WASHINGTON -- Much of the offseason focused on answering questions. Will Stephen Strasburg return? Is Anthony Rendon gone? How much of last year’s roster would return for a run at defending the title?
Strasburg returned. Rendon departed. A bevy of players from last season’s championship team will show up in West Palm Beach in little more than a month to start spring training.
A remaining question Saturday at Nationals Winterfest: Where’s Zimm?
The event rides like so many other Nationals-related productions. Ryan Zimmerman is a natural, a constant, an expected presence. Withdrawing him from the group is odd. Not seeing fans shout his name or badger him for autographs was strange. Every year, as player attendance fluctuated, Zimmerman was a lock. He was working out downstairs several days a week anyway. Making it to the second floor of the stadium or previously to the convention center wasn’t much of a chore for someone who lives nearby.
Zimmerman remains unemployed. He spoke with Mike Rizzo for 90 minutes earlier this week, but no new contract was signed.
“Love him,” Rizzo said.
“He’s a guy that we’re talking to,” Zimmerman said. “We’re not going to discuss that, but he’s a guy that some day there will be a statue with his likeness on it in center field, and we’d love for him to end his career here in Washington.”
Absorb that first sentence for a minute: “He’s a guy we’re talking to.” Zimmerman? A guy?
Math is math, a series of integers devoid of heart or soul. Organizations evolved from the pull of nostalgia into a more hard-line era. Analytics say if you can still play. The competitive balance tax carries a big-brother influence even for a team touting chemistry as a pillar after a World Series win.
“The business of baseball is funny sometimes,” Max Scherzer said. “Things happen. That's where we're all kind of numb to the business side of the game. Everybody gets exposed to it in some form or fashion. So we all recognize what's going on. We just hope that this gets worked out.”
Scherzer is older than Zimmerman (which he was proud to confirm with a smile). Washington’s clubhouse is populated with older players again this season, so the organization is not operating with an age aversion. Zimmerman wants to be back or play more golf. The Nationals have the space and power to pay him. Why the delay?
It could be tethered to Josh Donaldson. The Nationals would have to surpass the CBT to sign Donaldson, which could close Zimmerman’s window to return. Washington creeps toward an over-populated infield roster if Donaldson is on it. He would be the everyday third baseman, Trea Turner would play most days at shortstop, Starlin Castro almost daily at second base, plus Asdrúbal Cabrera, Howie Kendrick and Eric Thames would need to find a way at least into the batter’s box. Zimmerman’s services are unnecessary and redundant at that point.
Is Zimmerman not being around fathomable for his teammates?
“No, not really,” Trea Turner said. “We’ve lost Bryce, we’ve lost Tony. J-Dub, quite a few people since I’ve been here as kind of cornerstone guys we’ve gone, moved on without, which isn’t always fun. I hope Zimm’s back, obviously. He is Mr. National. The President.”
He wasn’t there Saturday. Absent was No. 11, a handful of curmudgeonly takes and his laid-back disposition. Ryan Zimmerman is a guy now being negotiated with. If it feels strange, it’s because it is.
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