After all this time, Ryan Zimmerman feels no need to be coy. He shed his obligation to pretense long ago and earned enough respect to do things his way — professionally, respectfully and without frills.
So when asked about his contract, which is guaranteed through the 2019 season and contains a team option for $18 million for 2020, Zimmerman did not speak like a man hunting leverage.
“The thought of having any problems coming to an agreement moving forward, you know, I don’t really see that happening. I still would like to get compensated fairly, but it’s not like I am going to go somewhere else and play for an extra couple bucks,” Zimmerman said. “I don’t think it’s any secret I’d like to finish here. I’m really optimistic about what will happen, and it goes back to me just staying healthy and playing to begin with. It’s on me. If I want to continue playing, I have to prove that I am worth it to keep investing.”
At times during his recent injury-plagued seasons, an $18 million option felt like it would be a significant overpay for a player contributing so infrequently — an overpay so significant that the Nationals would not be able to pick it up in good conscience. At the healthy times, that number did not feel so egregious.
When Zimmerman stayed healthy during his 2017 all-star season, he accumulated 3.3 wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs — or, in one estimation, $26.2 million worth of value on the open market. When he struggled to stay on the field in 2018, he accumulated 1.4 WAR, which translates to $10.8 million in free agent value. Over the past five seasons, he has averaged $8.24 million of value per season, according to FanGraphs.
If Zimmerman has a 2019 season similar to his 2017 campaign, the Nationals might be willing to pick up that option and negotiate a long-term deal for less average annual value. If his season resembles the seasons before and after that 2017 explosion, they might not find $18 million palatable, meaning Zimmerman might have to settle for a salary dip to remain in Washington. Either way, the 2019 season could determine the parameters of the last contract of his career.
“If you play a sport at this level and people say, ‘Oh, it’s the last year and they’re not going to pick up your option and you’re basically going to be playing for a job,' that’s why you play the game,” Zimmerman said. “ . . . You got to love to play in pressure situations, and if you don’t, you’re in the wrong spot. But going back to that, we’ve done two contracts here. Myself, my representation, has always had a great relationships with the Lerner family, with [General Manager Mike Rizzo], with anyone who has ever been making the decision.”
Zimmerman’s representation, however, has changed. For most of his career, he was represented by CAA agent Brodie Van Wagenen, who became a close friend. Van Wagenen was named president of baseball operations for the New York Mets in an unusual move earlier this offseason. Zimmerman has brushed off the notion that an agent switch will mean much to his future. He said he will stay with CAA and do most of his work with Jeff Berry and Tom Hagan, both of whom have helped out on his deals before.
“Everyone will be okay,” Zimmerman panned. “I talked to Brodie, and he was funny. He was like: ‘It’s funny how now I’m the best agent ever on the planet. Two months ago, nobody could care less who I was, and now, what are they going to do when he’s not here?' But anyway, I’m happy for him.”
In other words, as always with Zimmerman, the whole thing is no big deal. His future will pivot around this season, but he doesn’t seem to think it will pivot away from Washington. He surrendered his leverage long ago. He wants to be a National for life, and sees no reason he can’t be.
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