What Ryan Zimmerman’s new role with Nats will look like

Chris Lingebach
January 29, 2020 - 6:20 pm

For the first time since winning the World Series, Ryan Zimmerman can speak with clarity about his future with the Washington Nationals.

The 35-year-old face of the franchise officially signed his contract this week, a one-year deal that will pay him $2 million in base salary with up to an additional $3 million in performance bonuses. Zimmerman made clear all offseason he had no interest in playing for another team, that it was either the Nationals or early retirement.

Before signing the deal, Zimmerman, who's played more than 115 games just once in the past six seasons, also made clear his intent to transition into more of a part-time role. Zimmerman suffers from frequent bouts with Plantar fasciitis, which will never really go away, and was limited to just 52 regular season games in 2019. But as he proved in the postseason, his bat still pops and proved to be an integral part of their championship run.

All of this begs the question: What will Zimmerman's role look like on a one-year deal? And should fans treat this as more of a farewell tour, or is this merely the first year of the back end of his career?

"First of all, I don't know if I would want that," Zimmerman told 106.7 The Fan's Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier, in reference to a farewell tour. "I always thought that's kind of, I don't know. You guys know me. I'm not..."

"Well, I know you wouldn't want it, but it's for us, too, kind of," Paulsen joked.

"Then stop being a great dude that everyone likes," Rouhier said. "Sorry."

"But yeah, I don't think this is a one-year deal to say this is the last year," Zimmerman said. "I mean, my body, I feel great. I think last year with the foot, that was so frustrating, because really the entire rest of my body and my health, and the way that I felt playing the last year or two, I honestly feel better than I felt four or five years ago."

"I'm kind of excited to try out this new role where you're not gonna have to play every day and, you know, hopefully that's how it stays," Zimmerman continued. "The only way it wouldn't stay like that is if someone gets injured, which nobody wants to happen. But I feel like I can be really productive in this role. It gives me two, three days a week to really concentrate on taking care of myself and not going through the routine to play every single day.

"I mean the truth is, and when me and Rizz met, I can still play the game at this level, and still have value to a team and still be very productive, so that made the decision easy to come back. As long as I can still do that and still have value, I still love the game so it's a no-brainer for me to come. I think that's kind of where we're at."

"But as far as is this like a one-year deal basically being it?" he said. "I think the beautiful thing about signing these one-year deals now is I can basically just assess every year and decide on a year-to-year basis."

Zimmerman was asked what his ideal amount of playing time might be, still the biggest unanswered question about his future.

"I haven't really talked to Rizz or Davey kind of exactly what we're gonna try and do," Zimmerman said of the Nats GM and manager. "I mean if I had to ballpark it and guess, I would say probably somewhere around 300 at-bats, give or take. It could end up being closer to 250, it could end up being more than 300, so there's really no way to know, like you said.

"Hopefully everyone stays healthy and then we won't have to worry about that, because I think we have a really good collection of guys with the people that they've signed. So hopefully that's how it goes, but that being said, I have prepared this offseason like I would have to play every single day. I'll be ready to do whatever they need me to do and I'm just looking forward to it."

"We have a really good team again," he said. "I think what we did last year at reaching the top kind of shows you how much fun that is."

"I guess I never knew I thought I could want it more," he added, "but I guess it makes you want to do it again."

"I was thinking you'd play like four or five times a week," Paulsen said. "You're saying maybe even a little bit less than that?"

"Well, like I said, I don't want to throw things out there without talking to Davey or Rizz first," Zimmerman replied. "You know, obviously I think left-handed pitchers, my numbers were so great against them last year. Like we were talking about at the beginning, I can still hit decent right-handed pitchers pretty well. I don't know. People can be the judge of that themselves, but I think I did okay with those guys last year."

Zimmerman fared only okay against righties, averaging .213 against them last season, but really walloped lefties, hammering them for a .367 average with a .966 OPS.

"So I still have supreme confidence in myself that I could be a competent, productive, above-average players against right-handed and left-handed pitchers," Zimmerman went on. "The biggest thing for me is just staying on the field and being healthy. Unfortunately, the last two or three years I haven't stayed on the field when I'm playing every day, so I think the number one goal – and I kind of told them that – is like my number one goal this year is just not to go on the DL. I mean, don't do it. Just stay with the team all year, and then once you do that, you can stay in rhythm, you can stay on your routine every day.

"You don't have to miss those two or three weeks where you're not in the big leagues, and then you have to waste two weeks when you get back to get back in the swing of things. Just stay healthy, and then whatever the at-bats come out to be, they come out to be, but I truly believe in myself and think that I can still be a great player in this league and I'm looking forward to it."

Zimmerman was asked to comment on the Houston Astros cheating scandal and the stiff punishment administered to them by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. The Nationals, in case you need reminding, were able to defeat the Astros in seven games in the 2019 World Series, becoming the first team in baseball history to earn all four wins on the road.

Zimmerman went 5-for-24 at the plate in the Series with four walks, two RBI and two runs scored, including a solo homer in Game 1, which the Nats won 5-4.

"It was obviously not a good situation," Zimmerman said of Houston using video technology to steal signs in 2017. "Let me get one thing straight. Stealing signs has gone on forever and it will continue to go on. That's also why they're called 'signs' – you're not supposed to be able to steal them that easily.

"I think where you get in trouble is, you know everyone looks at video, looks at what pitchers did in their last start, what pitchers did last time they were out. This is the set of signs that they've used the most during the year. I mean with the amount of advanced scouting, with the amount of video available, every team is doing that. I don't think there's anything wrong with that."

"I think when you start putting – if this is what really happened, and I haven't read the whole report – but if you start putting a camera in center field and, in real time, relaying signs, then you're messing with the integrity of the game," Zimmerman said. "And I think any time in any sport when the integrity of the game is altered with or messed with, that obviously shoots right to the core of, first of all, what the fans want to watch.

"You're now messing with the game that people enjoy going to see. And then just competition and you get into like morality issues there, which I think is more of a big deal anyway. Like just as a good person, you shouldn't want to do that stuff. So it's hard, like you said, the fines or the crimes or whatever you want to say. I think the commissioner was in a tough spot."

"So should the players have been punished?" he said. "I kind of say something should have happened, but then you get to like, well how do you individually punish each player? You don't know when it was used, how often it was used. Did people use it all the time? Did some people use it half the time? Did some people know what was going on basically said, 'Hey guys, listen. I don't want to be a part of it.'

"It would have been really hard for him to I guess distinguish different punishments for different players. That being said, do I think the players should have been punished? I mean, to me I think it's one of the ultimate sins when you start cheating. So I would be for it, I just don't know if I have the answer of how to do it, which is kind of the easy way out, I guess, to answer it."

"I think the big thing is, is this stuff can't happen, because not only is it immoral, but I think it's bad for the game," Zimmerman said. "We're trying to grow the game. I think baseball has come a long way in the last five or 10 years as far as becoming clean from the stuff that was happening in the late 90s. We have a ton of young stars in the league that are so much fun to watch.

"Something like this is only going to take us back, so I think people need to look at what happened and just moving forward say, 'Hey, it's not good for the game. And if you really care about baseball, just knock it off,' I guess is the best way to talk about it."

Zimmerman begins at 28:15 below.