Projecting Rendon through 2026

December 3rd, 2019

could not have done much more to propel himself into the free-agent market under the best possible circumstances.

The Nationals' third baseman enjoyed a career year in 2019, batting .319/.412/.598 with a National League-high 44 doubles, 34 home runs, and an MLB-high 126 RBIs, taking NL Silver Slugger honors. Rendon was one of the top 10 position players in the Majors, going by WAR, and finished third in the NL MVP race.

But as some team prepares to make a massive financial commitment to land Rendon, they have to consider his future as well as his past. What kind of player will he be in his age-30 season or beyond?

To help address that question, used projections provided by Brian Cartwright, the developer of the Oliver system and a writer and consultant to MLB teams. These projections extend over the next seven years -- covering the likely length of Rendon’s next deal, or perhaps beyond -- and factor in recent performance and age.

Since projections tend to be cautious and unlikely to produce extreme results, senior data architect Tom Tango used those results to also create optimistic (90th percentile) and pessimistic (10th percentile) stat lines for each season. He then added playing time projections to produce WAR values for each one.

Here then are Rendon’s yearly projections from 2020-26, showing his age, plate appearances, slash line, weighted on-base average (wOBA) -- a version of OBP that gives credit for extra bases -- and WAR. That last figure is based on the assumption that Rendon is an average defensive third baseman, a bar that he has cleared throughout his career but which figures to become more of a challenge as he ages (an eventual move to first would hurt his value). Each projection comes with a 2019 comp, based on wOBA and WAR.

2020 season (age 30, 650 PA)
Optimistic projection:
.326/.424/.585 (.432 wOBA), 38 HR, 7.9 WAR
2019 comp: Christian Yelich
Standard projection: .296/.385/.532 (.393 wOBA), 29 HR, 5.9 WAR
2019 comp: Nolan Arenado
Pessimistic projection: .266/.347/.479 (.354 wOBA), 20 HR, 3.8 WAR
2019 comp: Jorge Polanco

Arenado’s eight-year, $260 million extension that he signed with the Rockies last offseason is an obvious comparison point for his fellow third baseman, Rendon. On one hand, Arenado was two years younger at that point (going into his age-28 season), and has several Gold Gloves to go along with his gaudier counting stats. On the other hand, Rendon has significantly better park-adjusted offensive numbers over the past three years, with a 145 to 130 edge in wRC+.

2021 season (age 31, 618 PA)
Optimistic projection:
.318/.416/.565 (.422 wOBA), 33 HR, 7.0 WAR
2019 comp: Rendon
Standard projection: .289/.378/.514 (.384 wOBA), 26 HR, 5.1 WAR
2019 comp: Pete Alonso
Pessimistic projection: .260/.340/.463 (.346 wOBA), 18 HR, 3.2 WAR
2019 comp: Paul Goldschmidt

It’s not as if Goldschmidt’s first year with the Cardinals was a disaster, but the drop in his production at the plate -- from a .922 to an .821 OPS -- speaks to the risks of committing to even a star-level player in his 30s (Goldschmidt turned 32 in September).

2022 season (age 32, 587 PA)
Optimistic projection:
.310/.408/.548 (.413 wOBA), 31 HR, 6.2 WAR
2019 comp: George Springer
Standard projection: .282/.371/.498 (.375 wOBA), 23 HR, 4.5 WAR
2019 comp: Josh Donaldson
Pessimistic projection: .254/.334/.448 (.338 wOBA), 16 HR, 2.7 WAR
2019 comp: Whit Merrifield

Donaldson, also a free agent this winter, is an interesting comp for Rendon. He was similarly brilliant at age 29, capping an excellent three-year run by winning AL MVP honors. Strong on both sides of the ball, Donaldson has continued to produce in the four seasons since (.387 wOBA, 18.9 WAR), returning from an injury-shortened 2018 campaign to launch 37 homers for the Braves.

