The 2020 season was the first in Nationals’ team history without Ryan Zimmerman on the roster. After opting out in 2020, Zimmerman intends to return to the diamond in 2021, per Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post (via Twitter).
There’s no timetable for when Zimmerman might sit down with the Nats, but it’s safe to assume he’s not looking to relocate. Mr. Nat has indicated at every turn that he expects the Nationals to be his only professional franchise, and the love-fest has been a two-way street.
The Nationals happen to have a need at first and the ability to platoon Zimmerman. Manager Davey Martinez is used to protecting his veterans and piecing together the timeshare at first, as he’s done for the last couple of seasons. Howie Kendrick, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Eric Thames split time at first in Zim’s absence. All three are now free agents. Jake Noll currently sits atop the depth chart, but it’s safe to assume the 26-year-old with 30 career plate appearances isn’t likely to remain there through opening day.
The Nats have been linked to a number of top free agents, while GM Mike Rizzo noted their flexibility in seeking upgrades. Essentially, the Nats have room for improvement at both infield corners as well as whichever outfield corner Juan Soto doesn’t make camp in. If they were to make a run at J.T. Realmuto, few would be surprised, though Rizzo has said they are comfortable letting Yan Gomes crouch behind the plate for 90 to 100 games in 2021.
Regardless, Zimmerman’s clear intention to return ought to lend some clarity to Rizzo. He had signed for $2MM prior to opting out of 2020, and that’s a reasonable number to project for this season as well. He was tagged with a persistent case of plantar fasciitis in 2019, though he returned to slug a couple of big postseason home runs, as well as, appropriately, the first ever World Series long ball in franchise history.
Facing a fair amount of turnover from their title team in 2019, the Nats will appreciate Zimmerman’s stabilizing presence in the locker room. He’s not, however, likely to soak up much playing time. The 36-year-old has appeared in 100 games just twice over the last seven seasons, averaging 92 games and 364 plate appearances over that span. With a .263/.323/.470 line since 2014, he’s been a 107 wRC+ bat without any positional flexibility. Despite his limited utility, the team has shown a tremendous amount of faith in their longest-tenured player.