The Nationals enter tonight’s NLCS Game 4 up 3-0 on St. Louis and turning the ball over to Patrick Corbin as they look to complete the sweep. Seeing as only one team has ever blown a 3-0 series lead in MLB history, it’s little surprise Nats’ managing principal owner Mark Lerner is happy with his team’s position. Lerner talked with reporters (including Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post and Mark Zuckerman of MASN) about his club’s “very special” position and fielded questions about the team’s manager and best player.
Interestingly, Lerner told reporters that firing manager Dave Martinez “never crossed (his) mind,” even amidst the club’s nightmarish start. Despite entering the year with high expectations, Washington started the season 19-31, leading to some speculation about Martinez’s future. After all, the Nationals have something of a reputation for being quick to pull the plug on managers. Martinez’s predecessor, Dusty Baker, wasn’t offered a contract extension after the 2017 season despite overseeing a division winner that year, with general manager Mike Rizzo saying at the time that “winning a lot of regular season games and winning divisions is not enough.” It stood to reason that Martinez could’ve been in some hot water after the club missed the playoffs in 2018 and got off to a slow start, so it’s interesting to hear that ownership was never considering a change.
Certainly, any speculation about Martinez’s job status has gone up in flames over the past few months. Washington’s spectacular second half got them to 93 wins regardless, and Martinez’s club is now on the doorstep of the franchise’s first pennant. That’s in no small part to the efforts of Anthony Rendon. The superstar third baseman put up borderline MVP numbers in the regular season, slashing .319/.412/.598 (154 wRC+) with his trademark elite defense at the hot corner. He’s picked up where he left off in the postseason, pairing with Juan Soto to form a two-man wrecking crew in the middle of the Nats’ order.
With Rendon a few weeks from becoming baseball’s most coveted position player free agent, Lerner predictably reiterated that the Nationals would love to keep him in D.C. “We certainly want to keep him. That’s 110 percent,” Lerner said of Rendon. “It’s really in Tony’s and his family’s hands at this point. They have to decide what they want to do. He’s earned that right as a free agent. It couldn’t happen to a better guy. We love him to death.”
“Good team wants to keep its best player” is hardly eye-popping news, and we know the Nats already floated an extension offer to the 29 year-old in the range of $210-215MM, although it’s possible deferrals could’ve held the contract’s actual value a bit below that figure. As Lerner acknowledged, though, there’s little reason for Rendon and his family not to explore their options in free agency at this point.
That’s not to say Rendon’s certainly leaving Washington; he’ll just assuredly speak with other teams as he and his family attempt to find their best fit. Lerner didn’t discuss specifically to what extent the organization would be willing to go to retain Rendon- in all likelihood, even the Nationals don’t know what their exact breaking point would be just yet- but it seems the club will be in the familiar position of lurking in the background while the face of their franchise tests the open market.