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All signs point to Ryan Zimmerman returning to Nationals

All signs point to Ryan Zimmerman returning to Nationals

Ryan Zimmerman reminded everyone of his future plans when standing at the podium during the Nationals’ celebratory rally. He is not retiring. Even if he meets people in their 20s who recount how Zimmerman was their favorite player when they were kids. 

Zimmerman filled the last year with firsts and repeats. He, like the team, advanced out of a playoff series for the first time. Winning the World Series and parading down Constitution Avenue added to his list of new items. Becoming a free agent is also fresh territory.

The all-too-familiar part: plantar fasciitis and a litany of missed games. Zimmerman’s meager 190 plate appearances were the fewest across a full season in his career. The total frustrated him. Head-to-ankle he felt well. His foot, however, would not cooperate. Zimmerman’s plantar fasciitis tear was partial instead of complete, forcing a drag in his recovery process. A clean tear makes for a clean recuperation protocol. The partial tear is more of a wait-and-see process. Which is also where he currently stands with free agency.

Zimmerman made clear he wants to return. He expects to work on one-year deals going forward. The team wants him to return. It will be happy to offer a one-year deal — perhaps with an option and undoubtedly with incentives — going forward. Expect Zimmerman to be the starting first baseman march 26, 2020 in Citi Field. 

“When he’s a healthy player, he’s a pretty damn good one still,” Mike Rizzo said.

So, what’s reasonable production to expect? Perhaps close to the average of 2016 and 2017. Combine those two seasons — when Zimmerman was OK then made a surprise All-Star Game appearance — to arrive at 130 games played. That is probably too high. Reduce it by 15 or so. Project home run totals in the low 20s if he plays that much. A .265 average would be in line with his career arc. 

Washington needs to find a left-handed first baseman to serve as a compliment and insurance. Mitch Moreland — 19 home runs, 112 OPS-plus in 335 plate appearances last season — appears a clear fit. Switch-hitters Neil Walker and Justin Smoak are also options, though both are better as right-handed hitters during their career and both are approaching their mid-30s.

Matt Adams could return. He fit well in the clubhouse. He understands and accepts his role. Washington declined Adams’ $4 million team option two days after it won the World Series. If it chooses to bring Adams back, which is possible but unlikely, the first base platoon could cost less than $10 million total, or $4 million less than Zimmerman cost alone in 2019.

Moreland should fetch more, even as a part-time player. Boston paid him $6.5 million in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Since he would be just a platoon player in Washington, the organization would conceivably want to drive his cost more in line with that role. 

Whoever becomes the secondary piece will likely join Zimmerman for Year 16 in Washington. He’s seen the team grow from laughingstock to high expectations to World Series champions in the first 15. 

“So you're really talking about '08 to '12, so four years of growth for an organization to then be expected to make the playoffs,” Zimmerman said before Game 7 of the World Series. “And then all of a sudden if you don't get past the first round of the playoffs, you're a huge disappointment. So it all happened kind of fast. Which, if you play at this level, that's kind of the expectations you want. You want your fans to be disappointed if you don't make the playoffs. But it all happened very fast.

“It's been fun to be a part of. It's been fun to kind of grow with the fans, with the neighborhood, with the community, with the organization, really.”

Expect it to continue for one more year — minimum.


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Scott Boras doesn’t buy Mark Lerner can’t afford both Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon

Scott Boras doesn’t buy Mark Lerner can’t afford both Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon

The Nationals have a long and well-documented history of working out deals with agent Scott Boras. Max Scherzer, Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Matt Wieters are just a few of his clients who’ve signed with Washington in the past.

But that longstanding relationship may be tested this offseason, with Boras’ prized free agents Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon both on the open market. Principal owner Mark Lerner sat down with NBC Sports Washington on Thursday, admitting that the team doesn’t expect to retain both its former stars.

“We really can only afford to have one of those two guys,” Lerner said. “They’re huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with.”

Boras spoke with The Athletic shortly thereafter and didn’t agree with the notion that Washington was strapped financially.

“The Nationals are experiencing a revenue festival in 2020,” Boras texted Ken Rosenthal on Friday morning. “World Series momentum has blossomed, millions in DC.

“The franchise value has increased by nearly $2 billion since their purchase. The Nationals made an extra $30 million winning the World Series. Attendance will increase by more than four to five hundred thousand. TV ratings and advertising rates all skyrocketed.

“Everyone in DC knows special cherry trees create revenue bloom.”

Rosenthal noted that Boras may have overstated the value of the Nationals’ franchise, as Forbes pegged it at $1.75 billion entering the season. The Lerner family purchased the team from Major League Baseball in 2006 for $450 million.

Nationals President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo spoke with reporters at the premiere of the World Series documentary on Monday, saying both free agents “know where our heart lies.” Rizzo added that while team officials haven’t sat down with either of them so far this winter, “we’ve been meeting for about 10 years.”

Whether Lerner was just using a negotiating tactic to drive the prices down or speaking bluntly on the team’s budget remains to be seen, but the prospects of either player returning to D.C. won’t be nil until they’ve both inked new deals.


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How to watch: Nationals Talk Livestream from the Winter Meetings

How to watch: Nationals Talk Livestream from the Winter Meetings

The Washington Nationals entered the offseason with less pressure than any other team in the majors after winning their first World Series title in franchise history. But that doesn’t mean they have short winter shopping list.

The Nationals lost a slew of contributors to free agency, highlighted by World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg and NL MVP candidate Anthony Rendon. They also have holes to fill at first and second base in addition to needing upgrades on the bench and in the bullpen.

At the Winter Meetings, President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo will be in close proximity of every agent and general manager in the sport for four days. NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes, Travis Thomas and Tim Shovers will be in studio while Nationals Insider Todd Dybas will be live from Winter Meetings in San Diego providing up-to-the-minute news and analysis.

Here’s everything you need to know about the event.

2019 MLB Winter Meetings

Where: San Diego, CA

When: Sunday, Dec. 8 to Thursday, Dec. 12

Live stream: The crew will go live from 1-2 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday on the MyTeams app and

TV channel: Replays will air Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night at 11 p.m.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Nationals and all your favorite teams easily on your mobile device.