This will be more strange now -- a notable achievement. Ryan Zimmerman has chosen not to participate in the 2020 season. He announced it Monday, saying family concerns drove his decision. For the first time since 2005, Zimmerman will not be in uniform for the Nationals during the regular season. How odd.
His locker in the back of the Nationals clubhouse often held stuff in the winter. Mike Rizzo would need to call him to clear it out so the cleaning folks could do their job after the season. Before he had a sufficient home setup, Zimmerman would wander over to the park to workout, which is why he left things in his locker.
Another reason may be even more simple: he wasn’t going anywhere. For 15 years, he operated in a Nationals uniform, standing out at third base until his uncooperative shoulder forced him to first base. Other important players came and went. Zimmerman stayed, made two All-Star teams, handled most media demands and progressed from prospect to veteran grumble bunny.
This year, he will remain home with his wife, Heather, and their three children. The youngest is three weeks old. When it was thought the season would begin in May, Zimmerman was concerned about playing baseball and being around Heather while she was pregnant. His mother is a high-risk person when it comes to coronavirus concerns because she has multiple sclerosis. The choice became play baseball and avoid family, or leave baseball behind for a year and stay with family. Zimmerman chose the latter.
Money is not a factor for him at this stage, enabling such a choice to be made with more ease than for someone else. His standing in the organization is uninfluenced. Zimmerman is No. 1 in total bases, doubles, home runs, RBIs and extra-base hits. Rizzo said last year a statue of Zimmerman would eventually be outside of Nationals Park. It makes sense, even if the concept makes Zimmerman half-giggle.
Zimmerman is 30 home runs short of 300. That’s one thing to note. Retiring at age 35 -- he said in a statement he is not yet retired -- would leave him below what once was a significant milestone. Though, his organization record is far from being in jeopardy. No active Nationals player is even in the top 10.
Wondering if Zimmerman will retire becomes the next topic around him. Eric Thames is on a one-year deal with a mutual option. So is Howie Kendrick. Natural space for a part-time, right-handed first baseman exists next year, especially with the likelihood of the designated hitter remaining in the National League for good. Zimmerman still fits in the roster mix in that way.
But, do the Nationals want that spot to go to a younger player in what will be a suppressed winter market? Do they think Zimmerman’s often banged-up body will benefit from a full year off? Or will it erode his skill? Does Rizzo, who has embraced the inexpensive veteran, want a known commodity? There’s no one he knows better than he knows Zimmerman. This year’s return was always happening. Zimmerman’s contract took about two weeks to work out. Don’t read into when he signed -- Jan. 28 -- as if there was doubt. There never was.
For now, the Nationals will move forward without him. No walk-off chances, no state-of-the-team addresses, no mocking of prospect rankings he enjoyed so much. Zimmerman will remain at home, watching, rooting and parenting. And, it will be weird without him.
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