The Wednesday morning start of free agency again included Ryan Zimmerman.
Zimmerman became a free agent for the first time a year ago after the Nationals won the World Series. He chose not to play in 2020 because of family concerns associated with the coronavirus pandemic. As soon as Zimmerman chose not to play this season, he qualified to become a free agent once it concluded. So, what’s next?
He enters what is currently a very shallow pool of free agent first baseman. The leader in 2020 WAR among free agent first baseman? Asdrúbal Cabrera. However, the position is filled with players who could become significant names in free agency if their contract options are declined. The Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, the Indians’ Carlos Santana and the Padres’ Mitch Moreland are among them.
The Nationals need to restructure their first base situation. Zimmerman, Howie Kendrick and Eric Thames were slated to rotate there in 2020. Now, both Zimmerman and Kendrick may retire and the team side of Thames’ mutual option for 2020 is unlikely to be picked up. Kendrick is also under contract with a mutual option. He was unsure at the end of the season if he was going to retire or try to play another season.
A factor in the fate of each is whether Major League Baseball again uses the universal designated hitter. In a recent interview with Dan Patrick, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said he expects new rules instituted in 2020 to revert to the old rules in 2021. That would include removing the DH from the National League.
Zimmerman is assured of being in Washington because of a prior contractual condition. When he retires, a “personal services” contract for five years kicks in at $2 million annually. The sweetener was part of his 2012 extension, which ended last season. That style of deal has since been banned in Major League Baseball.
Last year, Zimmerman said he was happy to sign one-year deals going forward. He also said there is nowhere else he wants to play. Which means he will remain in Washington going forward. It’s just a question of if that is on or off the field.