WASHINGTON -- The Nationals are bringing back one of the most important hitters from their World Series run, reaching an agreement to sign veteran Howie Kendrick to a one-year contract worth $6.25 million, with a mutual option for 2021, a source told to MLB.com on Friday morning. The club has not confirmed the deal, which is pending a physical, but it will ensure the return of the player responsible for some of the biggest hits in Nats postseason history.
Kendrick put together a breakout season offensively in 2019, with a slash line of .344/.395/.572 and a 142 OPS+, marking career highs in each category, and then capped it off by becoming an October hero.
The 36-year-old hit the go-ahead grand slam in the 10th inning of Game 5 of the National League Division Series to beat the Dodgers, and he swatted the go-ahead homer off the right-field foul pole in Game 7 of the World Series against the Astros. And in between, he was named the Most Valuable Player of the NL Championship Series for posting a 1.012 OPS in a sweep of the Cardinals.
Kendrick is yet another member of last year’s team retained by the Nationals, who have reportedly re-signed Yan Gomes to bring back their catching duo, and are almost certain to bring back Ryan Zimmerman at first base. They have interest in retaining at least one of their star free agents in Anthony Rendon or Stephen Strasburg.
Kendrick spoke openly during the postseason about how his time in Washington reinvigorated his career after he was dealt to D.C. before the Trade Deadline in 2017, and not just because of his engine-revving celebrations with outfielder Adam Eaton in the dugout during games. Kendrick was considering retirement before the trade, but he received a promise that winter from general manager Mike Rizzo to re-sign him to a two-year deal before the start of the 2018 season. So Kendrick began working with hitting coach Kevin Long near their offseason homes in Arizona on some adjustments to his swing and approach at the plate, taking Kendrick’s already elite bat-to-ball skills and putting more emphasis on driving and pulling the ball.
Although Kendrick shies away from being branded as one of the disciples of analytics-driven swing changes, it worked. Before he tore his Achilles and missed most of the 2018 season, he started to see glimpses of the improvement that led to his breakout in '19.
Kendrick does turn 37 next summer, however, and this year the Nationals were hyper-conscious of monitoring his workload. In 2019, he played in 121 regular-season games and recorded 370 plate appearances, with his value (2.6 Wins Above Replacement) coming as a hitter and leadership presence in the clubhouse, despite his limits defensively.
Kendrick appeared in 48 games at first base, 23 games at second and 15 games at third, while filling in for the injured Rendon early in the season. Kendrick will likely serve in the versatile bench role again, helping to fill the vacancy at second base, perhaps with top prospect Carter Kieboom, or spelling Zimmerman at first.
If Kendrick’s bat is as productive as it was a year ago, the Nationals will certainly find him a place in the lineup as often as possible, especially for one of their postseason heroes.