Age on Opening Day 2016: 31
How acquired: Drafted in 1st round, 2005
2016 salary: $14 million
2015 stats: 95 G, 390 PA, 43 R, 86 H, 25 2B, 3B, 16 HR, 73 RBI, SB, 33 BB, 79 SO, .249 BA, .308 OBP, .465 SLG, .773 OPS, 105 OPS+, 4 E, 0.7 WAR
2016 storyline: Barring something unforeseen with Ryan Zimmerman's PED allegations - the MLB has now asked the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to help with their investigation - the biggest story for Zim will once again be his health. That's because the talented slugger has missed a whopping 168 games over the last two years. His absence has hurt the Nationals' lineup, their defense, everything. And it has made it hard for the front office to see their seemingly well-laid offseason plans come to fruition.
The difference in the Nationals with a healthy Zimmerman and without one is startlingly obvious. He has the ability to be the second-best hitter on the team and one of the best all-around hitters in the NL. Few guys can hit for average and power at the level he can.
The combination of Zimmerman and Bryce Harper has the chance to be among the best offensive duos in baseball and that was evident last season. Despite appearing in only 95 games and playing through injuries for many of those appearances, Zimmerman drove in 73 runs. That's a pace of 125 RBI over the course of a 162-game season. For context, only one player in baseball surpassed that mark in 2016, Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies who had 130.
For the Nationals to reach their potential in 2016, Zimmerman has to stay healthy, especially with Jayson Werth seemingly on the decline and with Denard Span (and likely Ian Desmond) having moved on.
Best-case scenario: If Zimmerman is healthy, it's likely he will play well. Throughout his career, he has consistently produced when healthy. If he is in good health and on the field, you usually know what you're going to get.
A best-case scenario for Zim would definitely include a higher average than he hit last season (.249) and likely a lot more RBI than we've seen him produce in years. If Harper has a season similar to 2015 simply in the on-base percentage department, and Zimmerman hits behind him, how many RBI does Zim get? One has to think 100 or more is a realistic goal. His career-high, by the way, is 110 (2006).
Zimmerman perhaps summed this all up best at last month's WinterFest:
"My job is to drive in runs. Whether I hit .240 or .340, as long as I drive in runs, that's what I'm really supposed to do. Last year I did a really good job of that, I just need to stay on the field."
Worst-case scenario: Zimmerman has always been productive when on the field, but his latest injury - plantar fascia - presents some unknowns moving forward. It can be a very tough injury to deal with and some athletes are never the same.
Without Zimmerman hitting to his capabilities, the Nationals will need more production from Werth and Anthony Rendon, who each also battled injuries in 2015. Wilson Ramos, who stayed healthy but had a down year, would also be relied upon more. Every time Zimmerman goes on the disabled list the drop-off is noticeable.
Most-likely scenario: Expecting Zimmerman to play a full 162 games is probably unrealistic, but it's not too much to expect him to have better luck in 2016 than he's had the last two years. Before 2014, Zimmerman had played at least 142 games in four of his previous five seasons. These last two years have been unfortunate, a good chunk of those missed games were due to an unlucky injury on the basepaths.
Both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs project him to play more games in 2016. FanGraphs has him playing only five more than he did in 2015, but still.
BR has Zimmerman clubbing 15 homers with 62 RBI, 49 runs and an .773 OPS in 419 plate appearances. FanGraphs has him batting .263, also with 15 homers, plus 49 RBI and a .768 OPS. I would argue those RBI numbers are low, but you get the point.