CLEVELAND — Three players not on the shores of Lake Erie for Tuesday night’s All-Star Game: Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Anthony Rendon. The first two authored free agencies that hijacked all of baseball over the winter and have contracts worth $630 million between them, but they’re hitting a combined .259 in their new environs. Neither was invited.
The last of those three, Rendon, is nothing if not different. He earned his way here but declined to show. His impending free agency could be the talk of the sport. Yet nationally, it’s crickets.
“I don’t know how it’s quiet,” said Freddie Freeman, the first baseman of the rival Atlanta Braves. “I don’t think it’s going to go quiet for very long. In my opinion, he’s one of the top 10 players in the game. Everyone’s going to want him — if they even get to him.”
If they even get to him. That’s where we are in midsummer with Rendon, National League all-star in absentia, Washington National for the next 2½ months, at least. The second half of this season is so important for both Rendon personally and the Nationals as a whole that Rendon refused the only all-star invitation he has ever received in favor of rest for what, people with knowledge of the situation say, is a knee issue that needs healing.
It’s also, conveniently, a way for Rendon to avoid talking about the subject he is least comfortable discussing — himself. Harper and Machado endured protracted free agencies that hung over the sport. For now, Rendon’s potential free agency hangs only over the Nats, the only team allowed to negotiate with him at the moment.
This is, in so many ways, a different process.
“Our job is to appraise the player,” Rendon’s agent, Scott Boras, said Monday. “Our job is to advise the player. And we’ve told Anthony, ‘You’re a star player.’ And Anthony doesn’t particularly like to hear that he’s a star player.”
He is a star player who won’t mingle with the stars. Boras, it’s worth noting, was in Washington over the weekend. He met with Ted Lerner, the patriarch of the family that owns the Nats. Given the point in the process, that’s enough to raise eyebrows — and, in Washington, hopes.
On Monday, Boras downplayed the significance of the meeting, saying he stopped in five major league cities en route to the All-Star Game. His discussion with the eldest Lerner, he said, was more all-encompassing about the Nats’ resurgence — which, he also noted, includes key performances from right-handers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg and left fielder Juan Soto. Why, wouldn’t you know it? They’re all Boras clients, too.
Yet only the third baseman could walk after the season.
“Certainly,” Boras allowed, “we talked about the fact that when Rendon got off the IL, look what happened.”
Well, when Rendon got off the injured list May 7, the Nats dropped 11 of 16 to reach their nadir, from which they have rebounded. But let’s not mess with the Boras narrative, because it’s how he’ll sell his player — be it to the Lerners right now, or to other owners over the winter.
“Look, Anthony is now being understood — by everybody,” Boras said. “He is on his way to a six-WAR [wins above replacement] season. That would give him three years in a row he’s done that. There’s only one other player in baseball that emulates that level of performance [the incomparable Mike Trout].
“That is extraordinary. You’ve got to have consistency, durability, you’ve got to be good defensively, you’ve got to be great offensively, to be that guy. It is a hard standard to achieve, and he doesn’t do it in Colorado. His road numbers and his home numbers are the same.”
Subtle as an anvil, this guy. That’s a reference, of course, to fellow third baseman Nolan Arenado, owner of an eight-year, $260 million contract extension with the Rockies. I’ve written it before, but if Boras volunteers it as a potential point of comparison, it’s worth restating here: Rendon’s career numbers: .286 batting average, .363 on-base percentage, .482 slugging percentage for an .845 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Arenado’s numbers everywhere but Denver: .262/.319/.471 for a .790 OPS.
No one around Rendon believes it would take Arenado’s deal to keep Rendon in Washington. And there’s something that tells me Boras’s visit with the 93-year-old Lerner, who isn’t exactly a fixture at the ballpark these days, was something more than casual. Whether your cornerstone third baseman is staying or leaving, particularly a year after Harper walked away, isn’t exactly the stuff of passing, casual conversation.
And if Boras can’t sell the Lerners on Rendon, the National League pitchers can.
“The talent speaks for itself,” said Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Kind of the combination that you look for, right? A guy that doesn’t leave the strike zone much, doesn’t strike out a ton, makes you work at-bats.”
“He has a really good approach,” said Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets. “He’s very quiet at the plate, not a whole lot moving, but has really quick hands to the ball.”
“He just has unbelievable bat-to-ball skills,” Scherzer said. “He can hit any pitch.”
When Rendon earned his spot on the National League team — he hit .304 with a .997 OPS and 20 homers before the break — it figured to be a celebration of a career that, outside the Washington fan base and the fraternity of major league players, isn’t really understood. But his absence is maybe more appropriate. He wouldn’t have drawn the crowd of media that, say, Harper commanded when he had only half a year before free agency. But that’s Harper’s comfort zone. Who wants to see Rendon fidget and sweat through questions about where he might be playing a year from now? Even he doesn’t know.
The players, they can appreciate both the talent — and the situation.
“When you get a player who can hit, play defense, do all the little things right, goes about his business every single day and — how old is he again?” Scherzer asked. He just turned 29. “So, how many of those players can you find? There’s not many. So obviously, this is a supply and demand thing. You’re the only supply, you should be in high demand.”
The only team that can meet the demand at the moment is Washington. Maybe the world isn’t watching. His peers are.
“I don’t know how the Nationals would let him go,” Freeman said.
Enjoy the break, Anthony. Stay out of the spotlight. It’s coming. Whether you want it or not, it’s coming.
For more by Barry Svrluga, visit washingtonpost.com/svrluga.