While most of the attention in tonight’s game will be on Bryce Harper’s return to Nationals Park, it’s worth being reminded that there’s another Scott Boras client on the field who’s still wearing a Nats uniform and will be facing some contract negotiations in the near future. That’s Washington’s 28 year old third baseman, Anthony Rendon.
Heading into this past offseason, most Nationals fans hoped Rendon would receive an extension so he wouldn’t hit the free agent market after the 2019 season. That desire’s justified as his 24.7 WAR since 2014 puts him as the second highest third baseman in the big leagues and the seventh highest position player overall. That’s much higher than the 19th overall spot Bryce Harper’s 22.1 WAR earned him during the same period.
This is partly because Tony Two Bags (as Rendon is affectionately known because he hits so many doubles) consistently hits over 20 homers in a season and had a .308/.374/.535 slashline with 44 doubles during the 2018 season. Even with the solid production, his 38.1% contact rate last year even suggests that he ran into some bad luck that lowered his numbers. It’s also not like last year was a fluke as he’s put up solid numbers throughout his career.
That being said, Rendon has largely flown under the radar and doesn’t receive the national spotlight like Harper did during his time in the nation’s capital. But people who closely follow the game have recognized his efforts. He finished 11th in the MVP voting last year, sixth in 2017, and fifth in 2014. He also won the 2016 NL Comeback Player of the Year award and the Silver Slugger award in 2014. This is all despite being extremely humble and trying to draw attention to the accomplishments of his teammates instead of himself during post game interviews.
When it comes to bringing Rendon back after this season, there aren’t many replacement options available for the Nationals if he left. When Harper hit the free agent market, the Nats could afford to walk away because they had young talent in Juan Soto and Victor Robles who could immediately step into the outfield and have an impact on the organization for years to come. There’s no heir apparent for Rendon, however, as he was actually what allowed Ryan Zimmerman to make the switch over the first base a few years ago.
Washington’s therefore tasked with either keeping a very productive Rendon or trying to find a replacement on the free agent market. For his part, Rendon has made it clear he’s interested in staying with the Nationals and has to be at least relatively happy with the $18.8 million he’s being paid this year. His salary has been steadily increasing due to arbitration rules as he earned $12.3 million in 2018, $5.8 in 2017, and he’ll likely be due another big increase if he hits free agency.
Most analysts project he’ll earn somewhere between $23 and $25 million a year for five or six years when he signs his new deal. To put this into perspective, this is significantly less than the $30 million Jose Altuve will be earning per year for his 30 to 34 age seasons, but more than the $95 million Pablo Sandoval got for five years and the $21 million per year Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon received. Since Rendon’s personality makes him someone that’d probably want to get the media focus on negotiations over with as soon as possible, it’s also likely that the Nats could get a hometown discount if they moved before the end of the season.
Of course, part of that could come down to how his agent is able to push things along with GM Mike Rizzo and the Lerner family. Scott Boras is notorious for extending contract negotiations until the last minute in order to secure the biggest contract possible, but there have been some exceptions. Boras also represents Stephen Strasburg, for instance, and the hurler signed a seven year extension worth $175 million with the Nationals back in May of 2016. And heading into this season, Rendon told the media that he’d like to be involved with negotiations and wouldn’t be distracted if they took place throughout the regular season.
What this all means is the Nationals have an opportunity to secure a high performing player at a relatively cheap rate if they act before he hits the free agent market. With DC fans already having to go through the distraction of what was Bryce Harper’s free agency, the Nats’ executives owe it to fans to move quickly on extending Rendon and making sure the hot corner at Nats Park is productive for years to come.