Imagining a World Without Ryan Zimmerman at Third Base

Before the Washington Nationals finished with a better than .500 record, before they won an NL East division championship, and before Bryce Harper even started high school, they had Ryan Zimmerman. The Nationals drafted their first true franchise player in 2005, and he was meant to be an All-Star third baseman and future Hall of Famer for Washington, DC’s first baseball team since 1971.

Now, at 29 years old and in his first year of a six-year, $100 million contract, the former Gold Glove winning All-Star third baseman seems resigned to giving up the position that earned him significant respect from Nationals fans and baseball media alike.

The Washington Post’s Tom Boswell wrote a piece yesterday with some extremely compelling quotes, which indicated Zimmerman was truly willing to give up the position that made him, well, Ryan Zimmerman.

Below is Zimmerman’s most compelling quote from Boswell’s piece:

“I’ve come to some self-realizations. I’ll be the first to say it. I’ve never shied away from the truth. The last two years have been rough for me [at third base]. I’ve had to do an excess of work to be able to do what I used to do naturally. People keep asking me if six weeks off will help my [surgically repaired] shoulder. Six weeks off? Go six years back, maybe. It’s tough. It’s bone and joint.

“I’m comfortable playing wherever it helps the team. That’s why we’re all here. Down the road, left field is probably better than first base for me.”

Incredible. Zimmerman, formerly the best defensive third baseman in the National League, seems to have already given up on his ability to play the position that has made his career to this point, and it’s all related to his shoulder.

Personally, I feel nothing but nostalgia when thinking about Zimmerman’s defensive heyday. The ability to react to a line drive down the left field line or to lunge in front of Cristian Guzman or Ian Desmond at shortstop to make a pick, and then pop up to make that side armed, swooping throw to Nick Johnson or Dmitri Young or Adam LaRoche was always exciting. But there is no doubt that the ability to make these plays with regularly no longer exists for Zimmerman.

What’s more, the fact that he seems so willing to leave third base should be the most damning evidence of all that maybe a shift to the outfield is in both his and the Nationals’ best interests. It’s just hard to imagine not seeing Zimmerman at third base every day.

Assuming Zimmerman ends up in left field with some regularity, that will work fine for a month or so this season, but what about when Bryce Harper returns? Further, the Nats corner outfielder spots are pretty well solidified with Harper and Jayson Werth for many years to come, and Harper doesn’t project well as an every day center fielder, so what happens in 2015 and beyond? That’s another discussion for another post.

The Nationals have many decisions about this going forward, but Zimmerman’s complete openness to his defensive future with the team is encouraging, even if it is sad to admit that the change is inevitable. In the team’s tenth season in DC, this might be one of the biggest changes yet.

Joe Drugan

About Joe Drugan

Joe is the Managing Editor of The Nats Blog and host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast. He's been blogging about the Nationals since 2010 and with The Nats Blog since 2011.