WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A quiet, confusing winter led into a bustling March, full of contract extensions and perhaps a much clearer view of baseball’s immediate future.
The Washington Nationals have a player they’d like to extend in star third baseman Anthony Rendon, and it would seem an evolving market would only up their urgency to do so. But General Manager Mike Rizzo did not express that Saturday as he sat for a state-of-the-Nationals talk with a small group of reporters. He doesn’t think the surge of extensions will affect negotiations with Rendon or, for that matter, reshape Washington’s short- and long-term plans.
“There’s going to be a point where we think a fair and equitable deal is on the table, and they’ll come to the point where they think a deal is fair and equitable, and then you’ll get a deal done,” Rizzo said of Rendon, boiling the situation into a simple equation. “If not, I don’t think that the prospective free agent pool next year will affect us either way.”
Rizzo also reiterated that “there is still interest on both sides to get something done.” The Nationals made an offer to Rendon in late February, according to people with knowledge of the negotiations, around the time third baseman Nolan Arenado signed an eight-year, $260 million extension with the Colorado Rockies. Since, 24-year-old third baseman Alex Bregman signed a five-year, $100 million extension with the Houston Astros. That means fewer top third basemen will be available in upcoming offseasons — Rendon next winter if an extension is not agreed upon, and the Cubs’ Kris Bryant in 2022 — so Rendon’s value should only increase as a result.
Rendon, 28, has instructed agent Scott Boras to continue working with the Nationals on a possible extension. He has had the seventh-most wins above replacement among position players across the past three years, according to FanGraphs; the players ahead of him are Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Jose Altuve, Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor and Christian Yelich, a collection of baseball’s best. And his importance to Washington has only grown since Bryce Harper’s departure.
“I don’t think that what other teams do affect our long-term strategies,” Rizzo said. “We’ve got a plan in place not only for this year but for the long term, and I think we’ll follow that.”
The Nationals hope Rendon is a part of that plan, but the recent extensions don’t just matter for players in his class and age range. The list of extensions, in no particular order, reach up and down the ladders of experience and stature: Trout with the Los Angeles Angels for a record 12 years and $426.5 million; Arenado with the Rockies; Bregman, starter Justin Verlander and reliever Ryan Pressly with the Astros; star lefty Chris Sale with the Boston Red Sox; outfielder Aaron Hicks and starter Luis Severino with the New York Yankees; young ace Aaron Nola with the Philadelphia Phillies; reigning AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell and budding second baseman Brandon Lowe with the Tampa Bay Rays; star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, starter Miles Mikolas and outfielder Jose Martinez with the St. Louis Cardinals; closer Jose Leclerc with the Texas Rangers; second baseman Whit Merrifield with the Kansas City Royals; and, maybe most interestingly, top prospect Eloy Jimenez with the Chicago White Sox.
So while Rendon’s value may be tied to Bregman’s and Arenado’s new deals, there are a lot of ways this month could color any team’s long-term thinking. Jimenez is 21 and hasn’t appeared in a big league game, but the White Sox signed him to a six-year deal worth $43 million. Could that lead the Nationals to something similar with 20-year-old Juan Soto or 21-year-old Victor Robles? The Rays’ extension with Snell covers all three of his arbitration seasons and his first year of free agency. Could the Nationals explore that with 25-year-old shortstop Trea Turner, who has three more arbitration years and is the unquestioned franchise shortstop?
All Rizzo would say is that he’ll consider any possibility. He also offered a look into how he views buying out arbitration years. Rizzo sees it as a risk and, to balance that out, would prefer to also get the first year or two of a player’s free agency — as the Rays did with Snell, the Astros did with Bregman, the Royals did with Merrifield and so on.
“We have a blueprint and a plan in place, and keeping your talent is a huge part of that plan,” Rizzo said. “We’re open to all sorts of ideas that keep us viable and competitive for the long haul.”
Rendon is the first item on their to-do list, but it will eventually include homegrown talent such as Turner, Soto and Robles, veterans on expiring deals and whoever else enters the picture. Many teams reacted to the slow drip of the past two winters. It will be interesting to see how or if the Nationals react, too.
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