Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters at WinterFest earlier this month that he met with Ryan Zimmerman and anticipated working something out with the 15-year veteran who has spent all fifteen years of his big league career in the nation’s capital.
“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’s career started in Washington, D.C., of course, the same year the Nationals made him a 1st Round pick in the 2005 Draft, and the now-35-year-old third-turned-first baseman said in a conference call with reporters this afternoon that there was never really any doubt that he and the Nationals would agree on a new deal after the club declined an $18M option for the 2020 campaign (opting to pay a $2M buyout) and allowed the infielder to become a free agent.
“I don’t think there was ever any doubt,” Zimmerman said.
“I was kind of in contact with them from the end of the season. They obviously had some more pressing issues ... at the beginning of the offseason, so we kind of knew that we weren’t going to start the conversation or dialogue until those things were taken care of, so the familiarity that we have made that easier to just kind of sit back and not have to worry about anything, but once we really started talking, I went and met with [Rizzo], and from there it only took maybe ten days of two weeks, and that was more just back and forth on certain types of language and just normal negotiation stuff.”
Zimmerman ended up signing a 1-year/$2M deal which includes performance bonuses that are based on games played and plate appearances which could earn him another $3M.
“Like you guys know and like I told you, I know the market, I know where I’m at in my career, so there wasn’t really any disconnect on basically the financial side of it, it was just more the contract language and getting it done,” Zimmerman explained.
“From the time the season ended we both expressed interest in doing this another year and just kind of reevaluating on a year-by-year basis, so it was mostly a pretty overall pleasant experience.”
Zimmerman was coming off a 2019 campaign which ended with him helping the Nationals win the World Series. He missed time with more issues with plantar fasciitis, which limited him to 52 games and 190 PAs, but he ended up at .257/.321/.415, with nine doubles, and six home runs in the regular season, and went 14 for 55 with three doubles and two homers in October.
Did he ever consider going out on top, having just won the first World Series championship by a D.C.-based team since 1924?
Zimmerman joked earlier this winter that it was either sign a new deal with the Nationals or work on his golf game, but he always planned on playing more baseball.
“I’ll have plenty of time to play golf in a couple years or whenever it ends up being time to play golf,” he said. “That was obviously just my attempt at humor. I think everyone said how bad of a negotiator I was, but at this point in my career, there’s really nothing to negotiate.”
“It’s not about money any more,” Zimmerman added. “It’s about playing another year and being with this group of guys and being a part of a really good team again. It’s exciting to have a chance to do something special again.
“Obviously last year was an incredible year and it was fun for everybody involved, but once Spring Training starts we’re going to have to focus on this year, and we have another really good team again.”
His goals for what will be his 16th season? How many games can he play at this point in his career?
“I think you still prepare to play every single day,” Zimmerman told reporters.
“As soon as you don’t prepare to do that, someone will get hurt or something happens and you get pushed into playing pretty much every day and you’re not prepared.
“I think it’s just our human nature to prepare to play every day, that being said, I think obviously that’s not the plan or where I’m at in my career any more, which I’m okay with.
“I haven’t sat down with [manager] Davey [Martinez] or [Rizzo] and set out a number or goal or what the actual plan is other than knowing that the actual plan is not for me to play every day. I think if you look around the infield and what they’ve done, we have four or five guys that can sort of play different positions, it gives Davey the ability to match up and change the lineup for who we are playing that day, and I think almost more importantly, whoever starts, the other players on the bench give us great flexibility and a lot of veteran guys to come off the bench whether it’s a pinch hit, a double-switch. The game is kind of going that way, and to be able to have that versatility for Davey I think is going to be a strength of our team.”
Howie Kendrick re-signed with the team after becoming a free agent. Left-handed hitting first baseman Eric Thames joined the club as well. Asdrúbal Cabrera played some first in 2019, after he came to the Nationals. Like Zimmerman said, the Nats’ skipper has options.
How much Zimmerman plays, will of course, depend on his ability to stay healthy and available.
“That being said, without sitting down and talking with them, I would say a goal would be somewhere around 250-300 at bats,” Zimmerman said.
“I don’t what that translates into in games, but like I said, you have to be prepared.
“I hope nobody gets hurt, I hope nobody misses time, that’s always the goal for me as an individual and what I hope for from my teammates, but you guys know how long a baseball season is, we’ve all been through it. At some point, something is going to happen where other guys are going to have to step up, and I’ve trained this offseason and sort of made myself be ready to play as many games as they need me to play. But I’m kind of looking forward to having that plan, and having some days off, and I think that when I’m healthy and I play in sort of that limited role if you want to call it, l think I can be very productive, and I kind of look forward to the new challenge.”