When the Bryce Harper free-agent saga finally concluded and the Nationals’ longtime face of the franchise had slipped into his Phillies uniform, one thing became universally assumed around baseball circles: Washington would sign Anthony Rendon to a contract extension.
Rendon, who will be eligible for free agency this offseason, appeared open to the idea, saying he wanted to stay in Washington. The two sides had some discussions, but when Nolan Arenado signed his new deal with the Rockies in February -- a pact that will pay him $260 million over the next eight seasons -- it seemed to up the ante in terms of what it will take for the Nationals to get their own franchise third baseman locked up.
Talks have continued into the season, though reports indicate a sizeable gap between the player’s asking price and the team’s offer. With so many star players signing extensions this offseason (in addition to Arenado, Mike Trout, Xander Bogaerts, Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander and Chris Sale all signed new deals), Rendon, who turns 29 in June, could find himself as the cream of the free-agent crop if he decides to play out the season and test the open market.
With that in mind, might the Nationals look to deal Rendon this summer? Washington is off to a disappointing 19-30 start, leaving the club’s immediate future in limbo. Last summer, the Nats reportedly had a trade in place to send Harper to the Astros, but apparently got cold feet, and the club never made a serious run for the postseason. Given that they ended up recouping only a Draft pick when Harper signed with Philly (one they actually forfeited when they signed Patrick Corbin), it’s safe to assume that Nats general manager Mike Rizzo might want a mulligan on that. After all, trading Harper wouldn’t have precluded him from re-signing with the Nationals, and the same can be said for Rendon.
“Based on last year, I think they would have to be way out of it [to trade Rendon],” one American League executive said. “It seemed like ownership changed its mind last year and decided to go for it. Bad decision.”
There’s a perception that rental players no longer garner the type of prospect package they once did, but look no further than the five-player haul the Dodgers sent to the Orioles for a couple months of Manny Machado last summer to see that it’s still possible in the right situation.
Two important things to consider when discussing theoretical landing spots:
1. Although Rendon has played exclusively at third base since 2016, he did start 165 games at second base during his first three years in the Majors.
2. While these teams are the ones that seem to make sense now, all it takes is one injury for that to change. Who would have seen the Machado-to-Dodgers trade coming prior to Corey Seager’s season-ending injury? Nobody.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at some teams that might be in the market for Rendon if he becomes available:
Fresh off his breakout rookie campaign, Miguel Andujar seemed like a lock to occupy third base in the Bronx all season, but the 24-year-old is out for the rest of 2019 following shoulder surgery. Gio Urshela has been a pleasant surprise for the Yankees, excelling at the plate while flashing superb defense. Urshela has never been known as an offensive force, so what if he regresses back to his prior form?
The Yankees expect Didi Gregorius to return from his Tommy John surgery in June or July, which would allow DJ LeMahieu (and possibly Troy Tulowitzki?) to play third base, as well. The need for Rendon isn’t there right now, but Yanks general manager Brian Cashman has never been shy to upgrade at any spot if the price is right.
Jose Ramirez has been a disappointment this season, following up his back-to-back third-place American League MVP Award finishes with a .598 OPS through his first 48 games. That’s not to suggest the Indians would bench Ramirez, but with Jason Kipnis also struggling (.637 OPS through 31 games) and a rotating -- and underwhelming -- cast of characters filling the designated hitter spot, Rendon would add some punch to a lineup that ranks 12th in the AL in runs scored. He could DH and play third, with Ramirez occasionally shifting to second, where has played more than 140 times in his career.
Maikel Franco’s seven home runs rank third on the team, but the Phillies haven’t gotten great production overall from the third baseman this season, with Franco’s OBP hovering around .300. They know Rendon well from their National League East rivalry with the Nationals, and he’s hit well historically at Citizens Bank Park, posting an .874 OPS in 51 career games in Philadelphia.
The biggest issue with a Rendon-to-Philly trade? It’s difficult to imagine Washington trading its best player to Philadelphia, where he would once again team up with Harper. Franco is under club control for two more seasons beyond 2019, so the fact that Rendon will be a free agent might not be a factor.
Travis Shaw was having a down season when he landed on the injured list, but he’s due back shortly, likely sending top prospect Keston Hiura back to Triple-A. Hiura has shown the ability to hit since being called up last week, so if Shaw continues to struggle upon his return, the 22-year-old could be given a chance to step into the lineup on a full-time basis.
The Brewers could also opt to make a bigger move for a player of Rendon’s caliber as they look to take the next step and reach their first World Series since 1982. GM David Stearns was aggressive last summer, acquiring Mike Moustakas, Joakim Soria, Jonathan Schoop, Gio Gonzalez and Curtis Granderson. Rendon would be a bigger move than any of those, but if Milwaukee is in position to make a run, it might be the perfect fit.
The Bucs have been one of the season’s early surprises, but the NL Central is arguably the most competitive division in the Majors. Where Pittsburgh sits in the standings come July could determine whether GM Neal Huntington looks to make a big move. If that’s the case, Rendon could be the ideal candidate, as the Pirates’ third-base situation is less than ideal.
Jung Ho Kang is on the injured list, while Colin Moran has been an underwhelming replacement. Pittsburgh’s combined OPS from its third basemen has been sub-.600, nearly half of Rendon’s mark this season. The Pirates have five of MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects, though after dealing away Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows to Tampa Bay in the Chris Archer deal last summer, Huntington might be skittish about trading his top prospects.
Tampa Bay’s system is deep, with seven players on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list. The Rays have not been known to shell out prospects for rentals in the past; in fact, they were sellers last year, dealing Nathan Eovaldi, Archer and Wilson Ramos in late July as they hovered around the .500 mark.
But what if the Rays are staring contention in the face this summer? Would Tampa Bay roll the dice on a two- or three-month rental such as Rendon for a chance to win its first AL East title since 2010? The Rays' offense ranks 11th in the AL in runs scored, so the idea of adding an impact bat for the stretch run makes sense. The club’s Opening Day payroll was about $60 million, presumably enabling the Rays to add some salary in a trade.
Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.