As the first pick in Washington Nationals history in 2005, Ryan Zimmerman has been a fixture in the Nationals lineup since his September debut in that ’05 season. In 2020, it was supposed to have marked Zim’s fifteenth pro season, but due to COVID concerns he opted out of his contract. Zim was clear that he did not want his career to end that way and now he will get another chance to finish his career with the only team he has ever known and in a city where the fans love him. Affectionately known as “Mr. Walkoff” due to his eleven career walk-off home runs from Father’s Day in RFK Stadium in 2006 to his third career dagger into the Phillies with his last walk-off home run in 2018.
Could there be more walk-off home runs in Zimmerman’s future? He is chasing history in pursuit of Jim Thome who has 13 career walk-off home runs followed by Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Albert Pujols, Frank Robinson (Zim’s 1st manager), and Babe Ruth who all have 12 walk-off home runs, and Zim is tied with David Ortiz and Tony Perez with 11 walk-off home runs. While Mr. Walk-off will not be enshrined in Cooperstown like all of those other retired players, sans Ortiz, the 36-year-old would get a request from the Hall-of-Fame for memorabilia if he could hit three more walk-off home runs to surpass Thome.
Things will be different when Zim returns in the 2021 lineup as Josh Bell is the primary first baseman. From 2006 forward until now, Zim was always penciled in every Spring Training as a starter. If there is a designated hitter for the entire 2020 season for the National League, Zim could find some more starts that way, but that is not 100 percent certain at this point. If the DH does not come to fruition full-time, Zim would backup Bell, do some pinch-hitting, and sub in as a late inning defensive replacement.
When the signing of Zimmerman becomes official, the 40-man roster would be set at either 36 or 37 depending on Jon Lester‘s official addition to the team. When both players are added, the Nats would be at 37 players with needs at backup catcher and a right-fielded outfielder on the priority list. The last player added could be an infield upgrade, and my personal choice if money is tight would be Cesar Hernandez. For the outfield spot, Adam Duvall or Kevin Pillar would fit well, and for backup catcher Tyler Flowers or Alex Avila. Having Zimmerman under contract checks off one more piece of the puzzle, and he accepted a deal that left financial flexibility for general manager Mike Rizzo.
“At some point, if you want to be here, you have to make some [financial] sacrifices,” Zimmerman said years ago and proved it in signing this contract. “I’m not going sit here and say I’m willing to play for the league minimum, but for me to play here would be the ultimate goal, to finish my career here. I’m been very lucky to be in the situation I’ve been in.”
“I grew up in Virginia Beach, went to school at the University of Virginia and played in D.C. for the better part of 14 years, with my parents being four hours away. It’s been a very special place growing up here. I came to D.C. as a 20-year-old. Now I’m married and have two little girls [and a son].”
“This community in D.C. has been special to me. It would be really weird to play anywhere else. I don’t envision myself chasing anything anywhere else, either. I’ll continue to work my butt off, be in shape every year to play and help this team win. When it comes time I can’t do it anymore, then it’s time to go home.”
Money was saved as Zim took a team-friendly $1 million base deal plus an incentives package according to several reports. If that is accurate, the Nats payroll would be approximately $183 million based on our spreadsheet of AAV expenditures.
Unfortunately, FanGraphs sees Zim as a part-time player with neutral impact which means they view him equal to a replacement level player. Maybe with the right matchups, Zim could have a more substantial positive effect. Time will tell on that.
Since Zim is known for not wanting to take too many ABs in Spring Training, please express your opinion on how many he will have in 2021 using this poll.
For now, the legend of Mr. Walk-off continues in D.C.