The Nationals have declined their 2021 options on right fielder Adam Eaton, right-hander Anibal Sanchez, first baseman Eric Thames and infielder/outfielder Howie Kendrick, per a club announcement. Eaton’s five-year, $23.5MM deal contained club options for the 2020 season ($9.5MM) and the 2021 season ($10.5MM with a $1.5MM buyout). The Nats picked up his 2020 option last winter but will buy him out on the heels of a woeful season at the plate.
Sanchez’s two-year, $19MM deal with the Nats contained a $12MM club option with a $2MM buyout. Thames signed a one-year, $4MM deal last winter — one that came with a $4MM mutual option and a $1MM buyout. Kendrick’s $6.25MM deal with the Nats came with a $4MM salary in 2020 but a hefty $2.25MM buyout on a $6.5MM mutual option for 2021. All four players will be paid those buyouts and head back to the open market.
Eaton, 32 in December, was acquired in the blockbuster trade that sent pitching prospects Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning to the White Sox — all three of whom started games for the South Siders in 2020. Giolito has emerged as one of the game’s best young pitchers since the trade, but the others have yet to solidify themselves as consistent arms. (Dunning will surely get that chance in 2021.)
While Eaton’s time with the Nats ended with a whimper — he batted just .226/.285/.384 in 2020 — he was a key member of 2019’s World Series roster. Eaton appeared in 151 games with the Nats in that championship season, batting .279/.365/.428 with 15 homers, 25 doubles, seven triples and 15 steals. He had a quiet postseason before breaking out to go 8-for-25 with a pair of homers and four walks during the 2019 World Series.
From 2014-19, Eaton batted .289/.367/.423 with 51 homers, 133 doubles, 37 triples and 74 steals, and any club that signs him this winter will hope for a return to that level of productivity. He’s never won a Gold Glove — he very arguably should have in 2016 — but Eaton has a solid defensive reputation in right field. He’s unlikely to return to those 2016 heights that saw him log 27 Defensive Runs Saved and an 18.5 Ultimate Zone Rating in right field, but Eaton has a solid track record of above-average power, speed and glovework that should appeal to clubs at something less than the one-year, $10.5MM price point on which the Nats passed.
Sanchez, 37 in February, improbably revitalized his career for a second act when he latched on with the 2017 Braves at the end of Spring Training. Sanchez parlayed a brilliant rebound campaign with the Braves into a two-year, $19MM deal in D.C. and, like Eaton, provided considerable value to the World Champs in 2019. That season saw Sanchez rack up 166 innings of 3.85 ERA ball, and he went on to give the Nats 18 innings with a 2.50 ERA in the postseason — including a dominant, 7 2/3-inning scoreless effort against the Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLCS.
Unfortunately for Sanchez and the Nats, his 2020 season swung in the other direction. He pitched 53 innings and was tattooed for a 6.62 ERA in that time, but there’s no denying the crucial role he played in helping the Nats to their first World Series title.
Speaking of that World Series, Kendrick will go down in Nationals lore as perhaps the biggest hero of the whole season. His epic grand slam put away the Dodgers in the decisive Game 5 of the NLDS, and Kendrick again played savior when he banged what looked like a perfectly located pitch from Will Harris off the right foul pole to put the Nats on top over the Astros in Game 7 of the World Series.
Kendrick battled through injuries in his return to the Nats in 2020, however, taking just 100 plate appearances and posting a solid but unremarkable .275/.320/.385 slash in that time. Kendrick isn’t certain whether he’ll play again in 2020 or retire at this point, so he’ll take some time to ponder his future.
Thames inked a one-year deal with the Nats last winter but never really found his footing. He took 140 turns at the plate but managed only a .203/.300/.317 batting line in that small sample. The former KBO star slugged 72 homers in the three prior seasons with the Brewers, and he could fit on a club looking for a lefty bat that can platoon at first base or in the outfield corners. Given the scope of his 2020 struggles, he may need to earn his way onto a roster via a minor league deal, however.