- Agent Scott Boras expressed skepticism regarding the Nationals’ recent declaration that they can’t afford both Rendon and Stephen Strasburg. The super-agent tells Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription link) that he sees ample capacity for the D.C. organization, which has done quite a lot of business with Boras over the years (to mutual satisfaction, for the most part). Britt Ghiroli provides further assessment of the situation in another Athletic piece, proffering a sensible distinction between what the club can do and what it prefers. As she points out, too, it’s also possible that owner Mark Lerner made the comments to buttress his bargaining position. And it’s probably fair to add that the Nats have generally not shied from carrying big payrolls and making large commitments in the recent past.
If there was any doubt as to the Phillies’ all-in intentions after they inked Zack Wheeler, this would seem to resolve it. The organization had spoken of its disinclination to part with draft compensation to land free agents. But having done so for Wheeler, adding another qualifying offer-declining free agent would actually cost less in draft capital.
Should the sides end up seeing eye to eye on a contract, Rendon would be following Bryce Harper in a dramatic trip north on I-95. It’s not difficult to see the match on paper. Rendon is an exceptional all-around player who’d fill the void at the hot corner for the Phils. The team grew tired of waiting for Maikel Franco to establish himself there and isn’t inclined to sit on its hands until top prospect Alec Bohm is ready.
Plenty of other teams (the incumbent Nationals among them) would likewise love to slot Rendon in at third base. He’s being courted by a variety of organizations. Rumors persist that Rendon would be interested in a somewhat shorter, higher-AAV contract — the precise opposite of the angle Harper took. Whether that sort of arrangement would suit the Philadelphia club’s needs isn’t known.
What is clear is that the involvement of the Phillies only serves to buttress Rendon’s market. Entering the winter, we predicted a $235MM guarantee over seven years. It seems that Rendon does indeed have that kind of earning power, even if he ultimately elects to take a shorter contract with greater single-season salaries.
9:00am: The two sides have finalized a one-year deal that promises Kendrick a $6.25MM guarantee, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports (Twitter link). It’s the same guarantee that Steve Pearce received from the Red Sox on the heels of his own postseason heroics following the 2018 World Series.
8:47am: The Nationals are “closing in” on a deal to bring postseason hero Howie Kendrick back to the team, Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post reports (via Twitter). It’ll be a one-year deal with a mutual option for the Reynolds Sports client once completed, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweets, adding that Kendrick spurned guaranteed two-year offers to return to Washington.
Kendrick, 36, has been nothing short of outstanding with the Nats over the past two seasons, hitting a combined .331/.375/.541 with 21 homers, 37 doubles and a triple through 530 plate appearances. With Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Adams, Brian Dozier and Asdrubal Cabrera all entering free agency, the Nats have some uncertainty at first base and second base, making a reunion with Kendrick a rather sensible pursuit.
Of course, as good as Kendrick has been during the regular season, it was his postseason heroics that truly endeared him to fans and entrenched his place in franchise lore. Kendrick’s 10th-inning grand slam against the Dodgers in the NLDS put Washington up for good and sent them toward a date with the Cardinals in the NLCS, where Kendrick was named the series MVP after hitting .333/.412/.600 in a four-game sweep. And in the World Series, it was Kendrick’s remarkable Game 7, opposite-field shot off the foul pole that put the Nationals ahead by a 3-2 margin they’d never relinquish.
Kendrick becomes the second member of the Nationals’ championship club to re-up on a new contract, joining catcher Yan Gomes, who agreed to a two-year, $10MM contract two weeks ago. The Nats still have bigger targets to address, as both Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon are looming on the free-agent market, but Kendrick’s return shores up some infield needs and ensures that one of their most productive bats over the past two and a half seasons will remain in the fold.
Even with Kendrick aboard for another season, the Nationals’ 2020 payroll currently projects to about $132MM, while their luxury-tax considerations come in around $142MM (via Jason Martinez of Roster Resource). Viewed through that lens, it certainly seems as though the Nats have the payroll capacity to retain both Strasburg and Rendon, although owner Mark Lerner perhaps dubiously suggested otherwise yesterday in claiming his club could only afford to sign one of its two departing stars to a long-term deal. The Nats do have some pricey arbitration cases beginning to mount — Trea Turner is a second-time-eligible Super Two player in 2020 and Juan Soto will be eligible in 2021 — but Patrick Corbin is currently the only player the team has signed beyond the 2021 campaign.
Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner expressed doubt about his franchise’s ability to re-sign both Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg this offseason, as Lerner told NBC Sports Washington’s Donald Dell. (Todd Dybas of NBC Sports Washington has early details about the interview, which will take air in full on Dell’s show on December 17.)
