The Washington Nationals' offseason to-do list has already been shaved considerably, after the team made two moves to improve its bullpen and brought on a pair of veteran catchers.
Next up is pursuing a front-line starting pitcher — possibly one of Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel or Nathan Eovaldi — and, among other needs, seeing how the Bryce Harper sweepstakes shake out as the winter meetings near. Amid all of that sits third baseman Anthony Rendon, another all-star talent and another player with an unknown future that the Nationals hope to be a part of.
Rendon will be a free agent after the 2019 season, if he and the Nationals do not agree on a long-term extension before then, and is not one to talk about anything regarding himself (and, by extension, his contract negotiations). But he did lightly touch on a possible extension at the Nationals' annual WinterFest on Sunday, expressing interest in remaining with the team beyond the coming year.
“Obviously, they like me, so I guess that’s a good thing. It means I have been doing something right,” Rendon said of extension discussions. “But, yeah, I’m up for it. We’ve been talking about it over the last year or so or whatever. If we can both come to an agreement and both sides are happy, why not?”
As for whether he would like to strike a deal before the 2019 season, and avoid going through the year with free agency hanging over his head, Rendon does not see that as a priority. Agent Scott Boras, who represents Rendon, Harper and a host of other Nationals, tends to bring his clients to the free agent market, so teams can bid and drive up the price. But right-hander Stephen Strasburg, another Boras client, signed a long-term deal before hitting the market in 2016, and that could provide precedent for Rendon to do the same.
Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo has expressed interest in locking up Rendon whenever he can — a logical move given Rendon’s year-to-year consistency — and doubled down on that Saturday.
“I think we should. And I think we have. And I think we will continue to do so,” Rizzo said of making that push to extend Rendon. “He’s a guy that we drafted, signed and developed, and he’s one of our own. He’s a terrific player that nobody talks about.”
That is how Rendon prefers it. He is the rare star-level talent who would be just fine getting no attention at all. He led the National League with 44 doubles in 2018 and finished with a .308 average, 24 home runs and 92 RBI despite missing three weeks with a toe injury. He has baseball’s seventh-most wins above replacement across the past three seasons, according to FanGraphs, and MLB Trade Rumors projects he will make around $17.6 million through arbitration next season.
His salary probably will be worked out well before he and the Nationals would have to go to arbitration, extension or not, and Rizzo has made it clear that it is not one or the other when it comes to signing Harper and/or Rendon for the long term. The Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, $300 million deal at the end of the season (which he did not accept), and Rizzo estimates that Rendon’s average annual value for a long-term contract would be close to what he will make as an arbitration-eligible player in 2018. So, by that logic, the two of them could exist on the same payroll if there is an opportunity to sign both players into the foreseeable future.
Rendon is not thinking that far ahead. When discussing the prospects of signing an extension, Rendon said, “Shoot, I might pass away before the end of the season comes; a plane might crash or something.” When considering his goals for the season, he laughed and offered, “Keep the baby alive?” That was a sliver of his humor, and his aversion to delving to deep into any topic, but that doesn’t mean staying in Washington hasn’t crossed his mind.
“I think just the fact that this is all I’ve known thus far,” Rendon said of what makes that thought appealing. “They drafted me in 2011; that was a long time ago. So, you know, just grown familiar with the place and you have a soft spot, I guess, for your hometown, your first team, so why not stick with one team? Like I said last year, these NBA players, they are getting heat for [moving around]. So maybe I got to stick with one team.”
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