Still in the afterglow of their World Series victory, it appears that the Nationals are deciding to decline their $18MM club option on first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network (link). Catcher Yan Gomes will also have his $9MM option declined, while outfielder Adam Eaton ($9.5MM) and reliever Sean Doolittle ($6.5MM) will both see their 2020 options exercised, per Heyman (link).
As was suggested by our own Jeff Todd when Washington declined their option on Matt Adams yesterday, a decline of Zimmerman’s option was easy to foresee. Although he remains something of a franchise icon, the 35-year-old is several years removed from the kind of production that would warrant a salary approaching $20MM. A member of the club’s inaugural 2005 squad, Zimmerman was an All-Star in his heyday, logging a twin pair of 6.6 fWAR seasons in 2009 and 2010. However, the righty swinger has cobbled just 1.4 fWAR over the last two campaigns in spot duty, combining for a modestly above-average 107 wRC+ in that span. It would be not unthinkable for the club to bring him back as veteran depth on a more reasonable one-year term.
The club’s decision on Gomes also rates as rather predictable, even given a relative dearth of catching available on the free agent market this winter. After logging what appeared to be a rebound year with the Indians in 2018, Gomes came back down to earth with a .223/.316/.389 slash line across 358 plate appearances in D.C. this past season. Defensively, 2019 was an essentially mediocre campaign from the 32-year-old, with Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average metric pegging him with a -1.0 FRAA. The Nationals will owe Gomes a $1MM buyout.
Heading into 2019, Eaton’s option may have seemed something of a toss-up after injuries robbed him of the majority of his 2018 and 2017 seasons. His production this past season was right in line with career averages, however, as his blend of high-contact, on-base ability made him an above-average offensive contributor (107 wRC+). He was merely a passable defensive option in the outfield corners (as his -0.8 UZR would suggest), but a .279/.365/.428 line with 15 homers and 15 steals is essentially tailor-made for the top of a team’s lineup, making his option a clear value.
Doolittle had an up-and-down 2019 that saw him lose sole ownership of the closer’s role in the season’s second half amidst injury and performance concerns. Still, the lefty’s 9.90 K/9 rate, 2.25 BB/9 rate, and 4.05 ERA across 60 regular-season innings represent acceptable relief production in today’s offensively inclined climate.