WASHINGTON -- Although he has flown under the radar for now -- which is exactly how he prefers it -- by this time next year, it is possible Anthony Rendon will be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market. Even though he rarely gets the recognition for
WASHINGTON -- Although he has flown under the radar for now -- which is exactly how he prefers it -- by this time next year, it is possible Anthony Rendon will be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market. Even though he rarely gets the recognition for it, Rendon has been as important as anyone to the Nationals in recent years, one of the most steady and consistently brilliant players on the team.
For now, Bryce Harper will command the headlines as the club's biggest free agent, and rightfully so. But might the Nats explore locking up Rendon long term this offseason, as well? We begin today's Nationals Inbox there.
• The latest Harper free-agent rumors
Is an extension for Rendon coming this winter?
-- Harry P., The Villages, Fla.
I think the Nationals are going to have further discussions with Rendon and his agent, Scott Boras, about a potential contract extension this offseason and make every effort to keep him in D.C. for the long term. Whether they actually get something done, however, is impossible to say.
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Rendon will be a free agent next offseason and is also entering his final year of arbitration eligibility. The Nationals have avoided going to arbitration hearings the past few seasons and will try to do so with Rendon. During those discussions, the club will likely try to negotiate a long-term deal.
In fact, general manager Mike Rizzo told the Washington Post earlier this month, the Nats have "made efforts" to extend Rendon in the past year. Rizzo also said that it is not contingent on whether Washington retains Harper in free agency.
Last offseason, Rendon expressed how happy he was in Washington and that he would like to play for the Nationals long term. Those words were not a mandate but an expression of comfort by a low-key player.
But Rendon's performance on the field continues to set him apart as one of the best players in the National League. He ranks seventh among hitters in all of baseball in Wins Above Replacement over the past three seasons, according to Fangraphs. In the open market, Rendon, who turns 29 next season, could be one of the premier free agents and command a high price. The Nats must make him an offer that would make him and Boras comfortable giving up that flexibility.
Wouldn't you rather have another ace pitcher and catcher? I think it is money better spent. We need a new ones anyway.
-- Eric M., Derwood, Md.
This question is a reference to Harper and whether the Nats are better allocating the money they would use signing him elsewhere. To start, there is no salary cap in baseball and the Nationals are shedding about $80 million in salary. They absolutely can spend on all of the above. Now the reality is this is unlikely, because after exceeding the luxury tax threshold the past two seasons, the Nats want to come in under that mark in 2019. So, Rizzo is operating under some sort of budget restrictions.
If you're going to let Harper walk, the Nats will also need to replace his production. That either means having huge expectations for Victor Robles, or counting on a combination of that slack to get picked up from Robles and the next starting catcher. The only catcher available who is likely to approach that would be the Marlins' J.T. Realmuto, but it's unlikely the Nats can acquire him without trading Robles.
Point being, ideally, yes -- spreading Harper's money around seems more efficient, but I'm not sure there's a great way to do that and replace the production lost from your best hitter. It is possible the Nationals can still be really good in 2019 without Harper, and there's a scenario where they can be even better. But it is not a certainty and life without him will be much harder if they do not adequately replace him. The Nats are going to have to spend in free agency to return to the postseason next year, and I'm still not convinced other options beside Harper give them the best chance to do that.
I expect the Nationals will at least be involved in the market for the top pitchers on the market this year, especially left-hander Patrick Corbin, who is younger and coming off a better season than Dallas Keuchel, the other top free agent pitcher on the market. Especially if the Nats do not re-sign Harper, this is the easiest way to see them reallocating funds. There are a few pitchers reportedly available in the trade market -- James Paxton from Seattle or one of Cleveland's aces such as Corey Kluber -- but I'm not sure Washington has or would be willing to pay the prospect price, which would almost certainly include Robles.
• The latest Paxton trade rumors
The Nats' front office believes starting pitching is still the foundation of a successful team, even as starters across the Majors are throwing fewer innings than ever. What separates the Nationals from nearly every other team in baseball is they have elite starters in Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. One of the biggest reasons the team missed the postseason last year was its lack of rotation depth once Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson went down with injury.
"You never have enough starting pitching," Rizzo said at the General Managers Meetings earlier this month. "We'd love to get ourselves a guy that we can throw out there and gives us a chance to win every time he goes out there."
And despite already adding Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough to the bullpen, Rizzo did not rule out adding another reliever. If the Nats did that, I'd expect them to try and find a reliever they think is undervalued instead of a big free-agent signing.
Usually, Major League teams with long commutes to their Triple-A squad will "stash" a few players at a closer Minor League affiliate, in case the team needs to make a quick callup in the event of an injury. So expect the Nationals to keep a third catcher, extra infielder, a starter or long reliever at Double-A Harrisburg to take advantage of the shorter trip to D.C.
It's almost cliche, but just seeing that Joe Ross was healthy was the biggest takeaway. His fastball velocity was slightly up, and the pitched looked lively, with a lot of movement. More often than not, Ross looked rusty during his three starts down the stretch, when he posted a 5.06 ERA with seven strikeouts and four walks in 16 innings, but he showed flashes of getting back to his old self. The Nats believe Ross is fully healthy and ready to compete for a rotation spot entering Spring Training in February.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.