Zimmerman, as anticipated all along, agreed to terms on a one-year deal today with the only franchise that has ever employed him. Once finalized it will include a $1 million base salary plus incentives, a source familiar with the contract said.
Though he opted out of last season for family health concerns - his wife, Heather, gave birth to the couple’s third child in June; and his mother, Cheryl, has multiple sclerosis - Zimmerman always suggested he wanted to return to play in 2021. And the Nationals aren’t just bringing him back out of a sense of loyalty, but because they actually need his particular set of skills.
After acquiring slugger Josh Bell from the Pirates on Christmas Eve, the Nats had themselves a new starting first baseman. But general manager Mike Rizzo made it clear he was still looking for a right-handed hitter who could back Bell up, and Zimmerman fits the bill quite well.
The 36-year-old continues to mash left-handed pitching. Over his last three seasons played (2017-19), he owns a .351 batting average, .418 on-base percentage and .637 slugging percentage against lefties.
Bell, a switch-hitter who hits righties better but is competent against lefties, will get the overwhelming number of at-bats at first base throughout the season. But Zimmerman likely will make some starts against left-handers, will come off the bench to pinch-hit and will serve as a late-inning defensive replacement for Bell, whose fielding issues are longstanding.
Zimmerman himself acknowledged prior to the 2020 season he would no longer be a full-time player but believed he could still be productive on a part-time basis. He was set to share the first base job with Eric Thames and Howie Kendrick before electing to opt out shortly before summer training commenced in July.
Whether the year off helps or hinders the 2005 first-round pick’s ability to stay healthy and remain productive remains to be seen. But he’ll certainly be fresh when he reports to spring training, and the reduced workload could help keep his body in better shape throughout the long grind of the season.
It also remains to be seen whether this will be Zimmerman’s final season as a player. After agreeing to last year’s contract ($2 million plus incentives) on Jan. 24, he said he intended to take things year by year.
USA Today was first to report today’s agreement between Zimmerman and the Nationals.