Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

Nationals News

Teammates hope 'Mr. National' returns to D.C.

@zachsilver
January 12, 2020

WASHINGTON -- Of the fans clad in red gear -- most of which was embroidered with World Series insignia -- who streamed into Nationals Park over a two-day span, many got to take pictures with the trophy itself, hear from players and coaches for an inside look at the championship

WASHINGTON -- Of the fans clad in red gear -- most of which was embroidered with World Series insignia -- who streamed into Nationals Park over a two-day span, many got to take pictures with the trophy itself, hear from players and coaches for an inside look at the championship run and even hit a home run off a 21-year-old phenom.

Around 20 players of Nationals past, present and future were on hand to thank and be thanked by their fans at Winterfest. But for the first time in what seemed to many like ever, there was no “Mr. National”: Ryan Zimmerman. That Zimmerman remains a free agent -- along with the uncertainty around third base and Josh Donaldson -- is one of the few remaining uncertainties surrounding this Nats offseason.

While he was not at Nationals Winterfest, Zimmerman was at the ballpark this past week. He and general manager and president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo had a 90-minute sit-down in the latter’s office. What exactly was discussed between the two -- whose time in the organization together dates back to 2007 -- is left up to imagination.

“Love him. … He’s a guy that we are talking to,” said Rizzo, who also confirmed conversations between the sides on Dec. 17. “We’re not going to discuss [contract negotiations], but he’s a guy that, someday, there will be a statue with his likeness on it here in center field.”

The first Draft pick in Nationals history has said himself that his professional career has two foreseeable avenues: playing in D.C. or not playing at all.

“We’d love for him to end his career here in Washington,” Rizzo added.

Zimmerman's teammates feel the same. The expectation is that if he has more baseball to play -- and the overwhelming sentiment is a resounding yes -- that he'll do so in D.C.

“Zim is all I know, really,” said Stephen Strasburg, whose relationship with Zimmerman extends to his introductory press conference in 2009. “From the moment I signed here out of college, he put the jersey on my back. I think he’s instrumental to this organization, and if it were me, as long as he wants to keep playing, he should be playing in a Nationals uniform.”

“He’s the heartbeat of this organization,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said.

Baseball-wise, Zimmerman has the opportunity to fill a need. He and Eric Thames, who was signed on Jan. 8, could make up a first-base platoon. Otherwise Howie Kendrick is the lone National with a bit of experience at first.

Zimmerman, 35, was held to 52 regular-season games in 2019 due to nagging plantar fasciitis in his right foot. But when he was healthy -- like when he hit vital home runs in Game 4 of the National League Division Series and Game 1 of the World Series -- he proved serviceable.

“I know he battled some injuries, but I also know that he isn’t mentally or physically ready to be done yet,” reliever Sean Doolittle said. “I think he still has some really good baseball ahead of him.”

The speculation last season was palpable. Zimmerman fielded numerous questions during the postseason run about maybe taking some of his last swings at Nationals Park, and the emotions that come with that.

“I really don't think these are his last games,” Max Scherzer, who is 63 days older than Zimmerman, interjected during a question following Zimmerman’s Game 4 homer. “Only you think it's his last games.”

“I feel like a lot of people think I'm not going to play more games,” Zimmerman said before Game 4, “but I feel good. I feel like I can still be very productive beyond this year.”

Zimmerman had an $18 million option for 2020 that the Nationals declined in November. It was done with the hopes that the two sides could turn it into a situation that was more mutually conducive. The same situations played out and have already been resolved for Strasburg and Yan Gomes.

“The business of baseball is funny sometimes,” Scherzer said Saturday. “Things happen. That’s what we’re all kind of numb to -- the business side of the game. Everybody gets exposed to it in some fashion, so we all recognize what’s going on and we all just hope that it works out.”

Zachary Silver is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Baltimore/Washington. Follow him on Twitter @zachsilver.