While the consensus in the industry is that the 2018 season is the Washington Nationals’ last great chance to win a World Series with their current crop of players, the team, at least publicly, insists it doesn’t see it that way. Yes, Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and a few others are slated to become free agents next year, but the Nationals believe the talent under team control for 2019 and beyond — plus other pieces they’ll inevitably add — is capable of sustaining the franchise’s recent success.
At the center of that prospective core will be Anthony Rendon, the under-the-radar star third baseman who finished sixth in the National League MVP voting after enjoying his best season in 2017. Rendon, entering his age-28 campaign, is in the prime of his career with two years remaining before he tests the free agent waters. That’s if the Nationals and Rendon, a Scott Boras client, don’t come to terms on a contract extension to stay long term — something Rendon said he was open to at Nationals Winterfest on Sunday.
“Why not stay with one organization?” Rendon said. “Especially all the heat the NBA players are getting as of late trying to leave, I’m scared to leave. No, for sure. It’s a great organization. It’s great to see how we’ve changed over the years.”
The change Rendon referred to was Washington’s transformation from 100-game losers to annual playoff participants. Rendon has been part of the transformation since breaking into the majors in 2013, helping Washington get to the postseason three times in five seasons. Team officials wondered whether Rendon would be durable enough to latch on long-term after injuries plagued two of his first three years, but he has perhaps suppressed those alarms by appearing in 303 regular season games over the past two seasons.
“Staying on top of my foam roller,” Rendon said when asked why he’s been able to stay healthy. “Stick to a routine. I think that’s the biggest key. Knowing that it’s a marathon and not a race or sprint, I think. You got to take it easy. You almost got to coast. You can’t just sprint right out the gates.”
Staying off the disabled list has allowed Rendon reach the potential the Nationals envisioned when they drafted him sixth overall in the 2011 draft. After a slow start to the 2016 season, Rendon has unequivocally been one of baseball’s best players. He finished 2017 with career highs in batting average (.301), on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.937), home runs (25) and RBI (100), while he compiled more walks (84) than strikeouts (82).
Defensively, he made just seven errors, advanced metrics ranked him among the top third basemen in baseball, and he was one of the three finalists for the NL Gold Glove award at third base. The all-around performance produced 6.9 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR), which was tied for third in baseball with NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton. A couple more seasons like that and Rendon will be one of the most coveted members of the free agent class of 2020 — if the Nationals don’t lock him down first.
“It’s something we’ll certainly discuss,” Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said at the Winter Meetings last week. “Anthony’s a big part of what we do here, a homegrown player that’s a great performer and a guy that’s a core piece of our organization.”
While Boras has a history of not having his clients sign extensions to preclude them from the jackpot awaiting in free agency, the Nationals were able to sign Stephen Strasburg to a seven-year extension before he tested the market. Would Boras go to the table for another extension?
“That’s up to them,” Rendon said. “That’s why I hired them. I dropped out of school. That’s why I got them. I can just focus on playing. They’ll work out all the kinks. Whatever happens, happens. Awesome.”
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