Ryan Zimmerman signed a 1-year/$2M with the Nationals in January of 2020 that included incentives based on games played and plate appearances, but after starting up again in Spring Training 1.0, the 36-year-old, 15-year veteran opted out of heading back for Spring Training 2.0 and playing in MLB’s 60-game COVID campaign out of concern for the health of his family.
Zimmerman said at the time, and since, that he didn’t want his career to end like that, with a World Series win and then an opt-out, and this past Friday he signed another 1-year/$1M incentive-laden deal with Washington for what will be his 16th season since the Nationals drafted him fourth overall in 2005 with the then-recently relocated franchise’s first draft pick.
How did the latest contract come together?
“I have tons of leverage when I negotiate now,” Zimmerman said with more than a hint of sarcasm as he spoke on a Zoom call with reporters today about his new deal.
“So they had to compete against five or six other teams, and we finally got them up to one [year] for $1M. So it was long. Just kidding.”
The negotiations were apparently actually quick and relatively painless.
“I’ve done so many contracts with the Lerner family, with [Nationals’ GM and President of Baseball Ops Mike] Rizzo, with everyone in the front office there, my agents know most of those guys obviously from my contracts, but from other other people’s as well, so our relationship is about as easy as it can be, I think. You always go back and forth on a few things. It is a business contract, so you want the best for you and they want the best for them.
“The bullet points are way smaller on those contracts now than they used to be on the 3-4 I’ve done before that.
“I think that’s part of what’s so neat about the relationship that we have, is I can honestly probably go in there and do it with them.
“I know I have respect for them, I think they have respect for me, so it makes it a lot easier for us to get things done. They make it easy.”
Zimmerman didn’t know, going into this offseason, what sort of deal he would be able to get from the Nationals, and he didn’t see himself playing anywhere else.
He played in just 52 of 162 games in 2019, 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, but he dealt with injuries again, and was limited, but more than a year removed from regular season, competitive action, at 36 years old, he didn’t know what to expect.
“I didn’t know if they were going to offer me a major league deal,” Zimmerman said, “... or if they were going to want me to come down on a minor league deal.
“I’m 36 years old and ... I haven’t played baseball in a year, so I think that shows obviously the respect that Rizzo and the team has for me, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that.”
After dealing with the injuries he has in the past few years, with a shoulder issue that forced a move from third to first base, and plantar fasciitis, which has plagued him for the past few seasons, will all the time he’s had off heading into the 2021 campaign help?
“The easy answer is taking a year off definitely helps your body,” Zimmerman said. “But... also, Spring Training shut down [last year] — what was it March 16th I guess it was, something around that time — so that’s really the last time I was in a competitive baseball atmosphere I guess you could say, so it will be about 11 months since I’ve been affiliated with someone. I think usually an offseason I’ll go four months or so without doing much baseball stuff.
“I’m not a big baseball guy in the offseason. I usually do it when I get down to Spring [Training]. If you can’t get ready in six weeks there’s nothing that’s going to help you anyway. So, but it will be different.
“But like I said, I’ve been doing a lot more here than I’ve ever done getting ready for Spring Training just as far as hitting and being more prepared going to Florida in a baseball sense, not in an in-shape sense, but that’s definitely one of the things, and one of the reasons why I appreciate a major league deal.”
The Nationals did, of course, trade for first baseman Josh Bell this winter, and the club plans on having the 28-year-old slugger in the lineup every day, so what role is Zimmerman going to play on the 2021 roster?
“My role last year was going to be diminished compared to what it had been,” he explained.
“I think as I finished up that last contract extension, I think myself and the team were kind of I guess gearing towards not playing 120-130-140 games, whatever it was, it’s a lot harder to do that when someone is making $20M. If you’re paying someone that much money you’re going to play every day. I always prepare to play every day, but for me personally and for the team, moving forward in my career, I think not playing every day, playing against — days where your matchups are nice against a pitcher that’s pitching that day, not only does it help me succeed, but it helps me keep my body healthy.
“That’s been the biggest question mark the last handful of years for me, is not can I still play, but can I stay healthy.
“When I am healthy I still feel like I can produce. Last year I was actually looking forward to kind of embracing that role and seeing, honestly, how much fun it was going to be. And then obviously last year happened and I didn’t get to see. So, really, the role that I’m accepting or going forward with this year is no real different role of what I was going to have last year, it was just going to be split between a few people and now they went out and traded for a guy like Josh that obviously has unbelievable talent, so it’s going to be fun.”