2023 season (age 33, 557 PA)
Optimistic projection:
.303/.400/.526 (.403 wOBA), 28 HR, 5.5 WAR
2019 comp: Nolan Arenado
Standard projection: .275/.364/.478 (.366 wOBA), 21 HR, 3.8 WAR
2019 comp: Matt Olson
Pessimistic projection: .248/.328/.430 (.329 wOBA), 15 HR, 2.2 WAR
2019 comp: Andrew Benintendi

There’s been speculation that Rendon might be interested in a shorter-term deal, which certainly would appeal to teams who are reticent to commit big dollars to players at this point in the aging curve. Last season, only 17 position players age 33 or older received 500-plus plate appearances, and of those, 11 were at least league-average offensively, by wRC+. Then again, Rendon is projected to buck that trend -- the only position players age 33-plus to reach 3.8 WAR last year were Donaldson, Carlos Santana and Nelson Cruz.

2024 season (age 34, 529 PA)
Optimistic projection:
.293/.392/.502 (.391 wOBA), 24 HR, 4.7 WAR
2019 comp: Juan Soto
Standard projection: .266/.356/.456 (.355 wOBA), 19 HR, 3.2 WAR
2019 comp: Trea Turner
Pessimistic projection: .239/.320/.410 (.320 wOBA), 13 HR, 1.7 WAR
2019 comp: Evan Longoria

Contrary to Donaldson, or the remarkable Adrian Beltre, Longoria is a third baseman whose example would give some teams pause. Over the past three seasons (ages 31-33), Longoria has been a bit below average offensively while producing a total of 5 WAR. He still has three guaranteed years and nearly $60 million remaining on his current contract.

2025 season (age 35, 503 PA)
Optimistic projection:
.283/.384/.476 (.378 wOBA), 21 HR, 4.0 WAR
2019 comp: Eugenio Suarez
Standard projection: .257/.349/.433 (.344 wOBA), 16 HR, 2.6 WAR
2019 comp: Mike Moustakas
Pessimistic projection: .231/.314/.390 (.310 wOBA), 11 HR, 1.2 WAR
2019 comp: Marwin Gonzalez

Moustakas was a solid contributor to a playoff team this year and just earned a lucrative four-year deal, so Moose's 2019 production being a middle-of-the road outcome six years out speaks highly of Rendon.

2026 season (age 36, 478 PA)
Optimistic projection:
.275/.376/.454 (.367 wOBA), 18 HR, 3.3 WAR
2019 comp: Justin Turner
Standard projection: .250/.342/.413 (.334 wOBA), 14 HR, 2.1 WAR
2019 comp: Asdrubal Cabrera
Pessimistic projection: .225/.308/.372 (.301 wOBA), 9 HR, 0.8 WAR
2019 comp: Jason Kipnis

Just five position players 36 or older received this many plate appearances last season, and only Cruz, Shin-Soo Choo, and Edwin Encarnacion did so in productive fashion. That said, the possibility of a Turner-caliber season is tantalizing, and Cabrera was a key addition to Rendon’s championship-winning Nationals club this summer.

Seven-year results
Optimistic projection: 38.6 WAR (5.5 average)

2013-19 comp: Donaldson
Historical comp for 3B ages 30-36: Chipper Jones

Standard projection: 27.1 WAR (3.9 average)
2013-19 comp: Kyle Seager
Historical comp for 3B ages 30-36: Ron Cey

Pessimistic projection: 15.6 WAR (2.2 average)
2013-19 comp: Neil Walker
Historical comp for 3B ages 30-36: Matt Williams

There’s a chance here for a Hall of Fame-caliber stretch, like the one that boosted Jones’ ascent toward toward Cooperstown (though he spent part of the time in left field). And while Walker’s past seven seasons or Williams’ run from 1996-2002 would be a disappointing result, neither would be disastrous by any means. Williams (Rendon’s former manager) was a two-time All-Star, won a Gold Glove, had a third-place MVP finish and helped the D-backs win a ring during those seven years.

The middle-of-the-road projection here shouldn’t be underestimated. Only 25 position players have accrued at least 25 WAR since 2013, including Seager, who was a model of durable, all-around consistency for most of that time. Cey, from 1978-84, was 25% better than average as a hitter, averaged 24 homers and provided a solid glove at third.

There are no sure things in baseball, and multi-year deals for players entering their 30s always carry inherent risk. But for clubs in need of a third baseman and a big lineup addition this offseason, these projections should inspire confidence in Rendon’s future.