Howie Kendrick talked as the Washington Nationals’ 2020 campaign wound down about the big decisions he has to make, when it comes to potentially playing his 17th season in the big leagues.
Will the 37-year-old, 2019 World Series hero, (whose 1-year/$4M deal with the Nats for 2020 included a $6.5M mutual option for 2021, or a $2.25M buyout), return to the nation’s capital for what would be his fifth season in D.C.?
“I think health is a big thing,” Kendrick said after dealing with a hamstring issue which in the end was too much to play through, and limited him to 25 games and 100 plate appearances in the 60-game campaign (over which he put up a .275/.320/.385 line, finishing at -0.3 fWAR after a .344/.395/.572, 2.9 fWAR 2019 season).
“I want to get home, get healthy, I have a good therapist there that I work with, I’ve been working with for probably about, shoot, 10-11 years now. When I ruptured my achilles, it’s the same guy that worked on my achilles, Keith Kocher. A lot of our trainers know him. I’m going to do some stuff at home in the beginning, but once I get the ball rolling again and decide what I’m really going to do about next year — I haven’t really made the decision yet.
“I’ve thought about it, but I haven’t really come up with anything. I love baseball. I love the game. And that’s one of the toughest decisions that you’re going to make.”
Kendrick was clear that if the 2020 season had been a normal one, instead of the odd, 60-game, empty ballpark experience that it was, he planned on it being his final season.
Asked about the fact that Kendrick was going into the winter on the fence, his manager, Davey Martinez joked that, “I’m holding on to his leg on the other side of the fence.”
“He’s got a lot of discussions to have with his family, and I told him we’ll stay in touch as we always do and we’ll see where he’s at,” Martinez added.
“If we can keep Howie and he can play 3-4 times a week, five times a week, he does a lot of good things for us,” Martinez told reporters late in the regular season. “As you know, he’s a pure hitter, can play some first base if needed, if the DH is still here next year obviously he could DH for us, so he needs to figure out what it’s going to take for him to prepare and be ready, and so that this doesn’t happen again.”
Kendrick’s future is just one of the big questions the Nationals have to answer over the next few months, as they rebuild after a World Series win in ‘19 and a disappointing follow-up.
“I think this year for me we didn’t get it done,” Martinez said over the final weekend of the 2020 season.
“We had a lot of bumps on the road this year, but I really fully believe, and I talked to you guys about this, we’ve got the core guys we need to win another championship.
“And I know [GM] Mike [Rizzo] and myself, we’re going to spend hours and hours and hours trying to fill the void with guys that we think can potentially help us in the future, and we’ll be back, we’ll be back on the podium, I’m really confident about that.”
Both Martinez and Rizzo signed long-term extensions towards the end of the season, so the two of them will be making the decisions together on the additions and subtractions for the roster as they build for 2021 and beyond.
“We often times — very soon after the season ends ... meet with ownership and get our strategy put together,” Rizzo said.
With the financial hit MLB teams are taking this year, after having put on games in empty ballparks during the regular season, Rizzo was asked if he expected ownership to take a frugal approach to offseason spending?
“We’re going to have our annual postseason meeting with ownership,” Rizzo said in the late-September Zoom call, (so it’s likely taken place by now).
“We’ll get some direction then, and then take those marching orders and put the best team together with the payroll budget that we have, like we’ve done every other year.”
“We’re looking forward to that challenge,” the GM added.
“This is an exciting time for us in the front office because this is when we do a lot of our heavy lifting and kind of put together the real core group that’s going to be with us in 2021.”
The building blocks of a competitive, he said, are already in place, however.
“I think we have the beginnings of putting together a very good, very long, very talented lineup,” Rizzo explained.
“That’s not to say that we don’t need to be supplemented from maybe an outside source, a free agent, or maybe a trade scenario to put us in a better position.
“We’ve got 3-4 very good young players that we hope take the next step forward.
“We saw a couple of them take a side-step this year, but we’re still very optimistic about the good young core group of guys that we have. And we think with a full offseason, and a full Spring Training ... I think we’re going to see our young group of core guys take the next step that they need to take for us to be successful. It’s not to say that we’re not going to do everything we can to improve our club, as far as offensively, defensively, pitching, both starting pitching and relief pitching. We’ve got a full wish list of things that we’d like to accomplish this offseason. And as you’ve seen in the past, we try to systematically check those items off the list as we get closer to Spring Training and Opening Day.”