There is perhaps not a more polarizing player on the Washington Nationals than Ryan Zimmerman. I sometimes struggle to understand why a player who was drafted by the team, and became its original star player gets so much of a mixed reaction. Zim has been a loyal employee for 13 years for the Nats.
Back in 2009 and 2010 Ryan Zimmerman put together back to back 6.6 WAR seasons (League leading stuff), played a sublime 3rd base along with 30 home runs coupled with a .300 batting average to the table. Starting in 2011, Ryan suffered a string of major injuries to different parts of his body capped by a shoulder injury which basically ended his career as a top 3rd baseman. He also missed chunks of playing time every year since then while eventually transitioning to 1st base where his inability to throw caused the team the least amount of defensive damage.
In 2017, it brought with it the first full healthy year for Ryan Zimmerman, and he responded with a monster offensive performance which took everyone by surprise and also produced a sea of non-believers who cast doubts on Ryan’s ability to sustain these levels every step of the way. In 2018, of course produced the famous Ryangate controversy when Zim skipped all spring training games except for 2 at-bats in an episode which could have been produced by the 3 Stooges. Clearly Zim wasn’t healthy in the spring per subsequent reports. Zim hurt the team with a poor April batting .184 when the month ended and the team kind of mirrored his troubles finishing April at a 13-16 record. Of course, he later spent 2 months on the DL. When he finally returned healthy, he came back resembling the 2017 Zim.
“If I can stay healthy and play next year and still be productive like I am now, I think there’s room for discussion [for my future with the Nationals].” — Ryan Zimmerman
So, what do we have for 2019? Well we have a player who when healthy is still a very productive offensive player, we have a player whose defense at 1at base is limited by an inability to throw as well as a player with limited range, but we also have a player whose 2019 salary is $18 mil. So putting everything into a blender you clearly are not in position to make him a utility or even a part time player and to be fair his offense (when healthy- still makes him a viable every day player who is still producing well enough so that his salary is not an albatross.
“Health is the main factor for him,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “When he’s healthy, he’s a middle-of-the-lineup hitter that can still play first base very well.”
Mike Rizzo has recognized the fact that Zim is an injury risk and that even when healthy he needs regular time off. Rizzo has done a masterful job in acquiring a supplemental left-handed bat on the cheap for both 2017 and 2018 with Adam Lind and Matt Adams. In fact, Rizzo has done so well on those left-handed acquisitions where fans have wanted to retain those players on a longer term basis.
It’s reasonable to assume that Rizzo will go that route one more time in 2019, players in that space are reasonably priced and are available in the market place most years. Who is next years Adam Lind or Matt Adams? Who knows? Maybe Lucas Duda?
The bottom line is that the Nats pitching and catching needs are the top priority this off-season, and it’s not urgent to look for Zim’s replacement in 2019. It’s even likely that Juan Soto will be asked to learn the position in spring training, so he can fill in occasionally (and it takes more than getting a 1st baseman’s glove).
“When Zim is healthy, he is really really good,” manager Dave Martinez said.
It’s very probable that we will have similar discussions throughout 2019 on the positives and negatives regarding Ryan Zimmerman. For the doubters, he has turned his negative WAR of April to a positive now for the season where he is currently listed on Fangraphs at +1.4.