaders last year, and I know he battled some injuries, but I also know that I don’t think that he’s mentally or physically ready to be done yet. I think he still has some really good baseball ahead of him, and I’ve enjoyed playing with him so much, and I know so many of the guys on our team they have so much respect for him. Just think of what he means to this city and this organization.”
“The fact is, when he was healthy, he was really, really good for us,” Doolittle continued.
“So he proved he can still contribute. He had some huge moments in the postseason, the homer against the Dodgers in Game 4. The homer off [Gerrit] Cole in the World Series.
“Just to name a few. That diving catch against the Cardinals? You know. He’s still got it.”
Max Scherzer said he too believes Zimmerman has good baseball left in him.
“Of course he does. It’s just putting in the work. You’ve got to put in the work, take care of your body to allow yourself to go out there and play like you’re 25. That’s my mentality.
“Lifting, running, do everything I’ve got to do to be able to go out there and feel great and compete.
“I definitely know with all the guys on our team, playing with these guys, especially with Zim, hopefully he comes back. Hopefully we get a deal done with him, and he’ll be back playing, because he’s a heck of a ballplayer.”
Trea Turner was asked if he could imagine a Nationals’ roster that didn’t include Zimmerman on it.
“No, not really. I mean, we lost Bryce [Harper], we lost [Anthony Rendon], [Jayson Werth], we’ve [had] quite a few people since I’ve been here that are cornerstone guys that we’ve gone and moved on without, which, you know, isn’t always fun, but is something that you have to deal with. I hope Zim is back.
“Obviously he is ‘Mr. National’, ‘The President’ and whatnot, so all the nicknames, and just a great person, a great human being.
“So hopefully we sign Zim. That would be great. But sometimes it’s a business, and we’ll see.”
Stephen Strasburg, who tested the free agent market and then re-signed on a 7-year/$245M deal, joined the chorus calling for more Zim in 2020.
“Zim’s all I know, really,” Strasburg said.
“From the moment I signed here out of college, he put the jersey on my back, and I think he’s instrumental to this organization, and I think, if it were me, I think as long as he wants to keep playing he should be playing in a Nationals uniform.”