The day that many Washington Nationals fans saw coming for years finally happened on Thursday, when Bryce Harper agreed to don a new uniform. With the elephant in the room finally out of the way, it moves extension talks for Anthony Rendon firmly into the spotlight.
Even though a return never seemed likely for Harper recently, it felt like the last domino to fall before talks could really commence with their third baseman. And quite frankly, the pressure is on Washington to not lose two of the best players in baseball in two straight offseasons.
Rendon’s demeanor isn’t that of a superstar who soaks up all the attention, but the stats show he truly is an upper-echelon player right now. Over the last two seasons, he led all National League position players in fWAR at 13.0, just ahead of Christian Yelich at 12.2 and Nolan Arenado with 11.3.
“For me he’s an All-Star, he’s a Gold Glover. What he does for us is impeccable. It really is,” manager Davey Martinez said of his third baseman earlier this spring. Many continue to underrate him, but the Nationals know his true value and why they need to do everything possible to keep him.
After the blow of losing a face of the franchise type player in Harper, it would be a huge boost to the Nats’ fan base to see arguably its best remaining position player signed long-term. Thankfully, the front office appears to have already made their first moves towards that extension too.
“I think we should, and I think we have, and I think we will continue to do so,” GM Mike Rizzo said at Winterfest. “He’s a guy that we drafted, signed, and developed, and he’s one of our own, so he’s a terrific player that nobody talks about.”
Rendon also seems open to the idea and is at least listening to what the team has to offer this offseason. “We talked about it over the last year or so, and if both parties can be happy, then we’ll see,” Rendon told reporters a week ago.
“If not, then we’ll see what happens. We had more discussions [this winter], but I can’t lay all the cards out on the table for y’all. I got to leave y’all in suspicion.”
Here’s where people will point out that the notorious Scott Boras is Rendon’s agent and that Boras tends to prefer his clients go to free agency to maximize their value. But remember, Boras works for Rendon, and he has clearly told his agent to consider what the Nats have to say.
“The thing is, what everyone has the misconception of is, they think that we work for Scott,” Rendon said of Boras, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jamal Collier last week. “I’m telling him how it’s going and you can ask him. We’ve gotten into some jibber-jabbers before, too, so like, I’m paying him. Nah, that don’t fly with me.”
Boras told Jesse Doughtery of The Washington Post that “[Rendon] makes all the decisions and has directed me to listen and work with the Nationals regarding any contract discussions they choose to advance.”
While contract talks are expected to pick up imminently between the two sides, Rendon doesn’t sound too bothered if the negotiations seep into the regular season.
“It doesn’t matter [whether we get a deal done before the season] to me,” Rendon said at Winterfest. “Like I said, if we can come to terms, that’s awesome, but if not, then I’ll play this season and I’ll see what happens in free agency.”
His manager shared the same sentiment. “I think Anthony is just going to play the game and when things happen they happen. He knows he’s going to get a contract, whether it’s from us or free agency, but he knows how we feel about him.”
As it always does in these situations, the dollar figure is going to talk when all is said and done. Rendon isn’t going to take an offer substantially below market value and the Nationals aren’t simply going to hand him a blank check.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that “Rendon, who turns 29 on June 6, is seeking a deal comparable to the seven-year, $163.5 million contract the Astros awarded second baseman José Altuve before the 2018 season, sources say.”
Whether that asking price is still the same after Arenado’s mammoth eight-year, $260 million deal with the Colorado Rockies is another matter. While Arenado is a far more decorated player awards-wise, the Rendon camp could make the case for an annual average value pretty close to the $32.5 million the Rockies will pay their third baseman.
It’s even possible that Rendon could exceed the $25.4 million AAV that Harper got from the Phillies. Not many would’ve predicted that earlier this winter, but the need for the Nats to retain one of the best hitters in their lineup has intensified.
The only thing that Rendon doesn’t appear have on his side right now is his age. He will turn 29-years-old during the 2019 season, so the Nationals may be hesitant to offer the straight seven years that Rosenthal reported in any contract offer.
Perhaps a deal along the lines of $150-$160 million over six years with a team option for a seventh season could be a good middle ground for the two sides. Rendon gets the long-term deal he deserves and the Nationals are able to retain their best remaining homegrown talent.
The Nationals have made their bed by letting Bryce Harper walk, now meaning that Anthony Rendon following suit in eight months time would be a crushing blow. The time to act is now. An extension for the third baseman has become even more important.