Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman doesn’t think 2021 has to be his last season

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Matt Weyrich
·4 min read
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Ryan Zimmerman doesn’t think 2021 has to be his last season originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Ryan Zimmerman spent most of last summer at his Northern Virginia home, watching his Nationals teammates struggle through a shortened season while riding out the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic with his wife Heather and their three children.

The career National contemplated stepping away from the game after opting out of the 2020 season. It would’ve allowed his career to end on a high note after his final at-bat came in Washington’s Game 7 win over the Houston Astros to conclude the 2019 World Series. But as the season went on, Zimmerman realized just how much he missed being a baseball player.

“Once I decided not to play last year, I don’t think it was ever 100 percent but I don’t think it was under like a 95 percent [chance of permanent retirement],” Zimmerman said in a Zoom press conference Saturday. “Once I was hanging out at home and watching the games and kind of getting into life without baseball, I think that number shot up to pretty close to 100 percent very quickly on my end and probably Heather’s end as well.

“Even Heather and the girls thought it was weird not having baseball in our life. It’s all we’ve really known together as a family. So I guess I would say I definitely always thought I was going to come back and I’ve been working out since probably September, October so if I could just have 11 months off between every year that would be great.”

Zimmerman is back on a one-year, $1 million deal with some incentives, though he’ll have a different role than the one he’s had in recent years. Now 36 years old and a bench player for the first time, Zimmerman has reached the twilight of his career. Injuries have limited him to just one full season since 2014, so it would come as no surprise if Zimmerman announced that 2021 would be his last.

But the veteran infielder has indicated the opposite. He said this year is no “victory lap” for him to soak up one more season. Zimmerman is looking forward to his new job with the team and could see himself doing it beyond 2021.

“If I can kind of settle into this role and do well this year, by no means does this have to be my last year,” Zimmerman said. “At least, that’s the way I’m looking at it. I’m not coming back to get a last at-bat in front of fans. I’m fine with how my career would’ve ended if I didn’t come back.”

The Nationals traded for first baseman Josh Bell on Christmas Eve, hoping to inject a 30-homer bat into the middle of their lineup. Bell has two years left on his rookie deal, so Zimmerman could make sense as a platoon/backup option for the Nationals at least through 2022. He hits left-handed pitchers well, an area that the switch-hitting Bell has struggled with in his career. If he serves as a viable complement to Bell, there’s no reason to think Zimmerman couldn’t run it back the following year.

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First, Zimmerman must show that he didn’t pick up any rust in 2020 and can stay healthy with a diminished role. His veteran presence in the clubhouse is something both GM Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Martinez have spoken highly of, so he will always have that going for him.

This season will be a test for Zimmerman. But now armed with the perspective of watching his teammates from afar, he will look to prove that he’s still capable of contributing to a competitive roster even as one of the older players in baseball.

“I realized how much I missed, not the game…I missed more just the day to day, being in the clubhouse, the competitiveness of being on the field I think is what I missed the most, the grind of getting your body ready to play every day — things that don’t sound that fun but when you don’t get to do them you kind of  miss them a little bit,” Zimmerman said.