Anthony Rendon has long been one of baseball’s more avuncular superstars. As easygoing in temperament as he is fluid in his athleticism, when Rendon takes the field for the Nationals, he looks like he’s playing, well, a game. He’s quick to dispel incorrect assumptions about the game that stem from platitudes, he doesn’t put on airs (or shoes) for the press, and if he doesn’t feel like talking, he doesn’t. He said quite a bit last week on 106.7’s The Fan, however, and those listening walked away with the distinct impression that Rendon would be testing free agency at the end of the season.
Of course, pending free agents rarely extend this close to the bell, and Rendon is not one to surrender his autonomy unnecessarily. That doesn’t mean, however, that his departure from Washington is a foregone conclusion. Rendon met with his agent Scott Boras last week in Phoenix, after which Boras met with Nats ownership to continue an ongoing dialogue about Rendon’s future with the team, per Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post.
Every team has agents or other front offices they are comfortable dealing with, and for the Nationals, funny as it sounds, a Scott Boras negotiation is a world in which they are at ease. Boras and Ted Lerner – the Nats’ principal owner – have built up a fair amount of trust over the years through pulling together nearly every type of superstar negotiation, from an early extension for Stephen Strasburg, to the free agent signing of Max Scherzer, to the departure of Bryce Harper last offseason.
While it may sound overly optimistic to point to Harper’s free agency departure as a touchstone of a positive working relationship, it very well may be. Lerner and Boras know the game between them at this point, and while the ultimate price for Rendon may exceed what the Lerner’s are willing to pay, there aren’t a lot of unknowns between the parties.
Still, both Boras and Rendon have made a point to isolate Rendon as the decision-maker in the relationship, and given Rendon’s independent streak they probably mean it. Rendon sounded almost bitter over not having had an extension hammered out at any point previous during his 6-year relationship with the Nationals, but he also made clear that there is a price at which he’d happily re-up with the Nats. That price is bound to be exorbitant, perhaps even exceeding Nolan Arenado’s extension, but the premium would be to forego the opportunity to explore the market. Given Lerner’s relationship with Boras, that would seem to be an unnecessary expense on Lerner’s part.
Given the way Rendon has played this season, he has no reason to settle for anything less than top dollar. The underrated superstar has put together an MVP-type year, .315/.400/.608 while tying a career-high with 25 home runs (it’s August). His 153 wRC+ places him sixth among all qualified batters in the MLB, first overall in the majors among infielders. He is a singular superstar – in play and personality – and Boras’ relationship with Lerner only factors if Rendon, 29, really wants to stay in Washington. Positionally, third base is – after catcher – perhaps the most siloed in baseball, eliminating a couple contenders for his services (including his hometown team in Houston). Regardless, he no doubt will have alternatives if he does’t get what he wants from Washington once the season is over.
Speculatively speaking, Rendon would be an appropriate spiritual successor to Adrian Beltre in Texas – his home state. The Braves or Phillies could make a play to steal Rendon from a rival, though both teams have long-term answers nearby in Austin Riley and Alec Bohm. Looking elsewhere in the National League, the Cubs, Giants, Padres, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Reds already have money committed to third base, while the Pirates, Mets and Marlins have cheap options on hand. The American League has more third base slots available, but few offer the competitive environment available to Rendon in Washington.
The Nationals worked hard to stay under the tax this year, but they haven’t been shy about going over in the past, and they actually have a fair amount of payroll space to work with next year with Ryan Zimmerman’s $18MM coming off the books. Giving the keys to what-has-been Zimmerman’s house over to Rendon makes a lot of sense from a narrative standpoint. Rendon already supplanted Zimmerman at third base. No matter the outcome, the contract negotiations should linger into the offseason, and all parties involved seem comfortable with that.