The Nationals took the time to honor franchise icon Ryan Zimmerman yesterday, in what could have been the final appearance of the veteran corner infielder’s storied big league career (video link). After the game, Zimmerman told reporters that he’s not yet decided whether he’ll retire or come back for what would be a 17th season at the Major League level (link via MASNsports.com’s Mark Zuckerman).
Zimmerman, who turned 37 in late September, said he feels confident he could continue playing and felt he handled the role he was given this year well, but there are larger questions at stake. “Now it’s a decision of: Do I want to keep doing that or do I want to be around my family a little bit more?” Zimmerman wondered aloud. It’s a question that’s had onlookers wondering for some time now, as explored by MLBTR’s TC Zencka over the weekend.
One thing that became abundantly clear based on yesterday’s slate of interviews is that Zimmerman would be welcomed back to the roster next season with open arms. General manager Mike Rizzo made sure to plainly express as much, taking the extra step to emphasize that Zimmerman has a guaranteed Major League deal waiting for him if he wants to return.
“Ryan Zimmerman has a place on this roster as a player as long as Mike Rizzo is the GM,” said Rizzo. “So whenever he wants to take a major league contract, just call me up and we’ll give him one.”
While the 2021 season wasn’t as strong a year as Zimmerman had during his peak, the veteran slugger still tormented left-handed opponents and generally showed well above-average power. In 116 plate appearances against southpaws, Zimmerman turned in a .291/.319/.582 batting line with seven home runs and 11 doubles. His overall production was down against righties (.207/.261/.386), but Zimmerman still tagged same-handed opponents for seven homers and five doubles with a strong .179 isolated power mark (slugging percentage minus batting average).
On the surface, Zimmerman still carries appeal as a platoon option at first base or, assuming it is indeed implemented in the National League in 2022, at designated hitter. That’d be a fairly limited role, of course, but the organization surely values Zimmerman’s contributions well beyond his mere on-field production. After spending nearly two decades in the Majors — all of them coming as a member of the Nationals — Zimmerman’s leadership, his ability to connect with young players and his connection with the fan base are all factors that weigh into the team’s decision to effectively present him with a standing offer.
Looking to the 2022 season, that leadership and ability to mentor younger players could be valued even more heavily. After spending years as one of the older and more veteran-laden teams in the game, the Nationals embarked on what will likely be an accelerated rebuilding effort at this year’s trade deadline. Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Daniel Hudson, Brad Hand, Yan Gomes, Josh Harrison and Jon Lester were all traded for younger, more controllable players. The likes of Keibert Ruiz, Josiah Gray, Riley Adams and Lane Thomas have all already debuted on the big league roster, and next year’s club figures to be a good bit younger than in recent seasons as a result.
To be clear, Rizzo already pushed back on the idea of prolonging this summer’s sale into a lengthy, years-long rebuild. That doesn’t seem to be in the cards, and the Nats have plenty of available payroll space with only three guaranteed contracts on the books next season (Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Will Harris). It’s likely they’ll bring in some veteran talent whether Zimmerman is re-signed or not, but the front office clearly sees value in the continuity “Mr. National” would bring as the team transitions to a new core that can hopefully be built around superstar outfielder Juan Soto.