“We really can only afford to have one of those two guys,” Lerner said. “They’re huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with….We’re pursuing them, we’re pursuing other free agents in case they decided to go elsewhere. Again, it’s not up to us. We can give them a great offer — which we’ve done to both of those players. They’re great people. We’d be delighted if they stay. But it’s not up to us, it’s up to them. That’s why they call it free agency.”
MLBTR’s ranking of the winter’s top 50 free agents (which, incidentally, predicted both Rendon and Strasburg would wind up back in D.C.) projected Rendon for a seven-year, $235MM deal and Strasburg for six years and $180MM. That works out to a little more than $63.57MM in average annual value if the Nationals were to land both players at those projected prices, and since Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez estimates the Nats’ current luxury tax number at just under $135.32MM, that would bring the total to roughly $199MM.
This leaves Washington with some wiggle room under the $208MM luxury tax threshold to add more roster upgrades beyond only Rendon and Strasburg, though surpassing the tax threshold seemingly wouldn’t be a problem since the Nats were willing to pay the tax in both 2017 and 2018. By ducking under the threshold last season, the Nationals would again be charged at the “first-timer” rate of a 20 percent tax on the overage of any payroll that falls between $208-$228MM. Since Adam Eaton, Anibal Sanchez, Sean Doolittle, and Kurt Suzuki could all come off the books after the 2020 season, the Nationals could potentially even get back under the 2021 threshold ($210MM) or at worst pay another minimal penalty by staying within the $210-$230MM range.
Of course, the Nats would further shave more money off their payroll with other moves, or Rendon and Strasburg could also end up costing more money than our projected figures. But, strictly speaking, there isn’t any real financial barrier preventing the club from re-signing both players. Lerner’s declaration could be something of a tactic, Dybas writes, since it would be “poor negotiating” to “flatly state the organization is going to find a way to pay both….Being in between serves multiple needs: It keeps the door open on each player; it stirs the market without roiling it; it prepares fans for an outcome they don’t prefer.”
While the Nationals haven’t been afraid to spend big on free agents or player salaries in general, they face a unique situation in having two star players (both represented by the same agent, Scott Boras) hit the open market at the same time. Several teams have already been linked to both players, including some of the game’s wealthiest franchises — the Dodgers have spoken to both, while the Rangers have interest in Rendon, and the Phillies and Yankees are known to be interested in Strasburg. Since the bidding will be high for both players, the Nats could re-direct their resources towards one player in particular if the price tag for the other becomes truly untenable.
We’ve been tracking the day’s arbitration decisions in the run-up to tonight’s deadline, which has produced a bevy of last-minute calls. In addition to those already covered elsewhere (with all projected salary figures from MLBTR/Matt Swartz projections) …
- The Padres announced they have non-tendered Miguel Diaz and Pedro Avila. Neither hurler had yet been eligible for arbitration, so this amounts to no more than a roster cleanup. Avila had already been designated for assignment. Diaz, meanwhile, saw extensive action as a Rule V pick in 2017 but has only sporadically logged MLB time since.
- Relievers Javy Guerra and Koda Glover were non-tendered by the Nationals, per a club announcement. Guerra would have cost a projected $1.3MM. Glover announced earlier today that he would retire.
- The Red Sox non-tendered infielder Marco Hernandez and reliever Josh Osich, per a team announcement. Neither projected at big dollars — $700K and $1.0MM, respectively — but obviously the club felt it could put the roster spots to better use on other players.
- The Blue Jays have non-tendered relievers Derek Law and Jason Adam, along with backstop Luke Maile. Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca (via Twitter) and Scott Mitchell of TSN (on Twitter) were on the news. Law projected at $1.3MM, while Maile was in line for a $800K payday. Adam is still pre-arb eligible.
- The Giants announced today that they have non-tendered outfielder Joey Rickard ($1.1MM projection), southpaw Tyler Anderson ($2.625MM), and righty Rico Garcia (pre-arb). Both Anderson and Garcia were claimed from the division-rival Rockies after the end of the 2019 season.
- In addition to other moves earlier today, the Braves have non-tendered catcher John Ryan Murphy and outfielder Rafael Ortega. Each provided depth down the stretch in 2019 for the Atlanta organization. Murphy would’ve been owed a projected $1.2MM, while Ortega remains shy of arbitration eligibility.
- A host of players were non-tendered by the Royals, per a club announcement. Righty Jesse Hahn was cut loose along with infielders Humberto Arteaga, Cheslor Cuthbert and Erick Mejia. Among these players, Hahn (projected $900K) and Cuthbert ($1.8MM) have the most MLB experience. With these 40-man trimmings, the K.C. org should be able to place some claims and/or make Rule 5 selections in the coming weeks.
- Righties Ian Gibaut and Wei-Chieh Huang are each heading to free agency after being non-tendered by the Rangers. Neither is anywhere near the service time needed for arbitration eligibility, so this was just an opportune time for the Texas org to drop them from the MLB roster.
