Should Zimmerman Start the Year in Left?

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With the news coming out that Jayson Werth will be out for the next 2-3 months following shoulder surgery, the Nationals may be down an outfielder come Opening Day. So whose going to step and man the final outfield spot next to Denard Span and Bryce Harper? Nate McLouth? Michael Taylor? Kevin Frandsen? How about Ryan Zimmerman?

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When diagnosed with an arthritic throwing shoulder, it was clear that Zimmerman could no longer play everyday at third base. He had played all but one game at third base in his entire career and that one game was at shortstop which wouldn’t be a fit for him either. Obviously he needed a new position and with Bryce Harper out with a thumb injury, Matt Williams was able to experiment with him in left field. The results weren’t bad. Zimmerman never committed an error and even had two outfield assists.

Zimmerman would again get hurt before Harper returned, so the Nats weren’t forced to try to fit him into the lineup with everyone else being healthy. The plan was for him to take over the first base job starting in 2015 after Adam LaRoche left to go to the White Sox. The issue with this is Zimmerman has only started one game in his entire career at first and has played there in just four others. He will be working full time this spring trying to get as good as he possibly can at playing the position, but it’s still a risky bet that he’ll be able to learn.

Werth’s injury is an opportunity to delay the inevitable. The question is is that a good idea? He’ll have to play first eventually unless a perfect storm of injuries allows him to remain in the outfield, but that’s extremely unlikely.

If he was to start the year in left, the Nats would still need someone to cover first in the meantime, and is that someone better than the team’s current outfield options? Ian StewartClint Robinson, and Mike Carp came to the Nationals on minor league deals and all of them could play first. Robinson is a natural first baseman, while Stewart is not but has played the position in the majors. Carp played 32 games at first base with the Red Sox and Rangers combined last season. Kevin Frandsen and Tyler Moore are the other two players on the 40-man roster who have experience at first next to Zimmerman, but they’ve also played in the outfield as well. Michael Taylor and Nate Mclouth would be two options to start in the outfield who are already on the 40 man roster.

That list of guys isn’t exactly awe inspiring. None of them are going to come close to replacing production of Werth, but some may fit better than others. Stewart, Robinson, Carp, and McLouth would all add a lefty bat to right handed heavy lineup, but none of them were very successful in the majors in 2014. Stewart and McClouth each hit below .200, Carp had a combined .175 average, Robinson just had 10 plate appearances with the Dodgers last year. On the flip side, the righties aren’t very impressive either. Taylor struggled in his first big league action last year, while Frandsen and Moore have never played well enough to earn any sort of regular playing time throughout their careers.

Basically, there are no great options. There isn’t an advantage, in regards to the lineup, of playing Zimmerman at either position. At the end of the day, moving him from first to left doesn’t open the door for anyone special. All it does is give him less time to become more proficient at defending the position he’ll likely spend the rest of his career playing. While he may be more comfortable in left, Zimmerman has to be playing first Opening Day if he’s healthy.

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