Ryan Zimmerman was sitting next to Max Scherzer in the interview room at Nationals Park late Monday night, the pair of 35-year-olds talking about their immense contributions to their team’s stave-off-elimination victory in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, when the inevitable question was raised.
“Zim, your contract’s expiring, and this could be your last game before a home crowd,” the out-of-town reporter began. “Did you have any extra oomph at your at-bats, especially with the home run and a single right afterwards?”
Zimmerman, who over the last few years has been more than willing to share the saltier side of his personality with the public, decided to twist the lid off the container and dump a big heaping pile of sodium chloride on the restaurant table.
“There’s been a lot of people that think these are my last games,” he began, before Scherzer interrupted with his own snarky take on the situation.
“I really don’t think these are his last games,” the right-hander said. “All of you think it’s his last games.”
“The last home game they tried to give me, like, a standing ovation,” Zimmerman continued, metaphorically rolling his eyes. “I mean, I feel good. I think that we got plenty to go.”
Yes, he does. Not only in 2019, but almost certainly in 2020 as well.
Ryan Zimmerman’s not going anywhere, folks. He was a National long before any current National was a National, and he intends to still be one long after some current Nationals depart.
Yes, his contract isn’t guaranteed beyond this season. And no, the Nats aren’t going to pick up the $18 million option they hold on him for next year, instead taking a $2 million buyout. But if you don’t think the two sides aren’t going to come to some kind of agreement on a smaller, new deal for 2020, you really don’t understand the relationship between Zimmerman and the organization.
Nor do you appreciate what he still means to this team on the field.
It’s been a frustrating couple of years for Zimmerman, no doubt. Injuries have restricted him to 135 total games the last two seasons, and he’s physically been able to play more than 115 games only once in the last six seasons.
Because of that, it would be downright irresponsible for the Nationals to pay him $18 million and expect him to be their everyday first baseman again in 2020.
But let’s not ignore this simple truth: When healthy, Zimmerman is still a productive player. Combine his numbers over those 135 games the last two years, and he’s batting .261 with 19 homers, 30 doubles, 78 RBIs, a .331 on-base percentage and .791 OPS.
No, those aren’t the numbers of an All-Star first baseman (which, by the way, he was in 2017 when he hit .303 with 36 homers, 108 RBIs and a .930 OPS).
But they’re better than the numbers Matt Adams (.232 average, .293 on-base percentage, .763 OPS) has posted during these same two seasons, aside from home runs (29 per 162 games, vs. 23).
The Nationals hold a $4 million mutual option on Adams for 2020. You think they wouldn’t offer something comparable to Zimmerman this winter to return as a part-time player? And you think he wouldn’t take it?
Zimmerman’s not ready to hang them up. He’s also not about to go play somewhere else for a few extra bucks. He’s a National for life. He knows it. And he knows how rare something like that is.
“I do feel very lucky to be able to do what I’ve done,” he said before Monday’s game. “It takes some give-and-take on both sides, on the player’s side and the team side. They have stuck with me through some injuries and some bad times. And obviously, I stuck with them through some bad times, as well.
“But I think the situation that I’ve had here has been a special one. For me, my family’s close. My wife is from here. So I’m lucky: I get to see my kids for 81 games. A lot of guys are on the road. So I look at it more as I’m lucky to be in this situation. I think a lot of guys would love to have this situation, but don’t really have the opportunity that I’ve had. So I think I feel more lucky than anything.”
Don’t kid yourself, though. The Nationals are just as lucky to have had Zimmerman all this time. He was more than willing to serve as the de facto Face of the Franchise during those first seven seasons, when the notion of a .500 record (let alone a playoff berth) seemed unattainable.
And, oh yeah, he’s been a pretty darn good player who has delivered some pretty darn great moments for his team.
There are the 11 walk-off homers. Only Jim Thome (13), Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Jimmy Foxx, Stan Musial and Frank Robinson (12) have done that more times.
And there are several big October moments, as well. Zimmerman, if you didn’t know, is a career .306 hitter in the postseason, with five doubles, four homers, 13 RBIs and an .888 OPS over 78 plate appearances.
Monday’s dramatic three-run blast to center was merely the latest one to be added to the list.
What does it feel like, Zimmerman was asked, to come through in that kind of situation?
“It’s hard to explain that kind of stuff,” he said. “Same thing I’m sure that (Scherzer) felt when he got out of that jam in the seventh inning. That’s why sports are special: You can’t replicate it. That’s why you work so hard during the season, offseason, for times like that. And you fail a lot in those times as well. So I think when you do succeed and the team succeeds, you take some time to cherish that a little bit.”
And you do whatever is necessary to make sure you keep getting chances to do it again and again until you just can’t do it anymore.