Inbox: Should Nats prioritize Stras or Rendon?

Beat reporter Jamal Collier answers questions from fans

November 22nd, 2019

WASHINGTON -- Two of the cornerstones of the past decade of Nationals baseball are currently free agents, and and could have no shortage of suitors this winter. But as the Nats try and devise their plan to defend their World Series championship, which player would be most crucial to keep around? 

We begin today’s Inbox with that interesting thought -- Rendon or Strasburg? Which player is more crucial to Washington’s chances at a repeat?

This is tough, because both were obviously so crucial to the success of the Nationals, not just this season, but for the past few years. It's sort of difficult to imagine how to replace either of them.

Rendon was one of the top players in the National League this past season, finishing third in National League MVP Award voting. Strasburg, the World Series MVP Award winner, was at his best when the Nationals needed him most -- during the summer while Max Scherzer was on the injured list with back and shoulder injuries, and in the postseason to carry the Nats to a title. Losing either of them without an adequate replacement could be devastating for the Nationals chances to repeat.

This is close, but if I’m forced to pick, I’d say Rendon, mostly because of the dropoff within the organization at third base compared to the rotation, where the Nats would still have Scherzer, Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez as well as some young arms (Austin Voth, Joe Ross) who pitched well down the stretch and will earn a shot at making the rotation in Spring Training.

The Nationals probably don’t have another Major League-ready third baseman within the system, not for 2020 at least, so they would have to find a replacement for Rendon and the 7.0 Wins Above Replacement he just produced this past season. Like with Bryce Harper, they could look to replace that production in a few different ways (last year they signed Corbin, upgraded defensively in the outfield and revamped their catching position). But with Harper, the Nats had two 20-year-old outfielders waiting in the wings. Their infield prospects are further away from being ready.

It should also be noted that the Nationals do not have to make the difficult choice of choosing between these two players. They have expressed interest in bringing back both to D.C. next year.

just went through a pretty uneven 2019 season. He started the year expecting to at least split some time in center field with rookie Victor Robles, but he got injured out of the gate and Robles began to play so well that Taylor struggled to find playing time.

When Taylor played, he struggled at the plate and was eventually sent to the Minors, returning as a September callup and a productive member of the Nats' postseason roster.

So again, there are some questions about what the Nationals have with Taylor. There will not be a starting outfield job for him in D.C. next year with Juan Soto, Robles and Adam Eaton locked into their roles, but there will still be plenty of at-bats available as an extra outfielder.

It’s possible what the Nats saw from Taylor down the stretch will be enough to convince themselves that he can flourish as a fourth outfielder, starting maybe one or two days a week and filling in for defense and baserunning. Taylor is also out of options, so while I would expect the Nationals to explore his value on the trade market, I think he is likely to begin next season as the fourth outfielder, ready to step in and play everyday should one of the top three go down with an injury. But Taylor’s career has been anything but predictable for a few years now.

The Nationals remained below the Competitive Balance Tax threshold in 2019, coming in just barely under the $206 million mark, which was a goal for the organization from the start of the year. That should help with the efforts to bring back both of their star players, although to bring both Strasburg and Rendon back and continue to field a competitive team in 2020, the Nationals are likely going to be near the CBT next year as well.

General manager Mike Rizzo declined to say at the GM Meetings whether the Nats would be willing to go over that number next year.

I don’t think Nicholas Castellanos is a realistic option at third base. The Tigers moved him from the position because the experiment was mostly a disaster (minus-64 Defensive Runs Saved in 527 games at the hot corner). Castellanos is a very good hitter, but he's now a corner outfielder and the Nationals have needs elsewhere. If not Rendon, someone like Josh Donaldson or Mike Moustakas makes a lot more sense for the Nats.

It’s not only the players who played throughout the whole season, but the organization gets to decide. I would guess anyone who made a significant contribution will be rewarded with a ring, and maybe even some who were just passing through. But the key players who spent most of the year, or even a good chunk of the season, with the Nats should get one.