I’ll start this post off with a movie quote from the infamous Moneyball:
"At the moment, if a ground ball is hit to first base, nobody’s going to be there to stop it from rolling."
I mean, I guess we don’t have that much of a problem. But who is our first baseman? It was pretty clear what our situation was in 2019. Justin Smoak was our guy, with Rowdy Tellez filling in and sharing the DH role to get a full taste of MLB action. It was a good set up, and by good, I just mean clear and straight forward.
With Smoak gone, and Tellez coming off an unsatisfactory .227/.293/.449 batting line, where do we go from here? Who’s our guy? Are we sticking with Tellez? The 1B free agent market is pretty weak this year, with Jose Abreu and Howie Kendrick headlining the list. Abreu is the most valuable, but being 32 years old and having a respectable campaign with the White Sox, my bet is he’ll be looking for a multi-year deal with a "win now" team. We’re not there yet. Kendrick could be an option, but he just came off a pretty good year himself with a .344/.395/.572 line. He’ll be using that as leverage to land a hefty contract likely bringing him to his retirement. We’re not in the position to give that to him. To make matters worse, 0% of our MLB Top 30 Prospects are listed as 1B. We need to look somewhere else.
Enter Mr. National, Ryan Zimmerman.
Alright, I know what everyone’s thinking. I just contradicted myself, he’s Mr. National, he’s not going to sign anywhere else. Well hear me out.
Why he won’t sign with the Nationals
Let’s be real, what are the Nationals more concerned about, re-signing Mr. National? Or addressing the missing holes they now have on their team to defend their World Series title in 2020? If you were to google "Washington Nationals Depth Chart" right now, you’ll see that 3B, 2B, 1B are all wide open. Now, Zimmerman could hold the 1B spot, but his past few years have been riddled with injuries and roughly average performance. Why would they look at a question mark as their everyday 1B? The Nationals will be looking for an upper-class free agent, à la Abreu, or search for someone via a trade.
I feel like nowadays there’s a lot of intangibles included in player’s contracts. Fan attendance, merchandise, leadership, clubhouse morale, etc. Think about Bryce Harper’s contract. Was he worth $330M over 13 years based on player’s ability? Most analysts would say absolutely not. However, no one can deny the hype that occurred in Philadelphia in 2019. Consider how many Phillies fans rushed out and bought a Harper’s jersey, or bought a ticket to watch him take a mighty cut and hit a moonshot which was caught at the warning track, or yell at the umpire after he strikes out for the 4th time (don’t get me started on Harper). The Phillies cashed in on all of that. Anyways, nobody is going to rush out and buy a Zimmerman jersey if he signs with the Nationals, odds are they already have one. So, what financial gain would the Nats receive by bringing him back? As for leadership and clubhouse morale, yeah sure I bet he brings that to the table. But the Nats have bigger fish to fry.
Why he’ll sign with the Jays
Put yourself in his shoes. You’re a guy nearing the end of your MLB career at 35 years old. You’re coming off a 0.1 WAR year and with a combined 3 trips to the Injury List in the past two years (one of which being on the 60-day), and your team just completed the ultimate feat of winning the World Series. Something they did largely without your assistance with Kendrick and Matt Adams both receiving roughly 125 more ABs than Zimmerman in 2019. Would you accept the low-ball offer the Nationals will most likely give him? The good ole "hometown" discount? Or do you look for a new challenge, and probably more money.
The Jays had the 4th lowest average age per team in the MLB last year. Which a lot of people would probably guess, and with the loss of Smoak, we only got younger. Seeing as the Nationals had the oldest team in the league last year, it definitely shows that veteran guys can play a big part, even if they don’t lead the team statistically. Insert Kendrick’s homerun in the 7th inning of Game 7. But what about his injuries? Well, you let him platoon at 1B and DH with whomever, and he’s much more likely to stay healthy.
I’d expect the Nationals to offer him a measly 1-year deal worth somewhere around $1-2M. I’d like to see the Jays offer a 2-year contract at $4.5M with incentives for ABs, this would give him the opportunity to cash in on being an everyday player in a low-stress role, instead of either fighting to stay healthy as a 1B in the National League or riding the bench as a backup.
Where do you see the Jays headed when it comes to 1B? Do you see them going after anyone else?