The Washington Nationals front office’s to-do list has shrunk for the rest of this season. Washington already added to its bullpen and padded the bench, and the team can’t make any more trades in August — because no team can — leaving roster maintenance, the daily shuffling and September call-ups as some of the few remaining tasks.
That doesn’t mean the Nationals won’t be busy. That’s still a lot to do. But it does mean even more focus can be shifted to Anthony Rendon. The star third baseman will be a free agent at the end of this season unless he and the Nationals agree to an extension before Nov. 1. And his leverage is only growing in a career year, now including the triple and home run he hit in a 7-6 loss to the New York Mets on Friday night.
A radio back-and-forth last week made free agency seem almost inevitable for Rendon. The 29-year-old told 106.7 the Fan hosts July 30 that he’s interested in checking out different car lots — as in negotiating with other teams — but could still come back to this lot (Washington) after he does. He added that he hadn’t spoken to the front office about an extension in “a few weeks, maybe a month” and about a specific deal for even longer.
So on July 31, General Manager Mike Rizzo suggested Rendon should call his agent, Scott Boras, if he didn’t think discussions were active. Rizzo, also on the Fan, slipped in that Boras sent the Nationals a “counterproposal” July 15.
Those were the latest public comments on the situation. Then the Nationals flew to Phoenix for the start of a 10-game road swing, and Boras flew there, too. Boras and Rendon met during the weekend series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, according to a person with knowledge of the check-in, to review the options moving forward.
Boras has been in frequent contact with Ted Lerner, the Nationals’ founding principal owner, in the past month following their four-hour meeting at Nationals Park on July 6. That’s a common occurrence when the Nationals are working with Boras clients because Boras and Lerner, 93, have struck a few big deals in the past decade.
Rendon says there is, naturally, a contract Washington could offer to keep him off the open market. But multiple people involved believe that indications are reality and Rendon will become a free agent once the season is through.
“I mean, the opportunity has been there for five, six years now,” Rendon said on the Fan last week. “And still open to it, still all ears, but the closer we get to that opportunity, it makes more sense as a player to think about my family and all these other variables that come into play. Why not look forward to it?”
Ted Lerner ceded control of the franchise to his son, Mark, in June 2018. But he remains involved, especially in regard to Boras, according to multiple people with knowledge of the organization’s dynamics. Rizzo even mentioned Ted — known around the Nationals as Mr. Lerner — in his comments on Rendon’s pending free agency, saying: “The dialogue is open, and we continue to discuss it. Mr. Lerner and myself and Scott, we’re working on it, and so is Mark Lerner, so we’re trying to get it done.”
Ted Lerner played a key role in a pre-free agency contract extension for Stephen Strasburg in May 2016 and a seven-year, $210 million deal for Max Scherzer in January 2015. Both Strasburg and Scherzer are Boras clients. It was also Ted Lerner who hosted Boras, Bryce Harper and Harper’s wife, Kayla, for a meeting at his Palm Springs, Calif., home in December, when a Harper return to Washington was still a possibility.
The Orange County-based Boras makes an annual visit to see Lerner there, regardless of whether they have contracts to negotiate. And with Rendon demanding a lot of money by virtue of his production — and his camp using Nolan Arenado’s eight-year, $260 million extension with the Colorado Rockies as a jumping-off point — the Lerner family will be at the forefront. To spend that much — or not — is ultimately an ownership decision.
The elder Lerner’s enduring involvement does not mean Rendon will sign an extension by season’s end. But it does add another layer to negotiations, recalls history between the Nationals and Boras clients and should keep anything somewhat possible in the coming weeks. Rendon has stated, pretty plainly, that he’s too close to free agency to pass it up. Why wouldn’t a premier player — who entered Saturday with 25 home runs and a 1.009 on-base-plus-slugging percentage — want multiple teams bidding on him?
Rendon first mentioned back in the spring that Boras works for him and not the other way around. Boras then echoed that in comments to The Washington Post, saying: “I work for Anthony. He makes all the decisions and has directed me to listen and work with the Nationals regarding any contract discussions they choose to advance.”
This is in part a way to shake the narrative that Boras takes clients to free agency without any other consideration. But the agent-client relationship here hasn’t changed. Rendon still wants Boras to work with the Nationals until their exclusive negotiation rights run out this fall. Rendon met with Boras before the agent sat down with Lerner and other members of the Nationals’ ownership group in early July. Rendon and Boras met afterward, too, and later caught up in Phoenix to touch base and look ahead. It won’t be the last time.
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