We’re in the early stages of what should be a busy offseason for the Nationals. Third baseman Anthony Rendon and right-hander Stephen Strasburg stand out as the reigning champions’ top free agents, but franchise icon and first baseman Ryan Zimmerman could also be on his way out. Zimmerman discussed his future with Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post and other reporters Monday (Twitter links), when the 35-year-old suggested he’ll either re-sign with the Nationals or retire. It doesn’t seem Zimmerman will have to hang up his cleats yet, though, as Dougherty writes “it’s just a matter of ironing out the details” on a new contract.
At this point, Zimmerman may be best known as the first draft pick in the history of the Washington franchise. The club selected Zimmerman fourth overall in 2005, just months before its first season out of Montreal. Zimmerman soon evolved into a franchise player, though injuries limited his impact and helped tamp down his production in recent years. This past season, Zimmerman hit a less-than-stellar .257/.321/.415 with six home runs in 190 plate appearances, but there were moments in which he came up large during the Nats’ unexpected run through the playoffs en route to their first-ever World Series title.
If the Nationals do bring Zimmerman back, it won’t be for a bank-breaking total. He’s likely only in line for a one-year deal worth a couple million dollars. At the same time, the team’s facing the departures of free-agent first basemen Howie Kendrick and Matt Adams.
As for Rendon and Strasburg, there’s not much new to report. General manager Mike Rizzo said Monday (via Dougherty) that the club hasn’t met with agent Scott Boras, who represents both players. However, there have been discussions in regards to the two with Boras, who – according to Rizzo – “knows where they stand.”
With tonight’s 8pm ET deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players looming, there’ll be several players who agree to one-year contracts for the 2020 season today. It’s common for the day of the non-tender deadline to be a big one for arbitration agreements, though it’s also worth noting that many of the players who agree to terms today will do so at a rate that’s lower than the salary figures projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz.
Broadly speaking, players who agree to terms on a salary this far in advance tend to be those who were at risk of being non-tendered, and their teams are able to use tonight’s deadline as leverage in bringing about a deal that saves them a bit of cash. A look at some of the early instances of players agreeing to terms reveals this to be true already; Mike Zunino ($4.5MM salary vs. $4.9MM projection), Wilmer Difo ($1MM salary vs. $1.2MM projection) and Scott Alexander ($875K salary vs. $1MM projection) have all agreed to lesser terms rather than risk being cast out into the free-agent market.
We’ll keep track of today’s players who avoid arbitration in this post and update throughout the day…
- The Padres have a deal for $1.5MM with infielder Greg Garcia, Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets. That’s a shade under his $1.7MM projection for the 30-year-old.
- Infielder Orlando Arcia has avoided arbitration with the Brewers, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today (via Twitter). Though he’s set to lose some playing time, it seems Arcia will be expected to retain a notable role. He’s considered a talented defender at short and was long expected to come around with the bat, but it hasn’t happened yet.
- Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes is in agreement on a $1.1MM deal, per Robert Murray (Twitter link). It’s a guaranteed deal, which isn’t standard for arbitration pacts. Barnes had projected at $1.3MM on the heels of a disappointing season. It seems he’ll be asked to function as the club’s second backstop in 2020.
- The Rangers have a deal in place with right-hander Nick Goody, the club announced. He’ll earn $915K, according to MLB.com’s TR Sullivan (via Twitter). Goody projected to earn $1.1MM, so he’s taking a discount on that mark with his new club.
- Just-acquired righty Jharel Cotton has agreed to a $640K deal with the Cubs, Rosenthal tweets. Cotton had projected at $800K but he’s surely focused first and foremost on getting a significant MLB opportunity. He didn’t quite make it back to the majors in 2019 after a long injury layoff but figures to represent a swingman option for the Chicago club in 2020.
- Outfielder Alex Dickerson and lefty Wandy Peralta are in agreement with the Giants, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (Twitter links). Dickerson settled for $925K, which is well under his $1.2MM projected earning power. The 29-year-old has had trouble staying healthy but usually hits when he is on the field. He rewarded the San Francisco organization for taking a shot on him last year by turning in a .290/.351/.529 batting line in 171 plate appearances. As for Peralta, he lands right at his projected value with a $805K salary. The 28-year-old was claimed off waivers late in the 2019 season.
- The White Sox and James McCann avoided arbitration with a one-year deal worth $5.4MM, tweets ESPN’s Jeff Passan. McCann’s deal checks in a half million dollars north of his $4.9MM projection. Chicago’s addition of Yasmani Grandal has likely relegated McCann to backup duties, so he’ll be a rather expensive second catcher for the South Siders. A free agent next winter, McCann hit .273/.328/.460 with a career-high 18 home runs, but his bat went dormant in the season’s final few months and his .359 BABIP seems particularly ripe for regression.
