Ryan Zimmerman: ‘We’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity we have now’
Washington isn’t simply where Ryan Zimmerman has played baseball for 10 years, and will for several more; it is home. Over the past year and a half, Zimmerman has gotten married, he and his wife, Heather, had their first child, and they made their permanent home in the Northern Virginia suburbs. So when given the chance to help the Nationals during their yearly visit to the Food & Friends center, a non-profit in Northeast Washington that provides home-delivered food to people dealing with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other serious illness, the Zimmerman family agreed.
On Tuesday morning, while other Nationals employees helped package food for Thanksgiving meals in another room, Zimmerman and Heather wrapped nearly 60 turkeys in aluminum foil. Food & Friends will prepare and deliver 3,500 Thanksgiving meals.
“We’re around now and we live here year round,” Zimmmerman said. “It’s fun to come in and see these people that work not just for Thanksgiving. One couple works every Tuesday. It’s pretty amazing to see how many people help just for fun. … It’s fun to come help and people that are less fortunate and don’t have a Thanksgiving to speak of. For them to get a meal for four or five people, I can only imagine what it means to them. It’s fun to be able to do that and help them out.”
November has been a busy month for Zimmerman. He held golfing and bowling events for his ziMS foundation, which raises money for multiple sclerosis research, the disease from which his mother suffers. His daughter recently turned one. And in a week, he will begin his offseason training and conditioning. But Zimmerman has still found some time to rest his hamstring, which he said has fully healed.
Zimmerman played in only eight games over the final two weeks of the season when he returned from his Grade 3 hamstring strain. He didn’t start any of the Nationals’ four playoff games, relegated to the bench as a pinch hitter. But in the eight weeks since, Zimmerman’s right leg muscle is back to normal.
“It doesn’t hurt golfing or laying around the house,” he said. “It’s good. I always have to continually change things because you have to evolve as you get older. It’s one thing I’ve realized. I’ll change some things up but I’ll be good to go.”
Zimmerman will return to the starting lineup next season not only fully recovered from his first hamstring injury but at a different position. Zimmerman made his pro debut at first base and in left field last season, but his injuries and Adam LaRoche’s bounce-back season kept first base occupied. But the Nationals bought out LaRoche, who then signed with the White Sox, so next season Zimmerman will play first base, an ideal spot for his worn right throwing shoulder.
“Adam is one of the better teammates anyone has ever had,” Zimmerman said. “An important part of the team. I’m happy for him, too. He was on the last three, four years of his career. And for him to go and get a good contract and play in a city I’m sure he’ll enjoy. In a perfect world, we want everyone to stay here but that doesn’t happen. It’s a business.”
As a franchise, the Nationals are at a fascinating crossroads and Zimmerman, their longest-tenured player, is perhaps the player best-equipped to offer perspective on their position. If the Nationals make no moves this winter, they will still be a favorite to repeat as National League East title winners and on a short list of World Series contenders.
“I don’t think we need too much,” Zimmerman said. “We’ve got a year left with everyone here for sure and we’ll kind of see what happens after that. We’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity we have now.
“We’re lucky. We have a lot of young guys in the minor leagues that are going to be ready in a year or two. The hardest decision is that we’d love to keep everyone but you can only pay so many people so much money. And some people — they would never say it or nobody will ever know — maybe they want to go somewhere else. They’ve earned that right. [General Manager Mike Rizzo] and the front office have done a good job of having the farm system ready to take anyone’s place if they were to leave. That was the key and the point for them: We’re going to be good for a long time. Obviously it’s hard to replace core guys if they do leave but that’s what your farm system is for and we have one of the better ones.”
The Nationals’ potential moves this winter could be to tweak the bench and bullpen. But because 10 players could be eligible for free agency after next season, including key figures such as Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, the Nationals are weighing whether to trade any of them to ensure a long-term return. The Nationals haven’t been successful in re-signing Fister, Zimmermann or Desmond to long-term extensions.
Zimmerman played for years in Washington on bad teams, waiting for a chance to contend. Finally, he was on playoff teams in 2012 and 2014, and a good team in 2013. Would the Nationals really hurt their present (a chance to win a World Series in 2015) in order to protect their future (by getting young players back in a trade for Fister, Zimmermann or Desmond)?
“It’s hard to trade them now,” Zimmerman said. “We have a team that everyone believes has a chance to do something special and have a chance to make the playoffs and ultimately win the World Series. So it’s hard to trade people away when your team is good. It’s a bad problem to have. That’s part of being good and tough to make those decisions. It’s why Riz gets paid the big bucks, I guess.
“For that to happen, it’d have to be something crazy, in trading those guys with one year left. Those guys are pretty important pieces of what we’ve done here and what we’re going to do next year. I wouldn’t say I’d be surprised because you don’t ever get surprised anymore in this business. I think it would take something astronomical in our favor to do that.”
Nationals hand out playoff shares
The Nationals divvied up more than $2 million in playoff shares, Major League Baseball announced Monday, handing out 58 full shares along with 10.52 partial shares. For making the National League Division Series, the Nationals received $2,015,860 from the players’ pool generated by playoff gate receipts. For the 58 Nationals who received one, a full share was worth $29,418,13.
