Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon has been among the majors’ most valuable players since his first full season, 2014, having recorded the league’s eighth-highest fWAR (26.4). The 28-year-old is now enjoying another magnificent campaign, one that may end with career-best offensive numbers, as he has slashed .331/.416/.669 (181 wRC+) with eight home runs in 137 plate appearances. At 19-27, the Nationals haven’t been able to capitalize on Rendon’s excellence this season – nor have they even won a playoff series during his career – and time may be running out for the club to take advantage of his presence.
Rendon is one of the game’s premier impending free agents, a player who’s likely on a collision course with a nine-figure payday over the next few months, and is far from certain to remain in Washington. Rendon has expressed interest in continuing with the Nationals, who have made an effort to extend him, but the team hasn’t been able to close the gap with the Boras Corporation client thus far. With Rendon still not under contract beyond this season and the July 31 trade deadline inching closer, the Nationals may have to decide soon whether to keep the homegrown star or deal him.
If the Nationals rebound from their shaky start and emerge as contenders over the next two months, chances are they won’t consider moving an unsigned Rendon. Otherwise, should the Nats’ woes continue, general manager Mike Rizzo could think about parting with him. The executive was in a similar position last year with Bryce Harper, whom he elected not to give up during the summer even though Washington was treading water and the outfielder was approaching free agency. Rizzo spurned interest from the Astros, Indians and Dodgers (and perhaps other unreported teams), in part because he wanted to continue working toward a long-term deal with Harper. In the end, though, the Nationals neither prevented Harper from testing the market – where he secured the largest contract ever for a free agent (13 years, $330MM) – nor exiting D.C.
Harper joined the division-rival Phillies this past offseason and all the Nationals got for their trouble was a draft pick after the fourth round, given that they exceeded the luxury tax in 2018 and he rejected their qualifying offer. This time, if the Nationals retain Rendon through the season and he walks in free agency in lieu of accepting a QO, they’re likely to receive a more appealing pick (a selection after Competitive Balance Round B). While the Nationals are only $3MM-plus under the $206MM tax threshold, ownership does not want to surpass that mark this season.
Whether draft compensation for Rendon’s departure would be worth more than the package the Nats would acquire for him in a trade is something Rizzo will have to determine. But it’s possible Rendon would be to this season’s deadline what Manny Machado was to last year’s. Machado’s then-team, the Orioles, oversaw a bidding war for the impending free agent and wound up accepting an offer of five young players from the Dodgers. Ideally for the Nationals, they’ll do what the Orioles couldn’t and lock up their top position player in advance of the deadline. If not, though, Rizzo may have an important choice to make by then.
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