- The Athletics avoided arbitration with left-handed reliever T.J. McFarland by agreeing to a one-year contract worth $1.8MM, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweets. That salary effectively puts McFarland in line for the same salary he’d have received had he had his $1.85MM club option exercised by the Diamondbacks. Arizona, however, bought him out for $50K and then ran him through waivers, at which point the A’s claimed him. The 30-year-old posted a 4.82 ERA with a middling 5.6 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in 56 2/3 innings this past season, but he’s a ground-ball behemoth (61.1 percent). He’ll be a free agent next winter and had been projected at $2.1MM.
- Infielder Ehire Adrianza and the Twins agreed on a $1.6MM salary for the upcoming season, Nightengale tweets. The versatile utilityman hit .272/.349/.416 in 236 plate appearances while appearing at all four infield spots and both outfield corners. Adrianza, a free agent next winter, was projected at $1.9MM.
- Outfielder Travis Jankowski agreed to a rare arbitration pay cut with the Reds, Bobby Nightengale Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer tweets. After earning $1.165MM in 2019, he’ll be owed $1.05MM in 2020 if he makes the club. A fractured wrist cost him much of the season in 2019, and he was just 4-for-22 when healthy and in the Majors. Jankowski did have a nice season in Triple-A, though (.393 OBP in 39 games), and the Reds gave up some international funds to acquire him, which seemingly indicated that they planned to tender him a contract. He was projected to earn $1.2MM.
In a surprising and saddening development, Nationals reliever Koda Glover has announced that he’s retiring as a player at just 26 years of age. Injuries have ravaged the former eighth-round pick’s promising career and limited him to just 55 1/3 innings since making his Major League debut as a 23-year-old back in 2016.
Glover had Tommy John surgery before he was even drafted by the Nationals and has also battled a torn labrum in his hip, repeated back and shoulder troubles and, in 2019, a forearm strain that generated concerns about yet another elbow surgery.
“I write to you all today with great despair, that I will be announcing my retirement from professional baseball,” Glover writes. “I have experienced a number of injuries the past three years and I believe it is time to step away from my playing career. I have loved this game from the moment I took my first steps and I will continue to love it for the rest of my life.” His statement goes on to thank the Nationals organizations, its fans, and the coaches and teammates who’ve impacted him throughout his brief career.
Glover was heralded by managerial legend Dusty Baker as the Nationals’ potential closer of the future, and given his possession of a fastball that averaged better than 96 mph and a wipeout slider, it’s easy to see why Baker wasn’t alone in thinking that. Glover did save eight games for the Nationals in 2017, but injuries never allowed him to reach even 20 innings in a big league season — and they surely contributed to some of his struggles on the mound as well. Glover revealed after the 2016 season that he’d been pitching through a torn labrum in his hip, and he pitched through rotator cuff issues the following year.
Overall, he’ll be forced to step away from the game after pitching 55 1/3 innings with nine saves, a 4.55 ERA and a 42-to-21 K/BB ratio. His retirement will open a spot on the Nationals’ 40-man roster — it’s now at 31 players — and will only further underscore the team’s need for bullpen help. Best wishes to Glover in whatever path he chooses to pursue in his post-playing days.
The Nationals have signed infielder Wilmer Difo to a one-year, $1MM contract, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Difo had been projected to earn $1.2MM in his first year of arbitration eligibility.
Difo, who was seen by some as a non-tender candidate, is evidently still viewed by the Nationals as a utility option off the bench. However, his signing doesn’t necessarily guarantee him a roster spot with the 2020 Nationals. To some degree, he represents insurance against the potential losses of Brian Dozier, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Howie Kendrick, all of whom are free-agent infielders who would slot in above Difo on the depth chart.
Notably, Difo is out of options, meaning that he’ll need to clear waivers before he can be demoted to the minor leagues.
Last year, Difo played in 43 games for the Nats, posting a .252/.315/.313 batting line. He’s hardly threatening with the bat, but he’s valued for his ability to capably play multiple positions. Although he was only used in the infield last year, he’s played all over the diamond throughout his career—everywhere but first base, pitcher, and catcher.
- Relief pitching looks to be a clear need for the Nationals this offseason…or is it? As Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post observes, the Nats’ early acquisitions of Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough last winter ended up as disasters, and the club ended up more or less entirely remaking their bullpen by season’s end. With this in mind, the Nationals might aim lower in picking up any new relievers this offseason because, since relief pitching performance is so hard to predict from year to year, the club might prefer to save such acquisitions for closer to the trade deadline. GM Mike Rizzo “prefers to assess relievers in-season, with fresh data and video to parse through,” Dougherty writes.