Anthony Rendon has never been a man who craves attention. He’s soft spoken, keeps his head down during his home run trot and doesn’t let the media into his personal life. As a teammate of the Bryce Harper, Rendon has managed to stay out of the spotlight fairly easily.
The 2018 season is drawing closer and closer to its end, which can only mean one thing: Harper is about to become a free agent. Not that any major media outlet would let you forget about that; Harper’s free agency has been one of the biggest topics of discussion around baseball since he won NL MVP three years ago.
Yet when this season concludes next month, the Washington Nationals will have another player to consider extending. Rendon will be only one year away from hitting the open market himself, putting a timeline on the Nats’ exclusive rights to talk about a new deal.
Rendon is in the midst of another stellar season for the Nats, hitting .293/.355/.498 with 18 home runs and 32 doubles through play Sunday. He’ll undoubtedly be in the running for his first career Gold Glove, as he has the fewest errors among qualified NL third basemen (four) and leads the group in several catch-all advanced statistics such Ultimate Zone Rating (5.1).
Last December, Rendon expressed an interest in re-signing with the Nationals. Although it hasn’t been made public whether the two sides ever met to discuss a contract, Rendon doesn’t appear to be actively against returning to the District.
“Why not stay with one organization?” Rendon said to The Washington Post. “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.”
After 2019, the Nationals have just two players signed to long-term deals: Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Both Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Eaton have team options for 2020, but cheap buy-out clauses in their contracts make them expendable if needed.
Of course, one or two players may join those ranks after this offseason’s much-discussed free-agent class runs its course. Between Harper potentially leaving and holes opening up at second base, the rotation and back end of the bullpen, the Nationals will likely be active on both the trade front and free-agent market.
If the Nationals do extend Rendon, he’ll be entering his age-30 season in the first year of the deal. He’ll have to compete with fellow infielders Nolan Arenado, Didi Gregorius, Xander Bogaerts, Jonathan Schoop, Scooter Gennett and Jose Abreu for top dollars in free agency, but should still command a deal within the five-year, $100+ million range.
There is some risk involved in signing Rendon long term. When he was drafted, the Rice product was considered an injury risk — hence why he fell to Washington at sixth overall despite being heralded as the best hitter in the draft. Rendon has had three separate, lengthy DL stints since becoming a major leaguer, including a toe contusion that kept him out from April 13th-May 5th this season.
However, despite his track record, Rendon’s ailments have never come back to haunt him. A quadriceps strain and sprained knee limited him to 80 games in 2015, but he’s managed to play in at least 140 games in the three other full seasons he played in prior to this year. Neither the knee nor the quad have been an issue for him.
It’s odd there haven’t been more rumors surrounding traction between the two parties. Perhaps the Nationals are comfortable filling Rendon’s position with any of the aforementioned infielders who will be free agents alongside him. Or, they might see infielder Luis Garcia — the team’s No. 3 prospect according to MLB Pipeline — who hit well at High-A Potomac this past season and could start the 2018 campaign at Double-A, as the future at third base.
The prospects of Harper’s landing destination will dominate headlines the moment the final out of the World Series is recorded. However, Rendon’s future will be held in the balance as well. It’ll be right where he’s comfortable: under the radar.