Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is currently on the disabled list with a broken thumb, but when he comes back, he may no longer be “Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals third baseman.”

According to Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post, the Nationals officials and coaches have internally discussed the idea of moving Zimmerman to left field when he returns from the disabled list.

The idea of moving Zimmerman away from third base has been floated around for multiple years now, and with his latest defensive struggles and Anthony Rendon playing strongly at third, it appears the time to do so could be now. And with Zimmerman’s arthritic shoulder, the sooner he can move away from the hot corner, the better.

As Kilgore points out, the Nationals have some confidence in the idea, based on the logic that if Michael Morse can learn left field, the more-defensively solid Zimmerman should have no troubles doing so. Morse was a shortstop coming up through the minors and moved to first base upon reaching the majors. 

Kilgore also brings up the point that the Nationals have no reason to make this idea public just yet. The team is still unsure of when Zimmerman will return from the disabled list, and Zimmerman himself would probably not be fond of worrying about position change speculation during his rehab. The idea is also not set in stone just yet, so the team will likely keep quiet until it is.

The other interesting part of this idea is what becomes of current left fielder Bryce Harper in all of this. Harper, like Zimmerman, is currently on the shelf as he recovers from his own broken thumb that he injured sliding into a base. But when he comes back (most think in early July), there’s no doubt the Nationals will want to get his bat right back into the lineup.

The most likely scenario if Zimmerman does move to left field is sliding Harper over to center. Denard Span is currently manning center field, but he’s posted an unimpressive (though steadily improving) .243 average and .296 on-base percentage to this point. Span is also set to become a free agent after this season, so the Nationals presumably would make taking care of Harper and Zimmerman (both signed through at least 2018) their priority. 

Harper, a converted outfielder in his own right, has had experience in center before. In 2012, he played 92 games at the position and he saw nine more games in 2013. While it may sound like he’d struggle transitioning defensively, Harper has actually posted a higher fielding percentage (.978 as opposed to .971) and UZR (9.8 as opposed to -3.1) in center field than left over the course of his big-league career.

While first base has long seemed like the most likely new position for Zimmerman, current first baseman Adam LaRoche is hitting too well (.319, five home runs, 21 RBIs) to justify benching him in favor of the third baseman. Additionally, locking Zimmerman in as the first baseman of the future would potentially limit the team’s power production from the position down the line; Zimmerman’s bat fits much better out of left field. It’s an idea that we haven’t heard before, but when it’s broken down, it just might make perfect sense.

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