Zimmerman can play another season, but does he want to?


Age on opening day 2022: 37

How acquired: First-round pick, 2005 draft

MLB service time: 15 years, 32 days

2021 salary: $1.35 million (with incentives)

Contract status: Free agent

2021 stats: 110 G, 273 PA, 255 AB, 27 R, 62 H, 16 2B, 0 3B, 14 HR, 46 RBI, 0 SB, 0 CS, 16 BB, 77 SO, .243 AVG, .286 OBP, .471 SLG, .756 OPS, 104 OPS+, 5 DRS, 0.4 fWAR, 1.2 bWAR

Quotable: “Do I want to keep playing? I think I can keep playing. I think I had a really good year with the role that I was supposed to do. Now it’s a decision of: Do I want to keep doing that, or do I want to be around my family a little bit more?” - Ryan Zimmerman

Zimmerman-Waves-Finale-White-Sidebar.jpg2021 analysis: After Ryan Zimmerman sat out the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he and the Nationals came into this year with a plan in place: He would be a part-time player, backing up Josh Bell at first base, starting a good number of games vs. lefties and providing a veteran bat off the bench. The idea was both to keep his body healthy through a full season and put him into as many situations as possible where he could enjoy positive results.

It’s hard to imagine that plan working out much better than it did. Zimmerman got far less playing time than he ever had (while healthy) in his career, but he maximized his production. His slugging percentage was right in line with his career average. He had his best defensive season since 2010, when he was still a third baseman. He took 42.5 percent of his plate appearances against left-handers - he had never taken more than 27.9 percent before - and produced a .901 OPS off them. And, most importantly, he never spent a day on the injured list, making him the only player to make it through the entire season on the Nationals’ active roster.

Which isn’t to suggest Zimmerman was perfect. He still had some issues, most notably his surprisingly low on-base percentage. That was a byproduct of a career-low 5.9 percent walk rate despite seeing a career-high 4.06 pitches per plate appearance. He also really struggled with the bases loaded (2-for-18, one walk, one sacrifice fly, three double plays).

But at the end of the day, the 37-year-old delivered more bang for the buck than he had in years and seemed to find a role that suited him quite well at this late stage of his career. Now, about that emotional season finale ...

2022 outlook: Well, this could go one of two ways, and the ball is entirely in Zimmerman’s court to decide if he wants to return for another season or hang up his spikes and enjoy retirement with his family.

By all accounts, he doesn’t intend to make that decision for at least another month, possibly more. He planned to relax at season’s end, then once Dec. 1 or so arrived and it was time to begin physically preparing for spring training, he would make the call if he wanted to go through with it or not.

Let’s make one point clear, though: Zimmerman can still play. What he did on the field this season was exactly what he and the Nationals envisioned in a best-case scenario last winter when he returned on a modest $1 million (plus incentives) contract. The fact he was able to remain productive at the plate and in the field while avoiding any injury of any consequence was a credit to his abilities and to the Nats’ coaching and training staffs, who helped keep him available.

If the Nats were going into 2022 with a veteran-laden roster and serious visions of competing for another championship, there’s no question Zimmerman would return. That, of course, won’t be the case. So his decision really boils down to this: Does he want to put his body and mind through everything necessary to get through another baseball season in order to play for a young, rebuilding club that isn’t expected to contend?

General manager Mike Rizzo has made it clear a guaranteed roster spot is there if Zimmerman wants it. All he (and everyone else) can do is wait for him to make his decision later this offseason.

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