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Rendon set to be most prized free-agent hitter

@feinsand
September 27, 2019

As the 2019 regular season comes to an end and fans start to think about the offseason, we're taking a closer look at some of the most prominent players eligible for free agency. Name: Anthony Rendon Position: Third baseman Team: Nationals Age (as of Opening Day 2020): 29 2019 stats:

As the 2019 regular season comes to an end and fans start to think about the offseason, we're taking a closer look at some of the most prominent players eligible for free agency.

Name: Anthony Rendon
Position: Third baseman
Team: Nationals
Age (as of Opening Day 2020): 29
2019 stats: .321/.411/.601, 34 HR, 124 RBIs, 43 2B, 116 R

Rendon is considered by most to be the top position player available this winter, albeit at a position that offers other solid free-agent options (Josh Donaldson, Mike Moustakas). When Bryce Harper signed with the Phillies last offseason, the consensus was that the Nationals would do what was necessary to lock up Rendon, but talks between the third baseman's agent, Scott Boras, and Washington never progressed to the point of a deal.

Rendon has done his part this season, posting the best offensive campaign of his career, sending him into free agency with as much momentum as a player could have.

Likely suitors

Angels

Just as we detailed earlier this week as part of our free-agent profile of Gerrit Cole, the Angels could make a big splash this winter to give Mike Trout some help, in order to return to the postseason for the first time since 2014. Third base has been a black hole for Los Angeles as Zack Cozart’s two injury-riddled seasons have been a huge disappointment. The Angels rank last in the Majors in OPS at the position, so Rendon would fit seamlessly into the club’s lineup.

Cardinals

St. Louis’ third basemen rank last in the National League in OPS, an issue which would be resolved by the addition of Rendon. The Cardinals have traded away several prospects during the past two years in deals for Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna, so they would likely prefer to attack the free-agent market, rather than dipping into their farm system again. St. Louis has nearly $150 million committed for 2020, but that figure drops to $97 million for 2021 and $51 million for 2022.

Dodgers

Despite the presence of Justin Turner, the Dodgers have already been connected to Rendon in multiple reports. Los Angeles could move Turner -- whose contract expires after the 2020 season -- to first base, shifting Max Muncy to second base and Cody Bellinger to the outfield on a full-time basis. Rendon’s approach at the plate fits the Dodgers well, and the club certainly has the money to spend if it chooses to.

Nationals

Will the Nationals watch a superstar defect elsewhere for a second straight year, or will Rendon re-up with Washington, where he would remain one of the faces of the franchise? Having reset its luxury tax situation this season, Washington has the payroll flexibility to spend big on its best hitter. Without an internal option to plug in at the hot corner, there are plenty of reasons for GM Mike Rizzo to do whatever he must to retain Rendon.

Phillies

Rendon spent much of 2019 torching Phillies pitching, so Philadelphia knows the type of damage he can do at the plate. With the second-worst production in the NL at the hot corner this season -- led by Maikel Franco and his sub-.300 on-base percentage -- the Phillies need to find an upgrade at third base for 2020.

Rangers

Texas feels like a natural landing spot for Rendon if he leaves Washington. The Rangers will open their new ballpark next spring, so what better way to energize the fan base than to land the offseason’s most prized hitter? Rendon is a Texas native -- he’s from Houston, only a four-hour drive from Arlington -- and would be welcomed with open arms in the Lone Star State. Oh yeah -- the Rangers also are tied for 26th in the Majors with a .699 OPS from their third basemen.

Scout's take

“Rendon will be the best free-agent position player available this offseason, whose career season could not have come at a better time. He is a perennial All-Star-caliber third baseman who is a middle-of-the-order run producer with elite bat-to-ball skills. There is a tremendous understanding of the strike zone, which leads to consistent, quality at-bats. There is power in a rhythm-and-timing swing that is compact, and he has attributes that project to age well over a lengthy contractual commitment. Anthony is a complete player who also provides above-average defense at the position while playing 140-plus games a year.

“He projects quiet confidence and lead-by-example traits that are obviously very positive, but may not fit in every market. It also may not be what a team is ultimately seeking from a franchise player who will require a substantial financial commitment. That being said, he is one of the best hitters in the game who will have a robust market, once free agency commences.”

Buyer beware

Rendon has established personal bests in home runs, RBIs, runs scored, hits, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS+ and total bases this season, but is the 2019 version the one his future employer will be getting? Rendon had never topped 25 homers in a season prior to 2019, while this year’s OPS is more than 150 points higher than his career average. He’ll turn 30 next June, so while one could predict similar production for the next few years, will it carry into his mid-30s? He also hasn’t played in 150 games since 2016, one of only two years in his career that he’s reached that number.

For comp's sake

Three of the six largest overall contracts in baseball history have gone to third basemen: Manny Machado (10 years, $300 million), Alex Rodriguez (10 years, $275 million) and Nolan Arenado (eight years, $260 million). Machado and Arenado signed their deals earlier this year, which would seemingly give Boras and Rendon numbers to shoot for, only Rendon doesn’t have the same lengthy track record as either of those players. Machado was only 26 when he signed his mega-deal, though Arenado was entering his age-28 season. Look for Rendon to target a deal similar to the extension Arenado signed with Colorado in late February.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.