If anything, Josh Bell being traded to the Nationals makes Ryan Zimmerman’s return all the more likely.
Bell’s success could be boosted by putting him more in a partial platoon than an everyday situation. Call him a most-of-the-time player. In three full seasons in Pittsburgh from 2017-2019, Bell averaged 605 plate appearances. Dial that back to around 500. Give a right-handed first baseman who is a good fielder the remainder and put him on the field late in games. Allow Bell to face right-handed pitching -- he’s decidedly better as a left-handed hitter -- as often as possible.
Who is a right-handed, low-cost, skilled defender at first base? Well, Zimmerman.
If Zimmerman returns to the Nationals, it won’t happen until later in free agency -- much like last season. Though the Nationals do now have a clear idea of what first base will look like next season after trading for Bell on Thursday.
“We are thrilled to be adding a player of Josh Bell’s caliber to our team,” Mike Rizzo said in a statement. “He adds a switch-hitting power bat to our lineup. And we know Josh will be an outstanding addition to our clubhouse and our community."
Rizzo said in mid-December that he talks to Zimmerman off and on. As Zimmerman pointed out last offseason, he’s fine playing on one-year deals going forward, understands he won’t play every day, but also thinks he can still play well in a limited role.
The Washington Post reported Zimmerman wants to play again in 2021 after choosing not to in 2020 because of Coronavirus concerns. In a midsummer statement, Zimmerman cited his family as the reason he stepped away last season.
The Nationals could look elsewhere. Rizzo said he wants the roster to become younger, something he accomplished by trading for Bell. The three options to play first base heading into 2020 were 35 (Zimmerman), 36 (Howie Kendrick), and 33 (Eric Thames). Zimmerman is a free agent, Kendrick retired and the team declined its end of Thames’ option.
Zimmerman’s return would again boost the average age at the position, though it would remain well below last year’s mark of 35 years old.
So, there’s plenty of space for Zimmerman to play his 16th season in Washington should he and Rizzo come to an agreement. He’ll just do it behind Bell.