While the Nationals handed out 58 full shares — the most full shares of any playoff team — only 40 players saw action this season for the Nationals. Typically, full shares also go to coaches, clubhouse managers and other team personnel.
The Nationals fell to the Giants in four games in the first round. The Giants, who went on to win the World Series, split a pot of $22,329,526, awarded full shares to 47 players worth a record $388,606. The Royals, who lost to the Giants in seven games in the World Series, divided up a pool of $14,886,351 among 54 full shares, and each full share was worth $230,700.
Stephen Strasburg on his offseason, gaming and the playoffs
The heart of offseason training hasn’t begun yet, but for Stephen Strasburg that will happen soon. He and his family went on vacation to Costa Rica and returned a few days ago. He was inducted into the San Diego State Hall of Fame, then he rushed across the country to appear at an opening of a Microsoft store on Saturday in Bethesda. Once he returns home, the winter conditioning will begin in earnest.
Last winter, Strasburg had bone chips removed from his right elbow. This winter will be normal, more relaxing and without any rehab.
“It’s been great,” Strasburg said. “Pretty low key. Just training and stuff. [Costa Rica] was our one trip and now gotta get back on it.”
On Friday, Strasburg was inducted into his college’s hall of fame, along with a class that also included football players Kirk Morrison and Pete Inge, track and field star Shayla Balentine and soccer player Kyle Whittemore.
“It was a great experience,” Strasburg said. “There were four other inductees. It was great hearing their stories. My college pitching coach [Rusty Filter] came down from Stanford and introduced me. It was great seeing everybody.”
Strasburg enjoys the offseason because he can train, play golf and spend time with his family in his native San Diego. But also among his hobbies is playing video games. Strasburg said over the last few years Microsoft promoters found out he was a big fan of Xbox and Call of Duty.
“Every single year [the game] comes out and they want my two cents and so I give it to them,” said Strasburg, who met fans and played videos games with them on Saturday. “Now I’m able to kind of do stuff like this and see all the new technology.”
In over two months, the offseason will be over and Strasburg will be back in Viera for spring training with his teammates. The 2015 season is a critical and fascinating year for the Nationals: Many key players — such as Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Denard Span, Tyler Clippard and Doug Fister — are eligible for free agency next winter. The Nationals are in their World Series window and they’ve already endured two disappointing early playoff exits.
“You look at what the Giants did this year: You really can’t control it,” Strasburg said. “You’ve got to go out there and put a team together that’s got an opportunity to play in the playoffs. And after that, it’s kind of whoever is hot and whoever can come up with the big hits or get a dominant pitching performance. Those are the teams that get it done. You’ve just got to keep putting yourself in the opportunity to win in the playoffs. I think we’ve done that. I think the organization has much higher standards to winning games and being successful. That’s all you can really ask for.”
Adam LaRoche agrees to two-year deal with Chicago White Sox
Adam LaRoche, a fixture at first base for the Nationals the past four seasons, agreed to terms Friday with the Chicago White Sox, according to a person familiar with the situation. According to reports, the deal is for two years and worth $25 million. The pact has yet to be announced and is pending a physical on Monday.
LaRoche’s departure via free agency became a certainty when the Nationals declined a $15 million option on him last month. Washington is expected to use Ryan Zimmerman at first base and keep Anthony Rendon at third.
LaRoche, 35, a key piece of two NL East title runs, enjoyed one of the finest seasons of his career in 2014, hitting .259 with a team-leading 26 home runs and 92 RBI while playing solid first base and serving as one of the Nationals’ clubhouse leaders. LaRoche won his only Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards during a strong 2012 season when he hit a career-high 33 home runs with 100 RBI.
LaRoche could not be reached for comment.
LaRoche reportedly had interest from the Miami Marlins and San Diego Padres. By signing in Chicago, LaRoche is closer to his home town of Fort Scott, Kan. He will also form a formidable middle-of-the-order power duo with AL Rookie of the Year and designated hitter-first baseman Jose Abreu.
LaRoche joins Adam Dunn as former Nationals first basemen who signed with the White Sox after leaving Washington. Dunn left the Nationals after 2010 for Chicago, creating the opening for LaRoche to come to the Nationals.
Nationals sign pitcher Bruce Billings to a minor league deal
The Nationals have signed right-handed pitcher Bruce Billings to a minor league deal with an invitation to big league spring training. Billings is expected to serve as depth at Class AAA Syracuse.
Billings, 29 spent most of the season in the New York Yankees’ system, making 15 starts at Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and posting a 5.06 ERA. He also appeared in five games as as reliever for Class AAA Albuquerque, in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ system, and had a 6.75 ERA. Billings tossed four innings in the majors for the Yankees this season, allowing four runs.
Billings has also brief major league stints with the Oakland Athletics and Colorado Rockies in 2011. He has a career 4.08 ERA in the minors, mostly as a starter.
Billings and Stephen Strasburg were teammates at San Diego State in 2007.