“After a great deal of thought and given my family circumstances — three young children, including a newborn, and a mother at high risk — I have decided not to participate in the 2020 season,” Ryan Zimmerman said in a statement announcing his decision to opt out of the 60-game, 2020 COVID campaign this past summer.
Zimmerman, who turned 36 this September, signed a 1-year/$2M free agent deal with the Nationals last winter, after helping Washington win a World Series in his 15th season in the majors in 2019, but the 2005 first round pick decided against playing this year once MLB’s plan to play baseball during the coronavirus pandemic was announced.
The third-turned-first baseman was clear at the time, however, that he didn’t see his career ending after fifteen seasons.
“I fully plan on being back,” Zimmerman said in a Zoom conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci last July. ”I’ve told my family and a bunch of close friends that I can’t go out like this.”
When he spoke with veteran Washington Post columnist Barry Svrluga in September, he did not sound like he’d changed his mind at all about wanting to give it another go, while he did acknowledge that missing a year at his age was not ideal.
Zimmerman said he knew he wasn’t going to waltz back in and be handed a spot on the roster.
“To sit out a year and expect to just be given a spot, I don’t think that’s how it works,” he said. “You have to prove that you can still play. Taking a year off at age 36 is probably not the best thing to do. But who knows?
“Some people said maybe taking a year off and working out and getting healthy would maybe make you better.”
Injuries have limited Zimmerman in recent years, with a shoulder injury forcing him to move across the infield, and plantar fasciitis issues plaguing him in his 30s, but the organization’s first draft pick was able to get back on the field in 2019 and help bring the World Series title to the nation’s capital for the first time since 1924.
Zimmerman played in just 52 of 162 games in ‘19, posting a .257/.321/.415 line, nine doubles, and six home runs in 190 plate appearances, over which he was worth 0.1 fWAR, and he was 14 for 55 (.255/.317/.418) with three doubles and two homers in 16 games and 60 PAs during his fifth trip to the postseason.
He still has a 5-year/$10M personal services contract with the only club he’s known as a pro, which begins once his playing days are over, but Zimmerman sounded, back in September, like someone who isn’t quite done yet.
“I miss competing,” Zimmerman told the WaPost’s Svrluga.
“I miss the challenge of going out there and maneuvering through a season, where you have times you feel good, times you feel bad. I miss being around the guys — all of that.”
Making the decision to sit out was easier, he explained, given his family circumstances and where he found himself in his career.
“I think, for me, it was a pretty easy decision ... we had just won the World Series. I had been in the big leagues for 15 years. Monetarily, the decision was a no-brainer. Most of the guys, the decision [to play] was based around money or service time, which can put you in a tough spot. You can’t afford to lose a year of service [time].”
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo was asked earlier this week, in an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies, if he expected Zimmerman and Joe Ross, the other Nat to opt out, to be part of the roster in 2021?
“Well, Ross is under contract with us,” Rizzo said, before the club and the pitcher agreed on a 1-year/$1.5M deal for 2021, avoiding arbitration.
“[Ross is] planning on playing. Zim — we had a few conversations early at the latter end of the season last year, I’m not sure if he’s made a decision yet or not, but I’ve spoken to both of those guys and their individual assessments are different in their careers, so we’ll keep on top of both of them, but we’re certainly going to have Joe Ross on the team next year, and Zim we’ll have to make a decision on him depending on what his feelings are with his family.”
Howie Kendrick, Asdrúbal Cabrera, and Eric Thames, who got the majority of starts at first base in 2020, are all free agents, as is Brock Holt, who started four games. Jake Noll (four games) and Josh Harrison (one) will both be back, but neither is an every day option over there right now.
Will Zimmerman return for one more run with the Nationals? Is a 1-year/$2M, incentive-laden deal enough to get him to come back for a 16th season? Is it going to depend on the COVID developments over the next weeks and months?